education and the teacher-learner relationship from a Christian-informed philosophical perspective. It begins with an explanation of the author's personal worldview, and then explores the various philosophical schools of education. Combining the two, the author explains how they have helped shape the author's approach to education. Rather than relying on a single educational philosophy, the author intends to combine multiple philosophies in the classroom environment.
Describing the purpose of education is an interesting prospect because education is a cultural construct, and, as a result, what constitutes an education is dependent upon the surrounding culture. In a broad sense, an education is the instruction and learning that a person receives, in both formal and informal environments, which is aimed at preparing that person to live as an adult within the surrounding culture. When one views education as a means of adapting the individual to adult life in his or her own culture, it becomes far easier to understand why education varies so tremendously, not just around the world, but even between communities in the United States. Furthermore, it becomes easy to understand why education is not always viewed in positive terms, but can be seen as something dangerous and subversive, when one considers that more highly educated people are more likely to challenge cultural norms. Of course, if cultural norms are productive and helpful, then they should survive those challenges.
For example, while a high school education is considered the minimum standard throughout much of the United States, there are still some smaller conservative religious communities, most notably the Amish, where that level of education is actively discouraged, because of the risk that exposure to additional education will dissuade an individual from living a traditional lifestyle. While this may seem extreme to many people, one need only consider the extreme fervor with which many people oppose the teaching of modern accepted scientific principles, such as evolution, in order to understand that there is an element of fear attached to education. In order to continue cultural traditions and norms, those in charge of a culture seek to control and limit education. For example, Stoddart believes that education has to begin with a study of the Christian catechism, and that modern science, though important for people to earn a livelihood, is "alien to culture" (Stoddart, 1985). The idea of science as being in conflict with culture is one that is repeated when one views the modern culture wars, with people clinging to outdated scientific beliefs because those beliefs are part of their religious or cultural traditions. Of course, this is not a new phenomenon; Galileo was considered blasphemous because he proposed a heliocentric solar system rather than agree with the idea that the sun orbited the moon. Likewise, those who initially proposed that the world was round rather than flat were met with cultural resistance.
While education is, in many ways, a means of reaffirming established cultural norms and traditions, it is equally true that the idea that education can, and perhaps even should, challenge cultural norms is a historical part of education. While known today as the fathers of modern philosophy, Socrates, Aristotle, and Plato were known in their time as teachers. Moreover, Socrates' famous trial and subsequent encouraged suicide were because he was encouraging the youth of Athens to challenge what they were being taught by others. Even Christianity, which, in modern times, is often guilty of clinging to tradition and discouraging independent thought owes its development to a teacher who encouraged his pupils to challenge established cultural norms. Jesus was many things during his lifetime, but, at the core of his existence he was a wandering teacher who went into areas and taught things that were considered subversive to the status quo. At the same time, at the heart of Jesus' teachings were some basic cultural norms and tenets that he clearly believed should form the cornerstone of any person's educational background. "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect" (Romans 12:2). Education should introduce the student to established cultural norms, schools of thought, and accepted facts; it should also invite students to challenge the status quo and move beyond what is currently known.
Worldview and Philosophy of Life
From a personal standpoint, I take a realist approach to life. Generally, "Realists believe that reality exists independent of the human mind. The ultimate reality is the world of physical objects. The focus is on the body/objects. Truth is objective-what can be observed" (Cohen, 1999). To many, realism is seen as being contrary to spirituality because of the faith-based nature of modern religious approaches. However, simply because something has not been observed does not mean that it cannot be observed. For example, I have not personally seen the Grand Canyon. However, I do not doubt the existence of the Grand Canyon. I have heard people give accounts of having seen the Grand Canyon. Likewise, I do not believe that a realist must reject the idea of the existence of God, even if that realist has not personally seen or interacted with God. On the contrary, I would suggest that realism suggests that God exists independent of the personal experience with God.
To me, the emphasis on realism underscores the importance of education. It is impossible for a single person to experience everything on earth. However, through a broad-based comprehensive education, it becomes possible for a person to gain some familiarity with many different things in the world. Furthermore, by understanding that personal experience of something is not necessary to validate it, the person can gain wisdom without personal experience. Furthermore, I believe that this approach helps develop empathy, which is lacking in many people. The ability to understand that an experience or an event can occur, even if it is outside of the life experience of the individual, is an important element of learning. This contradicts much of the modern emphasis on education, where children are taught to take tests and higher education is seen as a means to a greater paycheck, rather than as a means to having a greater understanding of the surrounding universe. Though I must live in this world and make a living in this world that approach to education and to life is very contrary to my personal philosophy. I fervently believe, as stated in Proverbs, "How much better to get wisdom than gold! To get understanding is to be chosen rather than silver" (Proverbs, 16:16).
Philosophy of Schools and Learning
Oddly enough, while I consider my personal worldview to be heavily influenced by realism, I do believe that realism provides the best foundation for a learning environment. Instead, I believe that each of the four philosophical schools, idealism, realism, pragmatism, and existentialism, have important things to offer students and educators. Moreover, I believe that a student's worldview can have a tremendous impact on how that student learns. An educator who fails to incorporate the four major philosophical approaches in his or her teaching style is not going to be able to reach all of his or her students. Just like some students are visual learners while some are audio learners, some students are going to be naturally inclined to idealism while others are going to be naturally inclined to realism. Using myriad approaches makes it much more likely that an educator will be able to have a meaningful interaction with a particular student. I also believe that there is a problem with "equating schooling and education as synonymous terms" (Gutek, 1995). I understand that a teacher's role is to provide an educational foundation for students, but that it is presumptuous to assume that a teacher is providing the total of a child's education.
From the perspective of idealism, education focuses strongly on the individual. The goal is to help each individual become the best that he or she can be in order to most benefit society (Cohen, 1999). It reminds me of a Marxist approach, acknowledging the different people have different capacities, and expecting each person to achieve their own personal best. The liberal arts are frequently approached through this method, which encourages the individual to interact with the subject matter. A realist perspective might emphasize math and sciences more. "Curriculum should be scientifically approached, standardized, and distinct-discipline based" (Cohen, 1999). Pragmatists focus on the importance of experience in learning. "For Pragmatists, teaching methods focus on hands-on problem solving, experimenting, and projects, often having students work in groups. Curriculum should bring the disciplines together to focus on solving problems in an interdisciplinary way" (Cohen, 1999). For existentialists, today's modern educational environment can seem very counter-productive because it focuses on testing and measurement, rather than the individual. Existentialists "start with the student, rather than on curriculum content" (Cohen, 1999).
The best educational practice will incorporate all four approaches because, not only will different students respond best…