Education mirrors life. And, life follows from education. Both entities are inextricably linked. This is a salient point that most teachers and students must recognize. And by teachers, one also means students of a particular domain -- even if that domain is global and extensible to every aspect of life -- since the process of learning never stops. In developing a philosophy of education, one must also be able to dissociate education from literacy -- the latter being far more important. The crux of this essay will be to show that since each individual -- and this is common knowledge -- is different, then the process of education should not devolve into a one- size-fits-all groupthink straitjacket. How should education then be defined? As a mode of instruction that leaves avenues open, into which, aspects of a student's (or teacher's) life experiences and richness of talents and culture might be inserted. Most philosophies of education consider a holistic and dynamic approach. Here, there is a healthy exchange of ideas before it is assimilated into the intellectual sense of the student.
Unfortunately, in reality education is far cry from the above ideal.
The current educational system is primarily a one-way effort, no matter what the direction. Instruction flows from teacher to student. The flow is reversed when a student is examined. Here, information flows from student to teacher. There is no novelty in this reverse flow. This is because the student realizes that the information that he or she needs to transfer has to match what was received (from the teacher), for fear of failure. Most students are then isolated and imprisoned by the mores of the day. It was left to mavericks such as Newton and Galileo to extend the boundaries of the truth. A positive direction in which education might proceed is to imbue the student with the curiosity of forever seeking the truth.
Socrates had a revolutionary way of teaching. One might consider this teaching, though it was more a winning someone over to his way of thinking. His disciple Plato expounds on this method in various published discourses. Socrates did not participate in teacher-student type of exchanges. But he used techniques of clever reasoning, often playing devil's advocate, until his debate-opponent agreed that Socrates' point-of-view was correct. Socrates often created and destroyed "straw men" in the course of his arguments. Apart from the sophistry of his arguments, though Socrates often debated so called Sophists, Socrates often expounded on the moral structure on which, he thought, education ought to be based. Aristotle agreed. He believed that a holistic approach was the best. He spoke about the feeding of the intellectual self while not ignoring the moral self. More recent philosophers, Kant and Hobbes had different takes on the actualization of education. Simply (and succinctly put), Kant was for projecting good outwards, Hobbes sought satisfaction of self first -- though not from selfishness. A complement of Kantian and Hobbesian philosophies would do well in education.
Rabindranath Tagore, the educator, philosopher and literature Nobel laureate from India was of the opinion that worldly experiences based on cultural backgrounds could and should influence education. He conceived and created Shanti Niketan, a school which sought to embrace Western and Eastern philosophies. This was a school without walls, where instruction was often conducted in natural surroundings.
My personal philosophy of education is to use a two-pronged approach, which works in conjunction with a two-step approach. The former is to combine the abstract with the concrete. The concrete is related to the substantive. The concrete is associated with what can be sensed and felt. The concrete is associated with the five senses of smell, taste, touch, sight and hearing. The second approach is to educate about immutable and undisputable facts and open the student's mind to pursue the seeking of truth while debating that which has already been established or aspects of learning that can (or need) improving. This approach to education also embraces the idea that every student can learn. A note of caution is important here. The onus is on the teacher therefore to recognize the individual and independent abilities of the students to vary the modes of teaching and aspects of the subject matter to suit the student. Does this mean that a separate curriculum has to be developed for every student? Because the resources that would be needed to bring such an idea to fruition are forbidding. The answer to the above question is an emphatic, No! But it is possible to come close to that ideal by allowing students to insert their own life-education into formal learning constructs. Every (mentally, emotionally and physically able) student can learn because every student possesses the faculties of the senses combined with the facility of cognition. Every student is an individual and brings independent talents and abilities that are relatively honed from life's experiences or through nature's dictates. These abilities can be celebrated and not suppressed during formal learning. We have come a long way from the Dickensian school-modes where corporal punishment and enforcement accompanied learning.
The process of learning is also associated with ordering of information. The teacher should be aware of how a student processes information. In keeping with the individuality of students, information is processed either randomly or sequentially (step-by-step fashion). The teacher must recognize that both methods produce the desired results. This variability should be celebrated and not curbed.
To gain an overall perspective of ideal learning and teaching conditions, one must consider the environment in which education is conducted along with teachers and students' responsibilities. Despite the move towards home schooling, increasingly popular in the United States, one must realize that humans are social animals. We not only contribute to societies but our lives are shaped from societal learning environments. Students therefore, learn in social situations. Students bring personal perspectives through processes of negotiations. Here, students also learn and imbibe from the cultures of others.
This openness to learning can then be translated to the instruction that comes from teachers. If a student can interact unencumbered with his or her peers the same freedom should be allowed with teachers. Learning is associated with newness. This takes place every day. Students who encounter novel situations inside and outside of classrooms learn to imbibe this in every situation. It teaches students to deal with harsher realities in different aspects of life.
Student learning is a dynamic give and take. A student has to know how to articulate the knowledge that he or she possesses. Along the way, preconceived notions and misconceptions are corrected and improved upon. New concepts are embraced. They are tested in real or hypothetical (thought experiment) situations. Students realize the limitations of their own ideas and seek to learn. It is important for a student to realize that it is not just the final answer but recognizing the methodology and the approach would also be important. Students learn through roused curiosities and by asking questions.
The previous two paragraphs are a clear indication that students can learn. Why? Because these paragraphs did not deal with the specific domains of sciences or the arts. They dealt with the cognitive abilities that are hard-wired in all of us. This is the need to learn. It is up to the educators therefore to encourage and nurture this need. What is also important is the celebration of diversity that makes learning fun because it opens up new and interesting avenues of knowledge. The role of the teacher is paramount here. It is the creation of the ideal learning environment. Such an environment is accessible to every student. It is also an environment where acceptability as well as constructive criticism is the accepted norms. In such environments, the teacher helps the student articulate his or her opinions at the same time ensuring…