Sunday, April 7, 2013

Another PAPER!!!!! 
(I don't blame you, I probably wouldn't want to read it either.)

This one was about Educational Issues. It used this book: 

We had to pick our top ten from this selection.
Well, here are mine.

I grew up with two educators as parents. This is why I was absolutely positive, that although I did not know what I wanted to do with my life, I knew that I would not be a teacher. My dad was a HS History teacher, became department head, director of personnel, and then superintendent of a large white, upper and middle class Long Island school district. I remember him studying and in school for his doctorate. Mom, in contrast, was a career kindergarten teacher in an austerity district 30 minutes away. I have always been affected by the controversies in education, and by people who took sides. This explains why I didn’t ‘officially’ begin teaching until forty. My own ‘philosophy’, and history with this profession, like my peers, has been a lifetime in the making. It has been rewarding to see how many others have devoted considerable thought and energy to this topic though out history and in the present day. One last comment before I begin, I do appreciate these books. I have 7 or 8 of the Taking Sides titles in my classroom. They are the basis for debate or research for my accelerated Health students.

I will begin, aka Letterman, with #10. As with any ranking system, I feel good about the reasons for putting my top couple and my bottom couple, the middle ones are a bit more of a mélange. I have occasionally inserted links since I post these on my blog which chronicles my work towards my M. Ed.

Can Zero Tolerance Violate a Students Rights? My initial reaction, to even the premise, is that Zero Tolerance violates ANY person’s rights. It negates the context of any act. This is ‘all the more’ important when considering youth. Common sense, context, and whenever possible, knowledge of the motivation, should all be considered. These policies trap the school leaders into applying totally inappropriate measures because to do otherwise would mean writing a policy so wrought with exceptions, it would no longer be Zero Tolerance. The conundrum. A first grader who bites a Pop-Tart into the shape of a gun, may indeed need some guidance, I don’t know that, or they may be a gifted 7 year-old artist, but they do NOT pose a threat to the safety of their peers or community (albeit the Health Educator in me wishes that 7 year-old did not consider Pop-Tarts a breakfast food, and that schools did not provide it as one, the real fear being early onset diabetes, and poor nutrition which can affect learning).
Unfortunately, the case argued in this chapter, revolves around a strip search for OTC pills. OTC drug use and abuse are a major concern today. Although these were super ibuprofen and naproxen, they could definitely be risky, and should have only well documented and regulated use within a school. Was the strip search warranted? I don’t know, it doesn’t sound like it BUT here is the common sense part. Could she have been held in the nurse’s office until a parent or guardian was contacted and available to come to the school to be a part of the decision? Might that path also lead to the same inevitable conclusion?  Because this case involves an intimate search, he takes away from the more common uses of zero tolerance. I have very strong feeling about Hon. Clarence Thomas, and the nature of this case just ignite these. The notion that ‘safety’ is preserved by searching backpacks makes me think of a line from a film I use in class called “Bang Bang You’re Dead!”.  In it, the proverbial do-good teacher asserts “It’s not what’s in a kid’s backpack that makes him dangerous, it’s what is in his heart”. Thomas’ notion, although it has some bearing, is one piece of the solution, but the implication that it creates safety, is fundamentally wrong in my opinion and impossible to implement without devastating consequences. The question then is how do large urban schools with clear and present danger keep their schools safe? To me, this is overwhelming and systemic and precisely why I put this as #10, no answers.

Next up as #9, Is the Inclusive Classroom a Working Model? This is a massive topic with so many conflicting issues within it. As many do, I agree with the premise, wholeheartedly. The implementation creates a lot of conflict for me. Can public schools afford this? …is the overarching concern. Within that is: can we afford to spend so disproportionally? Can we afford to neglect then, our gifted and talented? Who is more worthy? Inclusion creates tremendous support and understanding in our students but they are not tested on that. Are the people who give their days to the small group or one-on-one responsibility, at minimum wage or slightly above, trained and therefore successful at this task? What is the goal? These are just a sampling of questions.
Mara Sapon-Shevin argues school climate. I whole-heartedly agree. I recall my own experience of taking the l-o-n-g way to the bathroom in elementary school, in order to go by the SPED room where there were autistic, CP, MR, deaf, etc children all jammed in together and it looked like a circus show, totally unmanageable. I mean no disrespect with the picture; this is how we were conditioned to think. We were not allowed to talk about these ‘poor children’ in the classroom, the mystique bred fear, and imaginative stories. Her strategies to create a positive inclusive classroom seem complete, and should be the standard, handed to every new teacher hired. However, with competing goals for education, are they realistic? Again,  a climate of acceptance, courage, support, and honesty, although we want them to be magically instilled in our children, we as a culture do not currently seem to place them high on the public school’s mission. School Climate Leadership and Facilitation was my previous M.Ed path at NEC. I left that because it lacked support, and I came back to PSU continuing a Tech Integration focus.
I do love that Wade Carpenter chose to relate inclusion with desegregation. I think through his impassioned argument is the thread that having these mass ‘fixes’ doesn’t work, the notion of imposed equality is fodder for oxymoron status.  His plea resonates with me, the school cannot ‘fix’ everything no matter how hard we try, and that effort may actually get in the way of teaching and learning. As a Health Educator, my class is often felt that it is  aplace where all kids can attend, like PE, or Art. I think this stems from a persistent lack of understanding the difference between Health Ed and PE, but in this case it works for my classroom. Since Health is NOT tested currently, we are able to foster the classroom environment  and it aligns beautifully with our holistic health curriculum.

Number 8 is very interesting to me, it is only as low as 8 because I haven’t yet had a great deal of time to delve into it. I see it as very topical, especially as we go through our Health Care Reform process, and conversation. Is Privatization the Hope of the Future? Maybe? My initial concerns are that business may not understand education, that market fluctuations might then make education fluctuations, but I believe there is a lot that the education systems can learn and adapt for better management and to be more transparent.
Chris Whittle assertion that public schools lack imagination and creativity to move forward seems right on. Public schools have evolved less than any other institution I can think of, despite the huge resource of thinking and research on the subject. This article is seven years old, his new ‘truths’ are more mainstream conversation as we explore the 21st Century Learning Skills and realize that teachers no longer hold the content, it is easily accessible elsewhere.
Henry Levin focuses too much on the Edison Schools, he has to because there is little else out there to use as a a guideline. Just because one effort is perhaps flawed, doesn’t mean we can not improve on it. He also brings up the very real notion that we are not talking about education exclusively, we are talking about politics, unions, economics, and even immigration. Therein lies the block. I do not believe that radical transformation is necessarily the way to go but even an attempt to make measureable movement becomes so entrenched and stagnating. Some feel this is key in such an important institution but in one so tragically behind, can we afford it? Can we afford it in respect to all of those factors mentioned? And add in global competitiveness? To me, it is more like clearly like the energy debate in that realize that we can no longer rely on oil as the primary source, but many other sources come with severe consequences. We must re-align our thinking from the one-source fits all to multi-sources depending on geographic location (i.e. wind in the flats of the Midwest), transitional sources, and continued efforts to slow the pace of need. In education, we may need to include this model as a part of the solution, in places where it is applicable.

Annnnnd now, heeere’s number 7 !!!! Are Undocumented Immigrants Entitled to Public Education? What is that saying “Shall the sins against the father be laid upon the child?” I know there is the biblical reference from Exodus but I am thinking more of the Shakespeare quote: The sins of the father are to be laid upon the children.
The Merchant of Venice (3.5.1). Personal reflection, makes that a very frightening premise. Justice Brennan’s argument comes down to, ‘does it serve the greater good’ to deny education to these children? He argues it does not, and therefore they deserve an equal education to other, legal, children of the U.S. I think that his ultimate conclusion is evident in his rephrasing of the question. He does not refer to them as ‘undocumented immigrants’; he replaces that with ‘undocumented children’. The shift is evident and follows in his argument.

I don’t believe that the dissenting argument offers much relative to this case. Justice Burger and the others, agree. They argue ‘no’ on the basis of the constitution and whether the court should be required to ‘fix’ a social issue, that may be caused by a lack of effectiveness of another part of the government. In each of the sections, he begins with an acknowledgment of the opposing premise, and agreement but then tweezes out the constitutionality as against. In fact, he brings up the sturdiest arguments to me such as, is education a right or privilege (sounds like the healthcare debate?), and creating a ‘suspect class’ of ‘innocent’ children serves no purpose.

Number 6: Can Failing Schools Be Turned Around? This one is so tough because it begs the question, that if they can’t, what’s the point? But that is not really the argument. Some people may still be critical of criteria used to determine ‘failing schools’ but I can’t imagine that anyone doesn’t believes that they exist. Often it is the symptom of a social paradox. If a school in a poverty stricken area is ‘failing’, instead of focusing on the school, could the efforts be divided between the school’s improvements and the reduction of poverty?  I am reminded of bell hooks, and her reminiscence of her southern black school filled with virtue and determination to provide for the students because they knew that education was deliver the kids from the cycle of poverty. Then she went on into a desegregated environment, lacking in all that and disengaging. 
The key elements used in ‘turning around’ schools, as proposed by Karin Chenowith, are not revolutionary. Until a school is labeled failing, and possible closure, financial punishment, until then, maybe we just don’t make the effort as a community. She uses the term ‘galvanized’. The entire teaching, learning, and greater community have to agree on the mission. If that occurs, what could really prevent it from achieving a great deal of success?
Andy Smarick takes a more skeptical outlook and even implies that finding the way to effectively turn around failing schools is akin to finding the cure for cancer. I agree but in a way he did not intend. Although the cure for cancer seems illusive, we have found ways to prevent, and at least greatly reduce the impact, of certain cancers. The HPV vaccine prevents the leading indicator for cervical cancer, a very deadly form of cancer. Can we also, refer back to numero 7 as a reference, as a society, work on the causative factors? If we continually look for the magic fix, we may be setting ourselves up. Maybe some schools need to close and charters may be an option. These, along side of the efforts of some communities to ‘galvanize’ for improvement, and maybe some ‘private sector managed’ schools, will yield an answer. But, this kind of quilting of systems leads to the next issue on my list. Also, an interesting blog from the DOE addressing various techniques: Also, an NPR series on it:

Gently moving into the top 5, Should Curriculum Be Standardized for All? In relation to the previous topic, it seems almost like a requirement so why do I want to scream NO at the top of my lungs? I am also internally disappointed to hear one of Plato’s themes, distorted 9to me) to argue for YES. In my interpretation of his theory, that there are ‘certain subject matters that have universal qualities’, he is advocating for root learning that can lead to anywhere since he felt that an educated person could go in any direction they chose. I guess this could be seen as we all get the same education and then branch out but, I don’t think he was arguing precise curriculum, more general topics and depth.
The Paidela Curriculum offered by Mortimer Adler for Rediscovering the Essence of Education seems so similar to Bloom, or a multitude of literacy models, except tht it stays very limited. In Health Education we use the Health Literacy pyramid. At the base is Core Concepts, which corresponds to his Column One, but then we move on to Accessing Information, and Analyzing Influences, which does not appear in his Column Two or Three. Instead his Column One seems to represent acquiring knowledge through delivery, or introduction. His Column Two is practice, or perhaps mastery, and his Column Three is application. This is all good but it is all fairly basic, without the self-management, synthesizing, creating new product, and solving problems with this understanding. And, I find it horribly wrong to say that ‘nothing like this exists in education’. I believe it does, it is called elementary school, the formation of the foundation of learning but he completely ignores differentiated learning, and learning styles. I think that any teacher sees, on a daily basis, that students today have a variety or portholes in which they can learn. I can’t help but think of an young student I had with Asperger’s Syndrome. He fixated on ships, much teaching/learning had to be done through this ships. He was clearly bright, later in HS was inducted to the National Honor Society, and is now attending Maine Maritime Academy and doing very well. The path would have been very different had we required him to follow the Columns instead of hi mind.
We can ignore the differentiation in our students any more than in our teachers. Strengths should be nurtured and given due in the classroom. I am at a bit of a loss to comment fully on John Holt. On the one hand, yes, I agree that students should be active participants in their learning, and have some say in it also. On the other hand, I am not sure I am ready for complete freedom he advocates; I think there is an expansive middle ground worth exploring. I also disagree with his premise of the ‘control’, and ‘harm’ teachers do.

Moving on to position number 4; Is No Child Left Behind a Flawed Policy?  Of course it is, if for no other reason than it stills leaves unfunded mandates in place and we are still trying to define the terms it is based on such as ‘adequate yearly progress’. That alone doesn’t make it bad policy. It is the latest attempt at federal school reform. I personally think that is backwards approach. Imposed school reform, like anything else has a tough battle that takes energy away from the intent.
As seems often the case, the federal government stepped in with policy after feeling that states, and local authorities had not done the job, therefore the feds had to. This tactic seems to invoke two previously mentioned controversies, Zero Tolerance, in this case for failing schools, and Turn Around, of those failing schools. As with any sweeping measure, some parts are good, others not so much. Transparency, for instance, I think is good, in context. It is simply a snapshot of the moment. Snapshots over time, give a picture. Snapshots over time with accompanying narrative, give context and meaning.  Setting goals, requiring accountability, and implementing intervention are all excellent, and should be in place in education. It’s how it is done. Are the goals realistic, are the tools in place for success, and is there built in periodic reflection, that all too often forgotten step that can help guide,  is our intent is being met or maybe we need to look again.
Dianne Piche argues for NCLB. She sees agreement between the two sides on almost all of the intent. She disagrees with the premise that states should have control because she points to this as being an issue about the poor and minorities and states have a questionable history of being able to create equality. So, on this point, I am in agreement. The federal government has had to step in, eventually, to create equality after states battle it out without success. Whether it was gender, racial, or now sexuality based….the states will begin the battle but eventually it must once again come to the federal bench to parenthesize what equality means…..”all men are created equal (including women, racial minorities, and one day sexual minorities….etc)

Now we are into the Top Three!! Is Constructivism the Best Philosophy of Education?
This seems a bit of a rehashing of the Kant v. Locke perspectives. Experiences provide the context, I am not sure I can even imagine an argument for this. Since watching some quantum physics, such as What the Bleep Do We Know? and this much shorter,  simplistic, version of parallel universes, I doubt that anything is absolute knowledge. Why would we expect that anyone could learn identically as we teach? or that any two students could store the same information the same way? Everything is relative to our own experience. Anyone who has spent anytime in a classroom knows this. You say a direction, not even content, in as obvious a way possible, and three hands go up to ask what the direction was. Yes, one was simply not listening, another might ask just for attention, and one might have been distracted. Then the rest that go off to carry out the direction, are all over the place, each certain they heard and understood the direction. Alas, I do agree that Social Readiness is the true barrier.
Jamin Carson, although this article is only 7 years old, seems to still believe that we have any control over how our students receive content. He has not integrated this into his argument. In a time when the teacher was the all-knowing delivery of content, perhaps there was more possibility for the objectivism theory. His example of Romeo and Juliet is dismissed before he delves into that students reasoning for his seemingly mistaken understanding. Find where he took a turn and suggest another view? In any case, pure constructivism is not really the goal as I see it, it is what I like to call, ‘a leaning’. When we ‘lean in’ towards something, we open the door to it and by doing so, we open our mind to it.

Getting closer! Number 2: This is where I get a little crazy in conversations. Video games are ruining our kids, parents shouldn’t allow them! Instead of fighting against what is, can we find a way to incorporate it, find a benefit in education? Of course we can. Futile ranting that doesn’t allow for incorporation, that makes me crazy. So the next title: Do Computers Negatively Affect Student Growth?, to say the least, enticed me. We can not and do not, go backwards. The world changes, each generation has a different perspective, different tools. Perhaps that change is getting so fast we are struggling to keep up now. This is breeding a lot of insecurity, and this is easy to see with technology. The notion that the teacher has to turn to the students to solve a technical glitch, that we are not the experts, they are. Why is this bad? So many more students are engaged in learning because they have a way in now. So I have a problem with the premise, in that I feel it implies that we are able to measure today’s growth when we are yesterday’s product. Lowell Monke uses the example of the Oregon Trail simulation, remember this article was written nearly a decade ago so it was relevant. His argument is that the simulation can teach the value of resources, and the strategic use of them but cannot instill the determination and courage it took for those pioneers to make that journey. Duh! Of Course it can’t, it’s a simulation, on a computer. Again, the premise sets up the argument in an all-or-nothing fashion.  The computer is a tool for learning, for teaching, and for everything else. It is not a complete replacement for the teacher. However, in terms of making the allocation of resources, and it’s effect more ‘real’ to a 4th grader, I believe it surpasses the teacher. Then he says that the skills a student needs to enter the job market “can easily be learned in one year of instruction in high school”. Really? Taught by whom? One of us quasi-dinosaurs? Our students need to be embedded in the ever-changing computer and media tools. Changing with the applications of technology is the skill they most need to be adept in.
I do whole-heartedly agree about the ecological impact. I remember that computers were going to cut down on paper use but instead they have exponentially increased it. There is immense techno trash as devices change and become obsolete so quickly. There are the work forces that build these, and their conditions. These are all very real ecological impacts that need attention, now. However they do not really apply to the ‘student growth’ argument, more of a side bar, a very, very important side bar for our world, just not limited to educational growth.
Frederick Hess realizes that technology is a tool, not a cure. I am replacing the word technology instead of computers in this section because the use of computers just further points out the pace that has evolved. How many students use a computer, as we imagine and name them, in class? Netbooks, Chrome books, tablets, readers, etc and far more common.

Let the trumpets blare …we are at number 1: Is the “21st Century Skills” Movement Viable? I have not been as excited as a teacher as I am about this movement, so let’s say, I am biased, and very hopeful that the YES wins out on this one.
This is the educational philosophical battle I feel most embedded in. My school is deep into NEASC preparation. We are researching, writing, adopting, and preparing to implement. It is all wrapped around these 21st Century Learning Skills, moving our students from the dogma of passive learner to the active role of thinking! To begin, we have to move the board (I really was tempted on the topic of School Boards being obsolete), the administration, and the staff…and that’s just the work inside the building! Public education has always had the component of educating students to become productive members of society. Although Plato believed that the core educational focuses would prepare for any later endeavor, our world has become far more specialized. We prepare for what the future requires of them, to the best of our ability. So, we ask employers what they need and what they project to need and we revise to meet those needs. As mentioned in the previous contender, #9, the pace of change is difficult to keep up with. I believe this means that occasionally we have to leap. This is our leap.
Every school has those teachers, the veterans, who sit back and wait. They have seen it all before, heard it all before, and now they look at everything as a fad, a passing initiative and they may feel smug in that knowledge and that they know they don’t have to buy in or change a thing, and it will go away. We had one teacher in our school, who was also a veteran but who somehow kept her mind and practice open to change. Her name was Barb Rennie. My 21 year-old was lucky enough to have her for both 2nd and 3rd grade. She retired years ago, and sadly, she is still the picture that comes to mind, a rarity. She had taught every level, most subjects, and still gave new ideas a try, a listen, and then she took from them what worked best, she evolved. Is this the reason education has been so resistant to change, to evolve, because there are too few Barb Rennie’s and too many who ‘have been there, done that’ and have become resistant to change?
The argument that these skills have existed forever is true, of course they have, but not as the product of our education. Repositioning these skills, mobilizing around what is needed for our students, and therefore making it a priority instead of a hopeful by-product.
The NEASC process we went through, the Mission Statement was hauled out for all to see. It was carved into a new sign above the entrance. We all got laminated copies of the ‘key terms’ within it, all in an attempt to show the visiting committee that we were all aware of, and following it, that students could recite it. Those signs are still up. This time, the Core Values and Beliefs Indicator explicitly states that the adopted mission statement will be used as a basis for policy, decision-making, and budgeting.  This was big because typically these were not related in any way. I fought to get on the Core Values committee. We have school-wide rubrics based on 21st Century Skills, and they are embedded in out Mission Statement. I have asked School Board members NOT to adopt these unless we are all agreeing to the process, that these are our common goals, and our policies, decision-making and budgeting will flow from them. I was never so scared in my job as that day. We were discussing scheduling with our board members in favor of a 45 minute, 8 period day and our staff members desperately trying to preserve block learning. In the end, we can and will teach in a 30 min, 45 min, 50 min, 60 min, or 90 minute time frame. We can do it if our role is to deliver content. If we are buying in to the past years work we have done on 21st Century Skills, we need time, this decision must align with our Mission Statement. Still, a work in process. But just one reason why this was number 1 for me.

The Journey is Almost Over....Into the 
Those Nitty Gritty Courses 
...and that means papers!

This one started out as NOT my favorite. I even referred to it as a 'stupid assignment', regressing into my 12 year-old's view of the world ;)
Can't you just tell that he knows EVERYTHING ?

Find your Top 10 Philosophers, and their theories of Education. It seems I've lost the ability to read, and regurgitate...I just have to insinuate myself, my classroom, my content into everything!!

How did we get here? After all, I spend a significant part of my day, my life, embedded in education.  I am a public school teacher, an institution with a long and significant history in our culture, and in the history of civilization. I am a student, always. I am a student of my students, I am a student of my own evolution, and I am a student in pursuit of my master’s in education. A goal so close I can taste it. So, it does seem relevant to reflect on the historical significance of how educational theory has developed. This is the task, and a daunting one since I know well, that this is an area outside of my strengths.

            In the beginning….or at least the classical period of philosophy there were the big three. We have all heard of Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle. Early Greece forms the picture for me of what early culture and civilization embodied, and therefore I felt compelled to delve in to it. Throughout this research, I am amazed at the paradox of how both everything has changed, and yet, so much remains the same. Classical education focused on the full development of the individual as a whole person. The end result being that a fully realized person is capable of contributing to the society or culture in any of multiple directions. I believe this truth to still be true, with the stated caveat that we each have our own potentials in certain areas, therefore the goal is to live up to, or educate up to that level.  In this setting, a Trivium was followed as the path a child follows in education beginning with a grammar phase, then a logic/dialectic stage, and then as they near adulthood, the rhetoric stage. Socrates the educator, challenged his pupils to then rise through the “levels of reality to the highest, truest knowledge of what is”.

            I was struck by the first time I saw Socrates dialogues described as rambling. I had thought him so revered, and knowledgeable. As I read on, it was made clear by several authors, that they were describing his technique, which then seemed very familiar to me. First he would look at an idea from as many points of view as possible, as we do as teachers, to find that one key to engagement for each of our students. As embedded as we are in 21st Century Learning, I couldn’t help but see this as a version of, the teacher as facilitator. This transition we are in now, maybe it is getting back to basics really. We guide our students to their own realization, because our realizations are useless to them. In the cave analogy, Socrates uses some reverse psychology, and some acceptance of where Glaucon is in his own development, to guide him, indirectly towards his own discoveries. Another current thought that lies in Socrates dialogues is that once an individual becomes educated, they must put this enlightenment to work, to give back, to raise the level of the cave, the city, the society. His educational philosophy in the Republic is more difficult for me to understand.  Socrates, as all science I believe, struggled with nature and education, or as is commonly stated, nature and nurture, believing the education can lead to a rise in nature.

            Since I enjoy seeing the big picture. I chose next to learn about a completely different and just as intriguing perspective, Confucius. His life ended as Socrates life began yet I imagine their lives and culture as so much more diverse. It appears that they both have similar reputations in their cultures, as being founding teachers. Where Socrates believed all people had the capacity for education, Confucius was radical in his culture for offering equal education for all. At the time, education was reserved for the noble families. My reading still refers to all, as all men. His premises appeal to me, and as a teacher, are necessary, that everyone is good at heart (nature), and capable of acting on it, knowing it.  One of his later followers contended that evil and ignorance comes from the failure to development these given abilities. Where Socrates pressed for the development of knowledge through dialogue and stories, Confucius’s view was that real knowledge was self-knowledge. Ultimately they were quite similar in their goal for individuals to reach their personal potential and that this was the preparation needed for life. Several authors mentioned that Confucius believed that those who did not want to learn could not be taught. Hmmm…seems so basic, yet contrary to our belief of an education for all, hence the continuing saga of how do we reach each individual? The Greek were verbose, with lengthy dialogues and writings, giving students the opportunity to swim in it and find what resonated for them. In contrast, Confucius gave some pearls that had to be tumbled and looked at through many angles to detect how to unlock its higher meaning. I think Yoda is a contemporary of this type of teaching.

            Medieval philosophy is fascinating in it’s entanglement with religion. This is also the reason I struggle with it. There is also the unfortunate name, medieval, or ‘in-between time’. That makes it sound less significant. However, in terms of education, there is the formation of a more recognizable system, in more recognizable cultures, for us. Western Europe developed monastic schools, which led to the monasteries that we are familiar with. The Greek-like tradition of following the teachings of an individual master continued. Then there were the Cathedral schools and Universities. The Cathedral schools being larger and associated with a particular church or bishop and, like the Monastic schools, were centers of religious training. A dominant Cathedral school that attracted a wide variety of students could become a University.  The university as we know it, it is a collection of colleges, each specializing in it’s own subject. This is where we begin to see these, originally as the arts, law, medicine, and theology. This is when philosophy and religion joined. Any philosophy that threatened religion was not readily taught, such as Aristotle’s metaphysics.

            Two philosophers of this time, who did align with Aristotle, were Thomas Aquinas, and John Duns Scotus. They both believed that knowledge has two forms, sensory and intellect, and that abstraction is how the intellect translates sensory information into understanding.  They both used philosophy to develop their theorems of proof of the existence of God and believed that metaphysics was a real theoretical science, which put them at odds with the Pope. (It is difficult to NOT put this in context of the papal decisions going on today.) Aristotle believed that all concepts come from creatures, and to that, Scotus would reply, “where will that analogous concept come from?”. This sort of repartee seems to be the nature of their relationship.

            As a Health Educator, I am caught by some of the topics of Thomas Aquinas. Parents as primary educators seems an eternal concept. However, he goes further.  In the Suma Contra Gentiles, a book that seems to ‘sell’ Christianity to non-believers, he discusses sexual and marital ethics such as “why simple fornication is a sin to divine law, and why marriage is natural”. (Again, current events, DOMA etc..are hard to keep out, especially since his contemporary Scotus, and SCOTUS). He further delineates the roles each parent is better suited for. He recognized the ‘family’ and ‘state’ as two different societies, and that the state should not interfere with the functions of the family. I believe that my entire curriculum would be considered ‘family’, yet here we are, 2013, and it is ‘state’. That aside, Aquinas seems to adhere, after determining that a man, and not just God, can be a teacher, to the idea of the teacher as a leader – leading the student to learn. What is worth learning? Science, mathematics, natural philosophy, and metaphysics. Logic will be the method of learning.

            As a bridge from Medieval to Enlightenment periods, Descartes was hailed the “Father of Modern Philosophy”.  He did not believe that all knowledge came from the senses, as Aristotelians did, and he also refined his metaphysical beliefs by making clear distinctions between the body and mind. His quest for absolutes, something not subject to doubt, begins with “I exist”. He manages to extend this to God. Eventually getting to “Je pense donc je suis”, translated to the famous, “I think therefore I am”. His metaphor of philosophy, describes the important subjects of education. The roots are metaphysics, the braches fall into three major categories, medicine, mechanics and morals.

            The Enlightenment again resonates with 21st Century Learning objectives. As this is the ‘age of reason’, critical thinking and civic engagement are mentioned. This time period is very influential in the establishment of our own society and educational practice. My heart sides with Rousseau, the romantic, and his ideal of a peaceable kingdom of ‘noble savages’. My independent streak follows Voltaire, the writer’s name, who embraced freedom of religion. So this is the Enlightenment that the Medieval time was holding place for. It does seem to be a round about route back to Plato’s The Republic.

            Kant moves us to consider space and time. He agrees that most knowledge is gained from experience, the senses, what we see, hear, and touch in our surroundings but, we also have innate knowledge. He called these a ‘priori’ which is Latin for ‘from the beginning’. When it came to education, obedience was his doctrine. Apparently, some see this as the obvious reaction to the disobedience of the original sin. I feel we are trying to dig out of a very Kant inspired school structure where, routine, structure, and obedience. What about motivation? As to the child’s proper motivation: “One often hears is said that we should put everything before children in such a way that they shall do it from inclination. In some cases, it is true, this is all very well, but there is much besides which we must place before them as duty. For in the paying of rates and taxes, in the work of the office, and in many other cases, we must be led, not by inclination, but by duty. "Even though a child should not be able to see the reason of a duty, it is nevertheless better that certain things should be prescribed to him in this way …”  I feel that I hear this today. His counterpart Locke saw it his way, from his Some Thoughts concerning Education (1692):“I am very apt to think, that great severity of punishment does but very little good; nay, great harm in education: And I believe it will be found, that, ceteris paribus, those children who have been most chastised, seldom make the best men.” And finally a quote from Kant that really speaks to the dissatisfaction of education today where so many kids truly ‘hate’ school: “Children should sometimes be released from the narrow constraint of school, otherwise their natural joyousness will soon be quenched”. This sounds contrary to good education to me, so I wonder why it stuck? I see a kind of detachment from thinking of children as humans, more like pods in need of development.
            Bridging the gap between Enlightenment and Modern philosophy is the Post-Enlightenment. We are in the Age of Idealism.  Enter Dewey, well known for his “Democracy and Education”. He believed that education was intrinsic to the “social continuity of life” and further stated that education was a necessity because the nature of life is to die, implying that education ensured continuity. There is so much in his work that resonates today. Conservative views of education as the standards, taught conventionally versus, inquiry based education, as well as the more liberal or broad view of subject matters versus the distinct vocational skills.
            Emma Willard was American; she was born in Connecticut, as the 16th of 17 children! She was fortunate that her father was unconventional and thought females were just as worthy of an education as males were. She was a reformer to me, going on to establish the first secondary school for females despite being denied financial means by the state of NY. The school endures today. Her selling arguments would be cringe worthy today but were a smart tactic to appeal to the male audience. She gave multiple reasons for educating females such as, “If, then, women were properly fitted by instruction, they would likely teach children better than the other sex: they could afford to do it cheaper: and those men who would otherwise be engaged in this employment might be at liberty to add to the wealth of the nation”. Thank you Emma Willard for getting female education started in the U.S.
            Montessori, the higher alternative to the slower change that is the public schools. I am ashamed to say that I do not know much about this, and I am intrigued that at least two of our class members have been trained in this. Without exception, the information I find about Montessori education all state that; “it must be observed to be understood”.  Dr. Maria Montessori stated in The Absolute Mind that “To aid life, leaving it free, however, to unfold itself, that is the basic task of the educator”. Again, the teacher in the role of facilitator. I am so glad that so many have realized this and so…embarrassed…that so many people, who are teachers believe that they are the fountains of knowledge, imparting it to their students. Often I found words or analogies to nature in this research…tending as if a garden, cultivating learning, sowing the seeds, capacity to grow. This methodology seems to build on the sensory route for learning discussed earlier. Gaining knowledge through the senses and then developing an understanding of that knowledge, as the means of educating the child.  This has been a common thread.
            Henry David Thoreau has always held allure. Who has not wanted to go out into the woods to experience living with oneself? I surely have a hundred times. I spent many summer days at Walden Pond when my oldest was just an infant. We would walk along and I would try to imagine what it must have looked like back then, and how the peace and serenity may have influenced Thoreau’s pacifist nature. I knew he left teaching because he wouldn’t use corporal punishment. Education was still in that time of obedience and routine, children were less what? Less human? Less valuable? They were a work in progress. Thoreau taught through conversation. This circles us back to Socrates and the dialogue. The Socratic Seminar has been revived lately. I find it is a great way to get students to question and push each other. Character education and a sense of connectedness are integral in his philosophy. “Thoreau reminds us that we need to have respect for our selves (conscience), others (society), and nature (stewardship).”
            Contemporary philosophy has many branches, too many to cover here. There were a couple of people I wanted to learn more about and I will end with a brief discussion of them. Because I have never had the opportunity to take time to study the female philosophers, I feel I have always just been presented with the usual, male, suspects.
            I was alive but somehow missed the Malcolm X years. Maybe it was that I was growing up in eastern Long  Island, in a high school with one black student. His story is impressive, Nebraska to Harlem, to the streets, to jail. Then there was the self-recognition that he was nearly illiterate and the devotion to improve. The politics being what they were, an angry black man, who was well read, self-taught in jail, and dedicated to teaching young students that white America had brainwashed them, well, that was definitely a threat to the status quo.  I am unclear, though I read quite a bit, of his educational philosophy other than he thought that education was essential, to raising black people up from discrimination. Turning from his anger to bell hooks seems a necessity.
            What better motivation than hope? I believe teaching does require hope, and faith in learning. Her early education, as she describes it sounds heavenly. All black schools, taught by black women who were determined to help a generation use education for betterment, to ignite them with knowledge. Then her descriptions of the post-busing ‘all white’ school sound so opposite, obedience, no fire, no threats were tolerated. Thank goodness she was already engaged with learning and determined to teach and write. “It is imperative that we maintain hope even when the harshness of reality may suggest the opposite” is a quote from one of her mentor’s Paulo Friere. You can hear how that sentiment would resonate with her. She advocated holistic education, and reflection on the part of students as well as teachers, to care for themselves as practitioners.
Teachers, philosophers, and thinkers have shaped education for thousands of years. It is continuing to evolve today. It can be rewarding and disheartening. It is valuable to see the perseverance of knowledge as an expression of our innate potential. Although many ideas are constant which could feel like a lack of progress, it seems quite the opposite, for these ideas to stand the test of time, through all these ages, makes it more valuable. Our audience changes but we are always trying to get them hooked on self-discovery, critical thinking, exploring ideas, with no end in sight.


hooks, bell (1994) Teaching to Transgress. Education os the practice of freedom. London: Pluto Press.
Burke, B. (2004) ‘bellhooks on education’, the encyclopedia of informal education.
Philosophy of Education by Hsueh-Li Cheng
Sun, Qi (2008) Confucian Educational Philosophy and it’s Implications for Lifelong Learning and Lifelong Education.Philadelphia: Routledge