Philosophy of Education

I strongly believe in the canon because, like essentialists, I am persuaded that there is a core of immovable knowledge that everyone should master. I consider that cultural literacy is a requirement for responsible and active citizens. Not only does cultural literacy help us understand the world, but it also gives us the ability to improve it. Indeed, knowing the past allows us to grasp a better understanding of the present and thus, to envision the future. Also, we find references to classics in the news, literature, and even in casual conversations. Hence it is essential for one to know where these references come from in order to understand what is being said. Finally, great works of arts and literature are the foundation of today’s civilization and this foundation needs to be acknowledged in order for us to get a better understanding of our culture and society. The canon is the key to interpreting today’s world, cultural literacy allows us to understand current societal problems, and it is a means to participate actively in making the world a better place. As E.D Hirsch said, “cultural literacy is the air of social intercourse.” Therefore, I believe that cultural literacy is one of the tools the educational system needs to provide tomorrow’s citizens with. However, I do not believe that the canon is the only thing that should be taught in schools, even though it deserves a substantial place in the curriculum.

Choosing what should constitute the canon is a different matter, though, so far, the canon has been mainly composed of works from the hegemonic culture. Indeed, most of the classics have been written by white males from western civilization. However, today’s society is very diverse, and so I think the curriculum should reflect the diversity of society, in order to promote social cohesion. It is often said that misunderstandings and fears are the roots of anger and hate. I think that students should be taught about ethnic, racial, and other types of differences, because if they learn to respect and understand diverse views and cultures, they will hopefully become more tolerant. Hate and unfounded stereotypes are often passed on from generation to generation, and so the schools have to take actions in order to make this world a better one. I do not believe that schools can take on a Reconstructionist role, without giving students access to the cultural canon. The canon should simply be altered in order to reflect today’s diverse society. Consequently, I would argue that the students should be given a wide variety of texts, interpreting history and viewing society differently. Indeed, I believe them to be smart enough to be given the opportunity to construct meaning by themselves, and reflect upon societal flaws. My role would be to make them aware of these divergent viewpoint, in to guide them in their reasoning process. Students need to get a political sense of reality early on if we want them to be interested in politics when they become active citizens. If we only teach them the white western male approach on social issues, then the education is biased, and it only serves to reproduce social conflicts and inequalities. According to French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, the schools are perpetuating social inequalities and thus preventing social change. I want schools to promote social change. I want to be able to make a difference. For this reason, I want to give students the tools to become responsible citizen, and to think for themselves.

What is the best way to teach French? I don’t really know what the best way is, but I expect to find it, and implement it in my classroom. For now, I only have a couple of ideas on how I want to teach what is important in the discipline I will teach. First of all, I believe that a foreign language is a way to enter a different world and to understand a different culture. Many people have told me that although they took several years of French in high school, they are incapable of speaking today. I realize that it is extremely difficult to stay fluent in a language if we don’t use it on a regular basis. This is why I see the teaching of a foreign language as more than just giving the opportunity to communicate with others; it is also a way to learn about others cultures. While the proficiency in a foreign language is not very durable, what one learns about a culture constitutes a more durable knowledge. If we teach the language without talking about the culture, then we don’t give students a clear picture, and the language won’t be as meaningful to them. Dimitrios Thanasoulas said:

Paying lip service to the social dynamics that undergird language without trying to identify and gain insights into the very fabric of society and culture that have come to charge language in many and varied ways can only cause misunderstanding and lead to cross-cultural miscommunication.

Therefore, I think it is important to put a strong emphasis on culture in a foreign language class. Nevertheless, I would not teach less grammar in order to teach more culture. I think that the two go hand in hand, and that there needs to be a strong cultural background for the students to relate to the language, realize the importance of understanding and be able to communicate with others. As Claire Karmsch said:

Culture in language learning is not an expendable fifth skill, tacked on, so to speak, to the teaching of speaking, listening, reading, and writing. It is always in the background, right from day one, ready to unsettle the good language learners when they expect it least, making evident the limitations of their hard-won communicative competence, challenging their ability to make sense of the world around them (2001).

I think that teaching a foreign language and culture is a great way to reduce the amount of unfounded stereotypes and discrimination that are partly responsible for the social fracture. We are now part of a global village, and also it is time that we start looking at people and cultures around us, because we can all learn from each other; and maybe if we start understanding differences, there won’t be as much conflict between diverse groups. I might be to naïve and optimistic, right now, I intend on playing an active role in society, by preparing today’s children to make the world a better place.

As future teacher, it is important for me to start looking at different teaching approaches and strategies, in order to refine my views on classroom management as well as my philosophy of education. There are various philosophical views about teaching, and I cannot say that I fit into only one category. The two major ones are the behaviorist and the humanistic theories. Although I agree with some aspect of each of these theories, I also disagree with some of their facets. I cannot adopt a particular one, nor can I reject the other one entirely. Also, since I have not yet had the chance to have my own classroom, my teaching philosophy is only hypothetical since I can only relate to it in an abstract sense. Hence, I am going to attempt to discuss the ideas I believe I would like to use in my classroom, and distinguish them from the ideas I do not adhere to at the moment. I will also describe some of my views about classroom management, and how I wish to manage my future classroom.

The behaviorist theory seems to rest on scientific data which relate mainly to psychology. According to this theory, students must be taught how to behave (Sparks-Langer, 336). For instance, behaviorists believe that past behavior and experiences will influence the way a person may act in the future. By giving a negative or a positive response to a behavior, we either discourage the student from reiterating the behavior, or we encourage him/her in pursuing it. As B. F. Skinner explains: “future human behavior is determined by the consequences followed by past behavior” (Sparks-Langer 332). I believe this statement to be right to a certain extent, but I do not consider that the consequences of past behavior are necessary to prevent further bad behavior. By making clear classroom rules in cooperation with the students we might prevent misbehavior. Indeed, if we make sure the students are all aware of the consequences for breaking the rules, the prospect of a reprimand may be enough to prevent bad behavior.

Also, according to the humanistic approach, the students should be involved in the creation of a classroom rules chart, for they are more bound to understand and follow the rules if they participate in making them, and thus, agree with them. While in the behaviorist approach, the teacher is the only authority, the humanistic approach states that the students should take part in classroom management and take responsibility in their learning: “there should be a humanistic rapport built between students before establishing rules, and students should be involved in the creation of rules” (Glickman, 1998. Sparks-Langer 337). I agree with the humanistic approach because I believe that it is good for students to learn that they should be accountable for, and take responsibilities toward their actions. In certain cases however, teachers might not be able to give too much responsibly to their students, when it could undermine classroom management. Some groups may need a stronger figure of authority than others; all of this depends on the students and the teacher. I would try to give students has much responsibilities and accountability as possible, as long as the classroom atmosphere is favorable to high levels of concentration and achievement.

The behaviorist approach focuses on a contingency management system based on extrinsic rewards, which motivates students with external factors. The humanistic theory considers that intrinsic rewards are the most important because they make learning more meaningful to students. The students should be working because they want to develop their skills or because they are interested in a particular topic, and not because they are afraid of failing the class or getting a low grade. I believe that a nuance of the two approaches would be the best strategy to motivate students’ involvement. While some students might be mature enough to be concerned about ameliorating their skills, other might not have reached that stage of maturity, and might need to be extrinsically motivated. Also, some students might not find the course interesting, and might not be intrinsically motivated by it. Though it is the teacher’s job to make the class as interesting and meaningful to the students, some subjects such as Math or Physics might not be as attractive as Art or Physical education. Consequently, I believe that a balance between extrinsic and intrinsic rewards would be the best option. In the same sense, I believe that praise and punishment should be used adequately, and equally. If we punish bad behavior, we must acknowledge and praise good behavior.

Classroom management is one of the biggest concerns of today’s teachers, besides student achievement. Though I find some ideas interesting and worth trying, I honestly believe that this can only be hypothetical, because the management style has to be tailored to each group or individual, in order to be effective.

According to Robert Sylwester, classroom management rests upon a considerable number of factors. According to him, there is a form of energy in the classroom, it influences the classroom activity in a way that can either create misbehavior, or prevent it. Sylwester advises to take into account all of these factors in order to keep the classroom energy as positive as it can be. The factors are as follow: “emotion, attention, self-concept/ self-esteem, interest, motivation, ability, funding, control, collaboration, rules, and assessment” (2003). Sylwester has a very humanistic approach on classroom management, and strongly believes that students should be involved in making the rules, and that teachers cannot be the only ones in charge.

The distribution of power has to be balanced in a way that make the classroom environment safe but with a certain degree of flexibility in order not to hinder imagination and expression. Sylwester says “why do educators get to make all the management decisions if they’re part of the misbehavior problem?” (2003). As a matter of fact, I strongly agree with Sylvester’s approach, because I feel that the students should take responsibility over their learning, and they should be able to see which rules are necessary for learning to take place effectively. Jim Fay and David Funk express this need for the students to take responsibility in their learning, in order for it to be meaningful to them: “When I am no longer in charge of my learning, it becomes less worthwhile to pursue” (p.82). I agree with this facet of the humanistic perspective, but I think there should be some nuances depending on the students. Depending on the age group, the maturity of the students, and the personalities in the classroom, the students should be allowed a different amount of power in management decisions. Fay & Funk advise to “Give kids as much control over their learning goals as possible, without violating the integrity of the classroom and what we expect to teach (1995, 212). In fact, while some groups will be dependable and responsive to the strategy, some other groups might be a little less mature and need more control from the teacher. The teacher is the authority figure, and I believe that he/she should exercise his/her power with moderation, because if the teacher is too laxist, or too authoritative, he/she might lose the students respect and attention.

In Fay and Funk’s Teaching with Love and Logic, there are some really good advice about how to handle misbehavior and how to handle conflicts so that a consensus can be made without having the student or the teacher will lose their integrity. Also, Fay and Funk advise to make the students responsible of their problems by making them analyze what they did wrong and understand what the consequences should be. I think this is a very good approach, especially for secondary students who tend to reject adult authoritative figures. I think that as long as the teacher is fair and consistent with what he/she expects from students, the students will be able to realize this fairness, and they will accept rules that are incontestable.

There are many reasons why a class or an individual might misbehave, and it is essential to seek to know the cause or the misbehavior, in order to restore a positive relationship between the student(s) and the teacher, and thus, a good learning environment. Therefore, it is primordial to know the students in order to deal with misbehavior in a fair and effective way. For instance, a student might be having a bad day, or might want to act out in front of the classroom. The student might also be bored. Consequently, because he/she already masters the skill being taught, it is the teacher’s role to provide assessments and lessons that are challenging to all students. On the opposite end, there might be a student who acts out, because he/she does not understand the lesson and feels uncomfortable. The students should always do something that makes them progress, otherwise learning is not rewarding and the student might have a hard time getting intrinsically motivated by the lesson. It is also the teacher’s job to make sure everybody is understanding a skill before moving on to the next level. The teacher should look for these possible causes of misbehavior, and then try to remediate to the source of the problem rather than merely punishing the behavior.

My view might appear as wishful thinking, but I think that classroom atmosphere depends upon the teacher. I have been in classroom when students had respect fort the teacher and behaved, and I have also observed the opposite scenario. Therefore, I believe that it is possible to have a classroom where students have a lot of liberties and are able to take responsibility in their learning. If the Fay and Funk advices do not work, if the behaviorist methods fail, and if the humanistic methods fails as well, then I will go and seek advice from those teacher, who have managed to get rid of most classroom management issues, and have a classroom with a very positive climate.

Finally, it is the teacher’s responsibility to “create a classroom atmosphere in which student’s healthy emotional growth and development are supported” (Sparker-Langer, 337). If extrinsic rewards and punishments are needed to maintain this kind of atmosphere, then I believe the teacher should implement them. If classroom management becomes an issue, the teacher should check how he/she communicates and interacts with the students, and if his/her behavior is not the source of the problem. Only then should we consider implementing extrinsic punishments and a higher level of authority.

Elsa Leoncini.

References:

Bourdieu, P. Quoted in La Mobilité Sociale. 2000. Internet Source : http://www.ac-bordeaux.fr/Etablissement/SudMedoc/ses/2001/cours/ch_social/inegal/mobilite_sociale.htm

Fay J. & Funk D. (1995). Teaching With Love & Logic. The Love & Logic Press Inc, CO.

Kramsch, C. 1993. Context and Culture in Language Teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Quoted in Radical Pedagogy, by Dimitrios Thanasoulas (2001). Internet source: http://radicalpedagogy.icaap.org/content/issue3_3/7-thanasoulas.html

Sparks-Langer (2004). Teaching as Decision Making: Successful Practices for the Secondary Teacher. Merrill/Prentice Hall, OH (330-398).

Sylwester, R. (2003). A Biological Brain. Corwin Press. (ch. 4, p.1-3). Retrived online.
for webpage reference, click here

Thanasoulas, D. 2001 Radical Pedagogy, The Importance Of Teaching Culture In The Foreign Language Classroom. Internet source : http://radicalpedagogy.icaap.org/content/issue3_3/7-thanasoulas.html

 

 

 

 
For questions or comments, please contact Elsa Leoncini