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The philosophy of education is the study of the process, purpose, nature and ideals of education. This can be surrounded by the context of education as a social institution or more broadly as the process of human existential growth, i.e. how it is that our understanding of the world is frequently transformed (be it from facts, social experiences, customs, or even our own emotions).
Behind every single school and every teacher is a set of related beliefs-a philosophy of education-that inspires what and how students are taught. A philosophy of education answers questions roughly about the purpose of schooling, a teacher's role, what should be taught and by what methods.
Teacher-centered philosophies, like essentialism and perennialisim, are more conservative, emphasizing the values and knowledge that have survived through time. Student-centered philosophies focus on individual needs, contemporary relevance, and a future orientation. Progressivism, social reconstructionism, and existentialism place the learner at the center of the educational process.
Essentialists urge that schools return to the basics through a strong core curriculum and high academic standards. Perennialists value the Great Books and the philosophical concepts that underlie human knowledge. The curriculum of a progressivist school is built around the personal experiences, interests, and needs of the students. Social reconstructionists more directly confront societal ills. Existentialism is derived from a powerful belief in human free will, and the need for individuals to shape their own futures.
Essentialism and perennialism give teachers the power to choose the curriculum, organize the school day, and construct classroom activities. The curriculum reinforces a predominantly Western heritage. Progressivism, social reconstructionism, and existentialism focus on contemporary society, student interests and needs, while teachers serve as guides and facilitators.
Constructivist teachers gauge a student's prior knowledge, and then carefully orchestrate cues, classroom activities, and penetrating questions to push students to higher levels of understanding. According to Skinner, behavior can be modified through an extrinsic reward system that motivates students even if they do not fully understand the value of what they are learning. The practices and beliefs of peoples in other parts of the world, such as informal and oral education, offer useful insights for enhancing our own educational practices, but they are insights too rarely considered, much less implemented.
Socrates is hailed today as the personification of wisdom and the philosophical life. He used persistent questions to help students clarify their thoughts, a process now called the Socratic method. Plato, Socrates' pupil, crafted eloquent dialogues that present different philosophical positions on a number of profound questions. Aristotle, Plato's pupil, provided a synthesis of Plato's belief in the universal, spiritual forms and a scientist's belief in the physical world. He taught that the virtuous life consists of controlling desires by reason and by choosing the moderate path between extremes.
Metaphysics deals with the nature of reality, its origin and its structure, and poses curricular choices: Should we study the natural world, or focus on spiritual or ideal forms? Epistemology examines the nature and origin of human knowledge, and influences teaching methods. "How we know" is closely related to how we learn and therefore, how we should teach. Ethics is the study of what is "good" or "bad" in human behavior, thoughts, and feelings. Political philosophy proposes ways to create better societies in the future, and asks: How will a classroom be organized, and what will that say about who wields power? Aesthetics is concerned with the nature of beauty, and raises the issue: What works are deemed of value to be studied or emulated?
Financing and governing American schools
For teachers to encourage the direction of schools, they need to become more involved in finance and governance issues. Unfortunately, the insights of students and teachers are rarely heard in policy circles. Local communities generally fund their schools through a property tax, which many people consider outdated and unfair. Since some areas are wealthier than others, some school districts generate more than enough money for schools, while others must struggle to keep schools open. Robin Hood laws, built on the California Serrano decision, attempted to equalize educational funding between wealthy and poor communities. Resistance to these attempts led to passage of laws such as Proposition 13, which limited property taxes. Although the Supreme Court recognized that school financing is a flawed system, it did not rule the process unconstitutional. State courts continue to address these financial inequities.
Opposition grew as state court decisions, for example Abbott v. Burke in New Jersey, directed funds be moved from wealthier districts to poorer communities. Because increased funding did not always lead to higher test scores, courts began to differentiate between financial input and educational outcome. Several state court decisions have cited state constitutional language guaranteeing adequate or efficient education, and focus on the educational skills of graduates, rather than per pupil expenditures. While critics of educational equity charge that money will not solve poor educational performance, wellfunded schools draw more qualified teachers and have smaller classes, two factors associated with student achievement.
The most common state sources of school funding are property tax, sales tax, personal income tax, and state lotteries. Many of these revenue sources are regressive, putting most of the burden on the poorest citizens. Although states have experimented with different funding methods, such as foundation programs and a guaranteed tax base for all districts, none has proved very successful.
According to the Tenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, education is the responsibility of the states. Still, the federal government exercises great influence through court actions, funding leverage, and specific programs sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education. Federal monies provide between 6 and 8 percent of K-12 educational costs, much of which is in block grants.
School financing in the future will be influenced by demands tying school performance to funding levels (accountability), the popularity of choice programs, the economy's impact on school budgets, the great need for repairing deteriorating school buildings (infrastructure), and the continuing effort of wealthy communities to retain their tax revenues in their own community, which perpetuates educational inequality.
At the state level, the legislature, state board of education, state superintendent, and state department of education administer schools, and delegate some of its power to local school boards and superintendents. Boards of education formulate education policy and can act as trustee representatives, serving the interests of the entire community, or as representative delegates, serving the interests of their neighborhoods. The chief state school officer, often called the superintendent, is responsible for implementing those policies of the state board of education, just as the local superintendent implements the policies of the local board of education. Several large school districts are turning to former lawyers, business executives, political leaders, and even military officers to lead their school districts.
Parents, school secretaries, and custodians influence school life, and are part of the hidden government of schools. The business community significantly impacts schools through its ethos, vocabulary, and value system, which promote competitiveness, conformity, and punctuality. Many question the motivation, tactics, and commercialism involved in those efforts.
Traditionally, teachers have not had a significant role in school governance. Recent trends of school-based management, also called site-based management, and collaborative decision making, may provide teachers with a more influential position in school governance. Consolidation has decreased the number of school districts while increasing the average size of schools. Supporters believe that this increases educational opportunities and efficiency by absorbing small school districts with limited educational resources and electives into larger districts. Critics claim that it increases alienation and red tape.
Student life in school and at home
Even though teachers are enormously busy in the classroom, students spend much of their time sitting still and waiting, denying their needs, and becoming distracted. John Goodlad and others have documented that while some teachers use instructional time efficiently, others are sidetracked by behavioral problems and administrative routine. Efficient teachers advance student learning.
Ned Flanders found that two-thirds of the classroom time is talk; two-thirds of that talk is from the teacher. Teachers also initiate about 85 percent of Bellack's "pedagogical cycles," although the majority of questions they ask require only rote memory. Ironically, while a major goal of education is to increase students' curiosity, it is the teachers, not the students, who are the gatekeepers of what will be learned and which students will be allowed to actively participate.
The practice of placing students into a specific class based on ability is called tracking. Jeannie Oakes found that a disproportionate number of poor children and students of color are labeled as slow learners, even when their achievement levels are strong. Students tracked into slower classes have weaker teachers, fewer opportunities, lower self-esteem and achievement. Yet many educators and parents believe that heterogeneous classes are also problematic, and some type of ability grouping is needed.
Supporters of detracking call for more individualization of instruction, more authentic learning, and less reliance on a "one size fits all" view of teaching. By 2000, only a small number of schools continued to use the term "tracking," although many continued the practice under terms such as "ability grouping."
Peer pressure wields great power in and out of school. A gender wall rigidly segregates young children, with boys forming hierarchic societies and girls creating pairs of best friends. Compared to children in the early 1980s, in the late 1990s, elementary children spent more time in day care, in school, studying, reading, playing sports, and involved in personal care, while spending less time watching television, enjoying leisure time, or in religious activities.
Sociologist James Coleman described adolescence as an intense, almost "closed" social system, where peer status dominates. Ralph Keyes suggests that those socially frustrated in high school may be more motivated to succeed as adults. Patricia Hersch describes the lack of community or parental monitoring in contemporary culture, a practice that contributes to additional adolescent problems.
Frances Ianni calls for schools to create "youth charters," a coordinated network of social services and psychological resources to nurture at-risk children. The Carnegie Foundation recommends more humane and caring structural changes, such as detracking, cooperative learning, and smaller school units.
Ron Edmonds set forth a "five-factor theory" of effective schools: (1) strong administrative leadership, (2) clear school goals shared by faculty and administration, (3) a safe and orderly school climate, (4) frequent monitoring and assessment of student progress, and (5) high expectations for student performance. Newer research connects effective schools with early intervention programs, an emphasis on reading and math, smaller schools, smaller classes, increased learning time, assessment of student progress, and expanded teacher training.
School is a culture. Like most cultures, it is filled with rituals and traditions, rewards and punishments, winners and losers. It can be an intense and even cruel culture, with only a few "winners," many "wanna-bes," and some "losers." After graduation, however, the losers and winners often change places, for the school and the real world are very different.
From the moment children first enter school, they are immersed in an informal and subtle network of interactions that forms a big part of school culture. Time plays a major role in this culture. The school world is divided into chunks of time, called "periods" or "blocks," which are filled with "English" and "History" and other names. Typically energetic students are pinched into passive roles. For 50-minute blocks of time, children respond to questions from teachers but seldom ask any of their own. School tracking practices assign students to high and low achievement groups, and an academic caste system may emerge.
Curriculum standards and testing
"We shape our buildings and afterwards our buildings shape us," said Winston Churchill. Had the noted statesman been a noted educator, he might have rephrased this epigram, substituting curriculum for buildings-for what children learn in school today will affect the kinds of adults they become and the kind of society they will eventually create. In fact, it is the power of curriculum to shape students and, ultimately, society that takes curriculum development out of the realms of philosophy and education and into the political arena.
In buildings from the little red schoolhouse to the White House, adults (and occasionally their charges) discuss what is supposed to be learned in school. While the current movement stresses the importance of students doing well on high-stakes tests, it is teachers and schools that are also feeling the pressure to "perform." Protests (perhaps better titled "anti-tests") have been growing against the increasing influence of standardized tests. The No Child Left Behind Act has raised the stakes in high-stakes testing, so not only students, but entire schools can now "fail." The benefits of standards and the many problems with high-stakes tests are explored in this chapter. We also consider some of the more positive and creative ways of looking at the school curriculum and testing option.
Many believe that even before the emergence of this new "unofficial national curriculum," we already had a de facto national curriculum: the textbook. For decades, publishers have happily crafted texts to market demands, even if they were not always the best texts for students. And if all that were not enough, the continuing threat of censorship makes the teacher's role in selecting materials to supplement textbooks a constant challenge.
Multicultural history of education
Individuals exhibit diverse styles of learning that are affected by attitudes (such as motivation), reasoning (organization and retention of information), and physical needs (preferences ranging from food and sleep needs to comfort levels for room sound or lighting). Because students exhibit a wide range of individual differences, there is no single optimal educational climate.
Teachers may need to adjust room temperature, lighting, and noise level, and plan a variety of activities to accommodate individual student needs. Teachers can work to complement various learning styles, such as visual, kinesthetic, or auditory.
Just as some educators challenge the concept of a single appropriate learning style, others challenge the notion of a single type of intelligence. Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences suggests that teachers plan their lessons to incorporate and develop these different intelligences (e.g., ask students to re-enact historical events through dance).
Daniel Goleman advocates that teachers develop students' emotional (EQ) as well as intellectual (IQ) gifts by helping students understand their emotions, "read" the emotions of others, and learn how to manage relationships.
Today, approximately one-third of the student population is of color, both enriching and challenging our schools. Knowledge about different racial and ethnic groups is critical, yet destructive stereotypes persist. Teachers should work to ensure equitable attention, nurture different learning styles, and include a curriculum that reflects the contributions and experiences of all groups.
James Banks identifies four levels of multicultural education: contributions, additive, transformation, and social action. The contributions and additive levels are fairly superficial, while the transformation and social action approaches offer more profound opportunities to learn about the nation's and the world's rich diversity.
In Lau v. Nichols (1974), the Supreme Court ruled that schools were deficient in their treatment of students with limited English proficiency. Congress subsequently passed the Bilingual Educational Act, and many districts have robust bilingual programs. Some programs teach students in their native language until they learn English (the transitional approach), others teach in both languages (the maintenance approach), and some use English as a Second Language (ESL). Studies suggest that many bilingual programs often fall short of their goals, and some critics advocate fast-paced immersion (also termed "submersion"), an effort supported by those who want English to be declared the "official" American language. The future direction of bilingual education may be as much a political determination as an instructional one.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) guarantees students with disabilities access to public education, and requires that individualized education programs document school efforts and student progress. Despite this law, there are no easy answers to identifying or educating special needs children, and there is much debate around the wisdom of inclusion or mainstreaming. Included in the special education category are gifted and talented students, who are often neglected. School programs for these students usually focus on either enrichment or acceleration.
Different ways of learning
Working with Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman (Jan 4, 2000)
Introduction to Multicultural Education, An (4th Edition) by James A. Banks (Feb 10, 2007)
Culture, system, and behavior;: The behavioral sciences and education (The Foundations of education series) by Francis A. J Ianni (Unknown Binding - 1967)
Foundations of Social Theory by James Samuel Coleman (Aug 19, 1998)
A case study of an educational innovation: The history of Flanders interaction analysis by Ned A Flanders (1981)
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