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Every teacher should have some philosophy that is engendered in his or her style of teaching. Through a lifetime of experience, I have come to a philosophy that integrates two different, but I believe complementary, philosophies: Progressivism and Pragmatism. I believe that the mix of these philosophies will help me to develop techniques that will lead to my students being prepared for a life outside of the classroom. I believe that these two philosophies are so complementary that one cannot necessarily be used without the other, in many ways. This philosophical discussion will use the two philosophies both separately and in conjunction with each other.
Progressives believe that humans are sensitive to and are affected by experience. Pragmatists have the belief that there is no ultimate truth in humanity because reality changes, which must necessarily change truth and ideologies. Humans survive more by learning from experience after they are born than do many other animals that rely primarily on pre-wired instinct. Although humans have instincts as well, education is critical for providing them with the skills to live in society. Dewey argued that we learn something from every experience, whether positive or negative and ones accumulated learned experience influences the nature of their future experiences. Thus, every experience in some way influences all potential future experiences for an individual. With this in mind, there must be an understanding that these past experiences are different for each individual.
Task of Education
A Progressivist/Pragmatic curriculum emphasizes such things as problem solving and creating skills needed in today's world. I agree with this idea because people are continuously learning in today's changing world, so education (and experience) does not just end once a person is out of school. People need to use their continual knowledge to adjust to the changes in life. If a student is able to learn how to link together what he or she has learned, then that student is going to be able to apply their school experience as life skills. The curriculum of a Progressivist/Pragmatist should be built around the personal experiences and needs of the students and the teacher should present lessons to students as if they are being faced with a real-life situation.
Role of the School
In his book, Experience & Education, John Dewey (1938) stated that, although he would use the words "progressive" and "new" in regards to education, that he was not just using those words haphazardly. His belief was that the primary issue was not about old against new education or progressive versus traditional education, but that there was a fundamental question of by whatever name you call it, it must be worthy of the name education (Dewey, 1997 ). Progressivism, I believe, should make the students take ownership of their education. Because of the increasingly technological world that we live in, education must stay ahead of the curve. In the United States, we are not doing that. Our classroom lessons should mirror society in that we should teach children in a way that helps them to be able to think critically and solve problems that are outside of the "normal" way.
With all of the challenging outside factors in society today that effect children, teachers should not allow those factors to carry into their everyday learning. Children need to feel love, comfort and respect in the classroom. As a teacher it is my responsibility to create a world for my students based on not only facts and figures, but real world issues.
Role of the Teacher
Dewey (1938) views education as a continuous growth through experience and thus he thinks that teachers "â€¦should know how to utilize the surroundings, physical and social, that exist so as to extract from them all that they have to building up experiences that are worthwhile ( (Dewey, 1997 ). I believe that students should think "out of the box" when it comes to learning and actively participate. Activities that develop participation skills can make students feel confident in learning regardless of negative educational experiences. In their journal article, Luis Moll and Norma Gonzalez performed one experiment with Native American children where they encouraged the students to do research (Moll & Gonzalez, 1994). One main passage that stood out to me was that the students:
â€¦use reading and writing as tools of inquiry, and contribute their ideas as part of classroom discussions. Interestingly, several Navajo teachers resisted the introduction of the curriculum on the basis that Navajo students would not respond to an inquiry-based curriculum and that they needed scripted drills to develop basic skills. It was only after a successful demonstration of the curriculum in action, with the students actively participating, that the teachers agreed that the curriculum was feasible and useful, and decided to implement it.
Those students, who were allowed to go outside of traditional curricula, began to actively participate and verbalize what they had learned, when they had been stereotyped as being shy and minimally verbal. That is the type of learning that will help students long after they have left school.
Teacher - Student Relationship
The teacher/student relationship in Progressivism/Pragmatism is one that includes a trust that is mutual respect and learning through experience. The teacher and student learn from one another. The teacher can learn from each student, who has had varying cultural and educational experiences; students will learn from the life and educational experiences of the teacher, as well as the information presented by the teacher.
Teachers should allow students to go beyond activities beyond the regular classroom. I also want to express the importance of communicating feelings and the value of respect for, and to, each and every student. I believe that I must allow students to reach outside of the regular classroom curriculum and actively explore complements to the "three Rs." My belief is that a curriculum which integrates students' experiences makes for skills learning. Paradoxically, skills learning as an end often makes students "check out" of the educational process to pursue goals to them that are more realistic than sitting in a classroom, i.e. making money to survive. It is very difficult for students to see the value in education, especially when they come from socio-economic circumstances that are substandard. For this reason, I believe that a close student/teacher relationship must be established to intervene if a student shows signs of removing themselves from the school setting.
How Students Learn
Progressives/Pragmatists believe in the education of all children. They feel the school environment should mimic society as a community. Learning should occur in an environment that is collaborative and will lead the child to learn from an intrinsic motivation for knowledge. They believe the goals for a student should come from what they want to learn or what they have experienced in the environment, not from some spiritual direction as with Theism. Pragmatists believe that students learn through empirically verifiable information and ideas that comes from a scientific and public test that is stated by observable and measurable consequences.
If a student is able to learn how to link together what he or she has learned, then that student is going to be able to apply their school experience as life skills. Students should be able to use their continual knowledge to adjust to the changes in life (through life experience). So, with the combination of school experience and life experience, Progressives/Pragmatists believe this will make a complete human being who can direct the course of his or her own life.
Progressivists take into account the unique differences between each student in their classroom. Each person is different genetically and in terms of past experiences. The use of standard (traditional) curricula in teaching which uses established pedagogical methods does not take into account that students have a different quality of experience due to the differences in genetics and past experiences. This is why teaching and curriculum must be designed in ways that allow for the student's individual differences. The Progressive curriculum engenders a freedom for teachers and students that, alone, would be chaotic; there must be some structure and order to education. This is why I also like to include a Pragmatic view to school curriculum.
The Pragmatic view of curricula involves three stages: making and doing, history and geography, and science. The first stage of making and doing through a Pragmatic view sees education as a continuous growth through experience so that educators should know how to utilize the surroundings (physical and social) that exist so as to extract from them all that they can to build up experiences that are worthwhile in elementary-aged children. The second stage encompasses a concentration on things that happened, things that are happening, and things that will happen; teaching students that time and space are intertwined and make up the human experience. They believe that all places that involve children are interrelated: home, neighborhoods, towns, cities, states, and countries. This gives room for the school curriculum to teach geography and history. The third stage is a belief that science also plays a role in the final stage of student learning. Their thought is that science is variable and subject to reformation of the theories involved.
Because of the increasingly technological world that we live in, education must stay ahead of the curve. In the United States, we are not doing that. Our classroom lessons should mirror society in that we should teach children in a way that helps them to be able to think critically and solve problems that are outside of the "normal" way. A Progressive/Pragmatic curriculum emphasizes such things as problem solving and creating skills needed in today's world.
The curriculum of a pragmatist should be built around the personal experiences and needs of the students and the teacher should present lessons to students as if they are being faced with a real-life situation. As Dewey believed, the sole goal of education is growth. He was wary of educational goals and purposes that came from sources, authorities, or movements that were external to the child.
We should not press our desires on students for what we may wish them to be, but let them decide their path. That is not to say that we do not provide guidance; a pragmatic view is that the genuine educational goals should come from within. By allowing students the opportunity to grow (as Dewey said, "To grow means to have more activity, more problems, more resolutions to problems, and a greater network of social relationships"), this will make the students take ownership of their education.
Societal Context and Expectations
Students should know that what they are learning can help them in the real world. The only way for that to happen is to bring culturally relevant teaching into the classroom. According to Gloria Ladson-Billings, culturally relevant teaching strategies rely on three criteria or proposals: (a) Students must experience academic success; (b) students must develop and/or maintain cultural competence; and (c) students must develop a critical consciousness through which they challenge the status quo of the current social order (Ladson-Billings, 1995). This is very much in line with my contention that students should think outside of the box and not always go along with the conventional wisdom of the day. In order to accomplish this, there needs to be more of a concern for students outside of the classroom atmosphere. This means involvement in the surrounding community, including the various churches, community activities, and homes of the students to get a real look at their varied cultures.
I believe that knowing, and working with, the family of students is relevant in educational planning. It is what helps the student to maintain their cultural competence (thus boosting their self-esteem). It is a teacher's responsibility to know the caregivers of each student. By getting to know the caregivers, teachers can also learn of past positive and negative experiences that may help in educating the student. In Exceptional Children: An Introduction to Special Education, the author sees active family involvement as germane to any conversation involving students, because a) families know certain aspects of their children better than anyone else does; b) families have the greatest vested interest in seeing their children learn; c) and the family is likely to be the only group of adults involved with a child's educational program throughout their entire school career (Heward, 2009). There should be little doubt that learning the culture that surrounds the students, and incorporating that culture into my classroom will create a better teaching environment for the students.
Who is to be Educated
Progressives/Pragmatists believe that all students should be educated with real-world knowledge, using real-world examples. Dewey (1938) also put forth the notion that within education experience counts, which brings to bear self-realization in my philosophical reasoning. I know that the various experiences that I have had, from military duty to being a small business owner; from working in a bread factory to a copper mill; from being a husband and father to becoming a single father, will all help me to better communicate with my students and help them to develop alternative thinking skills because I will be able to use those experiences to give examples to my students and give them activities that will be relevant to life outside of the classroom.
I will use all that I have mentioned to make education come alive in my classroom. I believe that as teachers, our job is more than just planning, creating, and teaching lessons. My firm belief is that a teacher is responsible for being not only an educator, but a substitute parent at times, a counselor at other times, and an exemplary model for every student. If, throughout my teaching career, there is even one student that comes back to me to tell me that I have made a difference in his or her life, I will then know that all the work, time, and energy that I put into the education and care of my students has been well worth it.