Traditional Philosophy; Modern Methodology
A common practice among teachers is to research the different theories of education that already exist and align themselves to the one with which they resonate the most. “I am a constructivist,” one will say, or “I am an Idealist.” I am a little different, however. I have not chosen to limit myself to the values and ideals of one set of theorists. Instead, my worldview and philosophy of life and education are primarily biblical in nature, but contain elements of Neo-Scholastic philosophy and Pragmatic methodology; these in turn affect my perspective on schools and learning, methods of instruction, relationships with students, and integration of diverse leaners.
Worldview and Philosophy of Life
One of the most basic questions that philosophers ask is, “What is reality and truth?” I take the Bible as my ultimate authority and foundation upon which I answer life’s most difficult questions. Thus, I would answer that God is truth, and that “[His] Word is truth” (John 17:17, New King James Version). Anything that aligns with God and His Word is also truth (Black, as cited in Braley, Layman, & White, 2003). Thus, there is such a thing as absolute, objective truth (Black, as cited in Braley, Layman, & White, 2003). Reality is made up of all that God has created, both “visible and invisible” (Col. 1:16). Our senses were created by God (Prov. 20:12), and what we see, hear, touch, taste, and smell is real and tangible, not illusory. However, the senses can be deceived (2 Thess. 2:9), and so, the Bible remains my ultimate guide, for it can be trusted even when all else fails.
Another basic question that philosophers ask is, “What is good, or of value?” My biblically-driven answer would be that what is good is what is in keeping with God’s character. This standard of all that is good and beautiful and of value is outlined in God’s holy law, and sin is the transgression of this law (1 John 3:4). The human race is created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26). As such, human beings have intrinsic worth. To disparage any human being is to mock the One in whose image he or she is created, and thus to mock oneself, also created in the same image (Etzel & Gutierrez, 2012). As such, all should be treated with love, dignity, and respect. We should love others as we love ourselves (Mark 12:31). Apart from the human race, what has value is what is good, right, and acceptable in the sight of God: “Whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy” (Phil. 4:8). The holiness and beauty of the God of love offer a standard from which my estimation of value, worth, and aesthetics is derived.
Lastly, philosophers usually round out their philosophical foundation by discussing the nature of human beings. Again, my answers are biblically-based. Mankind is made up of body, mind, and spirit (McCullough, 2012). We were created to think and reason: “Come now, and let us reason together” (Is. 1:18). We were also given physical bodies and senses with which to experience the tangible world that God has created. When God created Adam and Eve in His perfect image (Gen 1:26-27), their characters were in perfect alignment with God’s holy standard. However, by one act of disobedience, the sinful nature was imbedded in man’s soul and passed on to future generations. Thus, children are not born good or neutral, but are born with sinful propensities and desires, passed down in the degenerating DNA of their parents (Ps. 51:5). The only solution to this problem is to be born again—born of the spirit and washed in the blood of Jesus to live after His similitude rather than following the dictates of the flesh. “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous” (Rom. 5:19). The fallen nature of man, and the hope for this condition that is found in Christ, is an integral part of my philosophy of education.
Philosophy of Schools and Learning
Schools must recognize the role that God, teachers, parents, and students all play in education. First, God’s part in the acquisition of knowledge must be acknowledged. Belief in absolute truth found both in God’s word and in the world He has created leads to the epistemological belief that knowledge can be obtained both through experience and through intellectual discipline and training. Humans beings, created in the image of God, have both physical bodies and rational minds. Students should be able to “taste and see” (Ps. 34:8) and use all their senses in their learning, as well as being invited to “come… reason together” (Is. 1:18). Here are seen elements of Neo-Scholasticism, under the influence of Thomas Aquinas, which recognizes that children must be taught to think rationally, to interact with the physical world through their senses, and to develop and grow spiritually (Layman, as cited in Braley, Layman, & White, 2003). Teachers must teach “the whole child, for God created humankind with a mind, body, and soul” (Black, as cited in Braley, Layman, & White, 2003). Academic programs should be made up of mental, physical, and spiritual training. At the same time, while curriculum choices and academic excellence are important, the purpose of school and learning should not be focused on just simply achieving certain grades or standardized test scores. Instead, the focus should be on developing students’ characters and equipping them for their calling and destiny in this life and the next (Black, as cited in Braley, Layman, & White, 2003).
Secondly, teachers have a very important role to play in the learning process. Coming to a knowledge of truth and reality is indeed possible. However, there are many different ways that material is learned, depending on each student. Everyone learns differently. Some students learn best by doing, some by hearing, and some by seeing. Teachers should incorporate all the different learning modalities into their instruction (Ackerman, 2012). They should recognize all the different areas of giftedness, whether it is in leadership, artistic abilities, intrapersonal skills, or intellectual abilities (Ackerman, 2012). In a video presentation, Beth Ackerman (2012) advised teachers to not “put so much weight on intellectual giftedness,” but to recognize that “some of our students might be gifted elsewhere.” Teachers must realize that much of the time their students’ probability of succeeding rests in their hands, in their attitudes toward their students, and in the methods that they chose to use to teach.
However, the important role of parents should not be forgotten. The best educators are parents, whenever possible. I believe that parents should make every effort and provision to home-educate their students. However, when this is not possible, schools are the second-best alternative. These schools must remember that parents have been given divine responsibility for the education of their own children (Ps. 78:5-6)—not teachers or state institutions. Teachers must uphold family values and should reflect the wishes of the parents in their dealings with their students.
Lastly, the students themselves play a role in learning. There are two extreme positions that far too many educators take. The first is that children should be allowed to make all their academic choices about learning, which is based on the idea that they inherently know what is best for them (Burden, 2013)—a fundamental principle guiding many contemporary philosophies of education, such as Existentialism and Humanism (Layman, as cited in Braley, Layman, & White, 2003). The other extreme is that children are creatures who, like domestic pets, can be trained and controlled to learn and develop exactly as their superiors see fit (Burden, 2013), as with the Behavioristic philosophy of education (Layman, as cited in Braley, Layman, & White, 2003). I believe that the middle ground is the balanced position that Christian educators should take, and that is that children must be led and guided. I do not ascribe to the foundational beliefs of Pragmatism, such as the idea that children are basically good (Layman, as cited in Braley, Layman, & White, 2003). Contrary to what Dewey, the father of these theories, believed, children are born with inherited propensities to do wrong. If left to themselves, they will not make the right choices (Prov. 29:15). Children by themselves do not know what is best for them. They must be shaped and guided by those older and wiser, and, even more important, pointed to the Great Teacher and Ultimate Guide, their Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. However, they are children of God and have value and intrinsic worth in the sight of God just as much as adults. They too have been given rational minds and should be allowed to use them. It is for this reason that I do agree with student-centered instructional methods of Pragmatism.
From my beliefs in the roles of God, teachers, parents, and students in the education process stem instructional practices that are Pragmatic in nature, but in keeping with my traditional philosophy and biblical foundation. First, I believe that God has created human beings with minds, bodies, and spirits. This leads me to the practice of holistic education—educating students mentally, physically, and spiritually. An education that only develops just one or two facets will not produce well-rounded, balanced children. I plan to follow White’s (1923) advice, where she encouraged teachers to allow students, especially the young, to spend the same amount of time outdoors working their bodies in play and physical education as they spend indoors working their brains in mental studies (reading, lectures, and bookwork). Pragmatists, too, believe there should not be too much focus on textbooks and other forced brain work (Layman, as cited in Braley, Layman, & White, 2003). In fact, if students’ bodies receive as good an education and training as their minds, they will be better equipped to return to their studies with invigorated minds and clear heads: “Equalize the taxation of the mental and physical powers, and the mind of the student will be refreshed” (White, 1923, p. 146). Even more importantly, however, I plan to hold all facets of learning together by weaving the common thread through them of spiritual education. Rather than restricting spiritual education to simply teaching “Bible” as one subject of the day, or opening class with prayer and Scripture reading, students should learn the biblical worldview principles that apply to any and every class and activity (MacCullough, 2012). In this way, students will receive a broad and balanced education that develops them holistically.
Secondly, my belief that teachers are to be guides and authorities in their classrooms, but also focus on developing their students’ unique and creative minds, leads to the implementation of active, interest-based, differentiated education. The first practice that I will implement is active education, rather than passive. Rather than trying to instill knowledge into sedentary students through lectures and textbooks, I will use hands-on, kinesthetic, inductive lessons where students are highly involved in the process of discovering truth. While pragmatists would adhere to these methods because of a belief that “learning comes from within” (MacCullough, as cited in Braley, Layman, & White, 2003), I would not go that far. Truth comes from God and is truth whether humanity accepts it or not—it is a priori: existing outside of our construction (Spears, as cited in Braley, Layman, & White, 2003). That being said, it is important to understand that learners, especially young learners, are always going to filter external stimuli through their schema—prior knowledge and past experience, thus interpreting eternal, objective truths in different ways (Schunk, 2012). Thus, when students are allowed to take part in the learning process as an active experience, they will be able to broaden their schema and, in a sense, construct and apply new knowledge for themselves.
Another practice I will implement in my role as a teacher is that of interest-based education. This is the process of allowing students to explore personal interests within curriculum, which gives a sense of authenticity to the curriculum. An important principle of Pragmatism is that “the teacher must capture the child’s interest and build on the natural motivation that exists,” (Bansal, Maheshwari, & Agarwal, n.d., para. 31). This is based on the reasoning that, “as a child stands before a complex structure, he sees only what is, at the moment, important to him” (Bansal, Maheshwari, & Agarwal, n.d., para. 32). For once I can agree with both the method and the reasoning. It is commonly known from educational research that, in order to be fully motivated to engage in learning, students must find information personally meaningful, correspondent to their interests, and responsive to their deepest inquiries (Burden, 2013). Far too often, students who are highly intelligent and actually enjoy learning despise school because knowledge is presented in dry and meaningless context. Thus, I will allow each of my students to have an individualized learning program which will teach them all the same basic set of skills and knowledge (reading, writing, and arithmetic), but where each one can learn these skills through the avenue of what interests them, answers their deepest inquiries, and is personally meaningful to them.
Stemming from this is the method of combining a variety of art and music aspects into more technical studies like math and science, and vice versa. This is essentially differentiating instruction to include students who are dominantly right-brained in left-brained activities, and vice versa (Burden, 2013). Similarly, “Pragmatism reminds teachers to individualize their instruction to meet the needs of each learner” (Bansal, Maheshwari, & Agarwal, n.d.). I will allow for student creativity when completing assignments and assessments of learning. As often as possible, and as age and maturity allow, I will give students a choice as to how they want to demonstrate that they have learned the principles of a lesson they have been taught, whether it be through a skit, an art project, a song or story they write, oral recitation, or any other means that they can be excited about because it reflects their individuality and personal learning intelligence area. This follows the advice of Heaton and Coon (as cited in Braley, Layman, & White, 2003) who stated, “Instead of using tests that measure logical-mathematical or verbal-linguistic intelligences, we need to explore other ways of evaluating our students’ learning” (p. 207). There will be times when students have to complete written tests and worksheets and projects that follow the teacher’s strict layout, as it would be unhealthy and unrealistic for them to only receive instruction within their learning comfort zone (Chapman, as cited in Burden, 2013), but I believe in using variety and allowing choice and creativity as much as possible.
The third point addressed in my philosophy of schools and learning is the role of parents as primary educators. This leads to the instructional practice of giving students real-life, authentic experiences, a practice which greatly relies on parental cooperation. Being made in the image of God, students have been given the direct gift and privilege of interacting with the real world around them through their senses, and have God-given abilities to interpret the real world through their rationally developing minds, a tenet of Neo-Scholasticism (Layman, as cited in Braley, Layman, & White, 2003) with which I highly resonate. For this reason, I also highly resonate with Pragmatic ideas of learning through real-life scenarios (Bansal, Maheshwari, & Agarwal, n.d.). Instead of making education a time to teach students with hypothetical situations, toys and representations of the real world, I will involve them in the real world to the extent that their maturity and age level allows it. Students can be taught math through the process of balancing checkbooks. They can also learn math through starting and managing a classroom entrepreneurial business venture. Instead of teaching students biology through a textbook so they will know how plants grow, I will first take them on a field trip to a farm or have them grow plants in a class garden in order to learn the science through first-hand experience, incorporating the textbooks as supplements. Parents can give their children these same types of authentic learning experiences at home, perhaps even more effectively than the teacher can. Thus, I will manage a class blog which gives parents updates on current unit studies, as well as tips for how they can plan real-life experiences that will further develop their children’s knowledge of these topics (such as baking together to learn more about fractions). These real life experiences will impart the knowledge to students that will stick with them for the rest of their lives.
Lastly, the role I believe students play in learning leads me to empower them to take charge of their own education. Students must be given tools for effective study and self-education. They must be given a role and a voice in their decision-making and their educational pursuits. This idea could be linked to the Pragmatic philosophy of democratic, student-led governance based on the belief that students know what is best for themselves (Layman, as cited in Braley, Layman, & White, 2003). However, my reasoning for using similar methods is, on the contrary, based on the biblical truth that children are given rational minds of their own and are held personally responsible and accountable to God for their use (Ezekiel 18; Matt. 25:14-30). The role of schools and educators, then, is not to control students, nor be controlled by them, but to teach them how to have self-control. On the same principle, teachers should not spoon-feed students knowledge, nor to allow them to pursue knowledge upon their own whim and discretion, but to impart what truth and knowledge is already known and at the same time encourage the students to take that knowledge even further. I will teach my students how to learn, not just what to learn. I will not impart only a core collection of skills, nor give my students free reign of choosing what to learn, but will teach them the basic skills and give them the tools, structure, and guidance necessary for them to put those skills to use in their differentiated abilities, passions, and pursuits. All these modern methods that I plan to implement—holistic, student-centered, authentic, and empowering—stem from my traditional beliefs about God, teachers, parents, and students.
In a classroom that is Neo-Scholastic in philosophy and Pragmatic in methodology, it is important that the teacher be both an authority figure and a leader, as well as a friend and trusted mentor. In seeking to become the students’ friends, teachers should not forget that they have been given God-given responsibility for their students’ development of character. As Ackerman (2007) stated, “It is important for a teacher to find the balance between being well liked and well respected” (p. 4). Teachers much be loving but firm. They must put boundaries in place right from the start of the year, and enforce them consistently. However, the teacher should also make it very clear that the reason for this strictness is because he or she cares about the students’ hearts and characters. Teachers should not be so focused on schedules and following a certain program and keeping an immaculate classroom that the personal struggles, hardships, desires of students are overlooked. It is okay to pause an academic lesson to allow the class to learn a life lesson. White (1903) encouraged teachers that if the presence of the Holy Spirit is felt in the classroom, they should lay aside the lessons and concentrate on putting their hearts in tune with the divine Teacher. Teachers should be careful not to miss vital opportunities to lead students closer to Christ by being too concerned with accomplishing their own agenda during the day. This reflects the Neo-Scholastic and biblically supported belief that children are “naturally sinful and in need of spiritual redemption, accountability, and discipline” (Traditional Philosophies, n.d.). When teachers take the position of the leaders in the classroom, they are able to shape and grow their students’ characters.
At the same time, this maintenance of authority should be tempered by building positive, caring relationships with students where the teacher is seen as an ally and friend. This reflects the Pragmatic and biblically supported reasoning that students should be given autonomy, choice, and accountability to God primarily (Ezekiel 18). Never should the teachers view their role as that of a controller of the minds of their students (White, 1903). Instead, they must recognize that God can speak even to these young minds, and that, if a trusting, caring relationship is built, the student can learn much from the teacher’s experience and wisdom, and the teacher can learn much from the student’s child-like faith and innocence. Teachers must also remember that many of their students come from harsh backgrounds, and some of them just need a little tender loving care. The students’ hearts—their characters, their joys, their trials, their heartaches—came first and reading, writing, and arithmetic came second. If teachers would take the time to build trusting, caring relationships with their students, without neglecting their responsibility as leaders in the classroom, their students will come to love the atmosphere of structured love the classroom offers.
In dealing with the many varieties of diversity in my classroom, I will take the approach of not only loving and creating a welcoming environment for my students, but also doing my best to understand their way of life and put myself in their shoes. First and foremost, teachers must love their students. A biblical principle that is also reflected in the Neo-Scholastic philosophy is that all students are created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27; Knight, 2012). As such, no student of a certain race or intellectual ability is better than any other student, as all are created of the same essential human properties—underneath we are all alike (Knight, 2012). Egerler (as cited in Braley, Layman, & White, 2003) said it well: “Young people from every… background crave connection and authenticity, so they will respond to a genuine demonstration of the love that Jesus emphasized” (p. 259). Showing love to students is expressed through respect, inclusion, and celebration of their differences. For example, when it comes to religious diversity, Mennonite girls must always wear dresses, so they must have some accommodation during gym class. I will do my best to make these accommodation uplifting and encouraging, rather than demeaning of their way of life (“Those who can’t play the running game can come over here where we’re playing the sitting game,” instead of just telling them they have to sit out). When it comes to cultural differences, I will make sure my whole classroom and all my lessons are representational of all the different backgrounds represented in my room (I will not just show pictures of Caucasian children). I will also structure my lessons to accommodate different styles of learning by incorporating visual aids, auditory lessons, and active, hands-on activities for all students to experience. In this way, I will cause all my students of varying backgrounds to feel respected, included, celebrated, and ultimately loved.
Even more so, however, teachers must make the effort to not just love their students, but also understand them. Egeler (as cited in Braley, Layman, & White, 2003) made the following statement in regards to cultural diversity, but I believe it applies to all kinds of diversity: “Simply loving the learner… is not enough to make you an effective Christian educator in a multicultural context. You must go beyond and seek to understand the cultural context of each student” (p. 259). Teachers can seek to obtain and express understanding of diverse students by taking an attitude of learning, not just teaching. I will take time to research my students’ varying cultural backgrounds, but, at the same time, I will not try to act like I know everything about them. Instead, I will ask questions of them and their families in a respectful manner, so they know I am doing my best to learn more about them and accommodate them. Instead of just trying to teach diverse students the American way of life, I will invite them to teach the class about their culture. I will invite them as well as their parents to teach us words in their native language and will encourage students to use those words, while using them myself (interchangeably saying, “Thank you” and “Gracias” if I have both English-speaking and Spanish-speaking students in my room). For students with different religious backgrounds, I will make sure I know about their varying constraints and traditions so they can be accommodated if they cannot participate in certain activities, as well as allowing them to express their beliefs in class without criticism. The more the rest of the class is able to understand students who are different, the less likely they will be to ridicule them. For students who have different learning styles and talents, I will show understanding by keeping running informal assessments of their learning habits, to thus create a thorough “bio” of them and their unique learning comfort zones. I will then allow students to learn through their areas of giftedness. I will incorporate art, music, writing, discussions, cooperative learning, and individual learning time into lessons for all students, as all can benefit from experiencing the different learning styles (Burden, 2013). That way, different students will have the opportunity to shine during different lessons (Ackerman, 2012). This is in harmony with Pragmatic methodology, which allows students to learn in their own way through their own interests (Layman, as cited in Braley, Layman, & White, 2003). Teachers must recognize that all students have gifts, even if they are not gifted intellectually (Ackerman, 2012). By gaining a thorough understanding of my students’ differences through maintaining an attitude of mutual learning and teaching where we all learn from each other, I will create a welcoming, safe environment for learners of all varieties.
Some might wonder how it is possible to have a view of education that is traditional in philosophy and modern in methods: I would answer that there is nothing contradictory about this when you have a foundation that is biblical in nature. Since I believe first and foremost in the authority of Scripture, the value of the human soul despite its fallen nature, and the redemption to be found in Christ, this easily translates into my traditional beliefs that schools exist for the purpose of assisting parents in their duty of educating their children physically, mentally, and spiritually. It also leads to my more modern, student-centered methodology, where the student is recognized as a unique being with personal interests and passions, capable of thinking for himself or herself, but in need of the guidance and wisdom of an older, wiser teacher. I myself am a unique learner, evidenced by the fact that I do not follow the common method of choosing a philosophy of education.
Ackerman, B. (2007). P.R.A.I.S.E.—Effectively guiding behavior. Colorado Springs, CO: Purposeful Design Publications.
Ackerman, B. (2012). Learning modalities . Retrieved from Blackboard: www.learn.liberty.edu
Bansal, S.; Maheshwari, V. K.; & Agarwal, S. (n.d.). Pragmatism and education. Retrieved from http://www.scribd.com/doc/30853941/Pragmatism-and-Education#scribd
Braley, J.; Layman, J.; & White, R. (Eds.) (2003). Foundations of Christian school education. Colorado Springs, CO: Purposeful Design Publications.
Burden, P. (2013). Classroom management: Creating a successful K-12 learning community [5th ed.]. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley and Sons, Inc.
Etzel, G. & Gutierrez, B. (2012). Praxis: Beyond theory. Virgina Beach, VA: Academx Publishing Services, Inc.
Knight, K. (2012). Neo-Scholasticism. Retrieved from New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/10746a.htm
MacCullough, M. E. (2012). Developing a worldview approach to biblical integration. Langhorne, PA: Cairn University.
McCullough, J. D. (2012). Kingdom living in your classroom. Colorado Springs, CO: Purposeful Design Publications.
Schunk, D. H. (2012). Learning theories: An educational perspective. Boston, MA: Pearson Education Incorporated.
Traditional philosophies . (n.d.). Retrieved from Blackboard: www.learn.liberty.edu
White, E. G. (1903). Education. Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Publishing Association.
White, E. G. (1923). Fundamentals of Christian education. Nashville, TN: Southern Publishing Association.