Monday, November 17, 2014

My evolving philosophy of Education

Philosophy of Education
My second attempt at writing this paper – prepared by Wesley A. Morgan
Upon reflection, it strikes me that my paper on MY philosophy of education should more closely reflect some understanding of key reference points discussed in class along with subsequent independent study for EDU 211. Education is new to me as a career path but not entirely foreign as I am currently a para-educator with the Special School District in St. Louis at the Neuwoehner School (a school that proudly boasts itself as a National School of Character).

Plowing through Dewey and his Pedagogic Creed[1] I was first struck by what I found to be a sort of pomposity with the frequent use of I believe but I warmed up to his philosophy as I began to understand Dewey’s enormous influence in moving education away from being a unique privilege to a system that needs to understand and address social conditions. Schools are indeed social institutions. Furthermore, I agree with the notion that a child learns best when the teacher understands the dichotomy of psychology and social natures. Our second reading of Dewey[2] finds him a bit more reflective (if not a tad defensive) in his philosophies of education – fair enough given that his leading influence lasted sixty years or more with a great influence on leading thinkers in education today. You can understand his concerns about being misunderstood. (A situation due, I believe, in equal parts to his huge influence and his proclivity to overly explain his positions. He would have benefited from a strong editor/publicist on his team.)

George Counts seems willing to stir the pot among progressives in his remarks[3] that shape arguments that draw on what are uniquely American ideals while generously inserting a Soviet style brand of socialism. He calls for a measure of disruption of the economic order of Capitalism. While Dewey struck me as pompous, Counts seemed positively radical and Communist. As a baby boomer born of the Greatest Generation I am impressed that Counts was able to generate meaningful dialogue about the role education plays in a democracy in spite of his political leanings. My guess is he would have found a less receptive audience in the 1950s-60s.

We further studied Paulo Freier and his Pedagogy of the Oppressed[4] and it isn’t hard to see the huge impact education can have in motivating the meek and persecuted under-classes in modern societies for social reform. I am impressed by this too (but it is not this kind of world view that inspires me to be in the field of education).

Marie Monetssori[5] begins to seem more pragmatic (if at times formulaic) as our study of educational philosophies continued. Her approaches to education provide sound advice to educators to prepare an environment, be prepared as teacher/facilitator, and offer freedom to learn (with appropriate responsibility). This strikes me as abundantly wise, particularly with younger students as they begin their studies.

Nel Noddings[6] is compelling and sensitive. Her ideas of organizing education around themes of care (for self, intimate others, strangers, animals/plants/earth, human-made world, ideas) might be criticized as being feminine, stereotypically assigning education to the wheelhouse of the feminine gender. Not a fair criticism in my view. Noddings is a successful product of the system and part of a huge family. She has a justifiable position if you believe in practicing what you preach. (No surprise she is a prolific author.)

We come to this idea of The Just Community Approach[7] and almost stumble on our teacher as one of the authors of our assigned reading. Doing a Google search on Dr. Shields might have been a distraction. but perhaps not as jarring as the profound sadness of discovering news of Kohlberg’s suicide. (Okay, I admit it this piece of information came from Wikapedia but with sufficient detail to remind us all how short and precious life is. He was only 59 years old.) Since my source is Wikapedia on this factoid I am not going show it in the footnotes). I am mindful, having participated on some athletic teams in my lifetime, of how a Just Community supports a group as all the members take ownership of governance and boundaries. It works.  

I will confess that I wrote an earlier paper on My Philosophy of Education. It is more personal. It draws on my experiences as admissions counselor for the University of Miami and as para-educator for the Special School District (SSD) and my audit of a Parkway School District School Board Meeting in August (for this class). Most of the philosophers we have discussed appear to have a much grander view of education than mine. Maybe that is because they earned a bigger audience among the education community. With the remaining space I will outline my general position on education even though I can see it as a philosophical position that will likely evolve further.
I.                   I have always been a fan of great books, fine art and timeless classics with a healthy interest in how art meets commerce. That makes me more a Perennialist I suppose.
II.                In see how Essentialists may feel it necessary to get ahead by preparing students for the world as we (in the U.S.) are arguably falling behind in STEM. (My least favorite subjects are Science and Math. I am baffled by Engineering. And I am not overly confident in my Math skills.) Maybe judging the advocates of Common Core and No Child Left Behind is unfair of me. But there has to be a better answer than creating a culture of Test Takers. 
III.             I tend to side with Progressivism, since I like the intention of making education available for all, not just the elite and privileged. I like the pragmatism of Montessori for early education. And I see the role of education in a democracy as real.
IV.             At the risk of sounding like one picking from a Chinese menu – I see the value of a culture of caring (Noddings) and pragmatic/systematic (Montessori) for early childhood education setting a stage for some practical learning of common core (without the burden of mandated testing) for High School culminating in a rewarding college pursuit of liberal arts with room for the exceptional STEM types to co-exist as it takes a lot of people to make the world go around.
V.                Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t emphatically support the great need we have as a society to support those human beings with special needs. We are only now beginning to realize the spectrum of Autism, the impact of ADHD, Downs, Mental Illness and a long list of medical obstacles that individuals live with every day. (And by extension, their families, and society as a whole.) The educational systems (public and private) needs to take responsibility as everyone in our society deserves a chance to live a happy, fulfilling and productive life. And each success achieved through our educational systems is a victory for humanity.  


A Philosophy of Education

My first attempt to write a paper on my educational philosophy
Provided as a point of reference. Read only if curious about my first pass at the assignment

The Syllabus for Foundations of Education calls for a paper reflecting my philosophy of education. Teaching is a new career path for me and I am hopeful that my perspective is acceptable. To be sure, it comes from a different place – and maybe that is a good thing. I am a paraprofessional educator with the Special School District in Saint Louis. 

Those Who Can, Teach is the text for the course. It offers what I take to be good touch-points for this paper. (1) It suggests four distinct purposes for schools and what they do. The book discusses Intellectual, Political/Civic, Economic and Social as purposes. I have strong opinions and bias, but I can relate to each of these as meaningful reasons for schools to exist.

My philosophical position may have been solidified in 1979-1980 as a graduate assistant for the University of Miami representing the school’s Admissions Office. I participated in a program designed by the director of admissions, George Giampetro (2). It was a graduate assistantship that came with a small stipend and tuition remission for those semesters in which I was not required to travel. The Fall semesters took me to twelve states in New England and the Midwestern regions of the U.S. I visited with over 300 high schools talking to guidance officers, prospective students and others. I also attended dozens of college fairs which are often well attended by parents of prospective college students.

Even then, I was a champion of a liberal arts education. I stayed close to that philosophy as an undergraduate with a double major of Art and English. (More specifically Graphic Design and Creative Writing). It was not until I was a graduate student when an evolving perspective on education in pursuit of a Masters of Business Administration (MBA) with an emphasis on Marketing did my mind open to my credentials and the economic realities of making a living.
Perhaps I was influenced by what I saw as a growing trend toward viewing education as an investment. As an admissions representative I was armed with some reassurance suggesting that those who are college educated will earn more than those who do not complete college. I was, I think, less informative in offering advice on the economics of studying law, medicine or accounting specifically.

My MBA was indeed helpful in separating me from others in the competitive field of advertising. I landed my first job as an account executive on the Heineken Beer business in New York City. I remember thinking that Advertising was a profession where art meets commerce. I never regretted a moment of the large portion of my education that was connected to the study of fine art and literature. Advertising, especially in account management, is a place where I continued to learn. I was a witness to decisions made and executed on behalf of well known brands from Pepsi Cola to Matchbox Toys. About 15 years and moves from New York, LA, Raleigh, Miami and finally St. Louis generated enough material to produce a later-day Mad Men series -- a portfolio of experiences.

So, in that respect I considered my work life to be something of a lifelong learning in the advertising business. It was 1998, when faced with the prospect of moving my family or staying put and settling in for a while in the home of the St. Louis Cardinals, I accepted a corporate marketing position which lead to the next twelve years of my working life as a marketing and communications executive. Later on, a start-up business with modest success led me to explore education. In researching the need for substitute teachers I discovered the Special School District (SSD). I am motivated by the possibility that my skill sets will apply in this strange new world. 

With a relatively short exposure to the unique and challenging business of helping students at the SSD achieve the mission in collaboration with partner districts, to provide technical education and a wide variety of individualized educational and support services designed for each student’s successful contribution to our community. (3) Adding SSD experience to my frame of reference has given me new insights. I have a new appreciation for the role schools play in socialization. Encouraging appropriate behavior becomes a critical part of education as I seek to prepare the student population at SSD’s Neuwoehner School for a transition to adult life. 

I suspect my philosophy is closer to that of English teacher John Keating as he inspires his students to a love of poetry and to seize the day in Dead Poets Society (4). But my philosophy is has also been influenced by guidance counselors, students and parents who are mindful of the economics of an investment in education. It has been further tempered by the reality of the good people who entrust the Special School District to prepare students for the next phase of their lives – as adults.

I am also somewhat persuaded if not fully influenced by my recent study of Special School District of St. Louis County and Parkway School District which, by almost any measure, are exemplary in what they do every day. 

It is essential to create an environment where students can achieve not only what they want but what they dream. It is the responsibility of the school administration to earn community trust and support so teachers can make those dreams seem attainable in spite of setbacks and sometimes falling short. We want both the Capable, Curious, Confident Learners that Parkway School District identified as well as a smooth transition to adult life that is included in the SSD Mission and Vision statements.  In all cases the status quo won’t cut it. We as educators are obliged to deliver lifelong learners who are the best prepared for an ever-changing world.(5.) (ibid 3.)    

1.      Those Who Can, Teach Thirteenth Edition, Kevin Ryan and James M. Cooper © 2013, 2014 Wadsworth, Cengage Learning. The Four Basic Purposes of School page 35
2.      George Giampetro LinkedIn website shows George Giampetro as Director of Admissions, University of Miami, Coral Gables, FL from January 1964 – June 1985 
3.      Special School District of St. Louis County website District Overview section.
4.      Dead Poets Society Warner Brothers ©1989 starring Robin Williams as Keating.
5.      Parkway School District strategic plan brochure (available on their website

Prepared for Foundations of Education EDU 211 by Wesley A. Morgan -   

[1] Dewey, John My Pedagogic Creed School Journal vol 54 (January 1987)
[2] Dewey, John From Experiences and Education (1938)
[3] Counts, George S. Counts Progressive Education Vol IX April Number 4 Dare Progressive Education be Progressive? (1932)

[4] Freire, Paulo Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1972)
[5] The Early Years – Lillard, Angeline and Else Quest, Nicole - Evaluating Montessori Education – Science vol 313 2006  and Taming Montessori by Jacobson, Linda Education Week vol 26 Issue 27  (2007)
[6] Noddings, Nel Teaching Themes of Care
[7] Power, F Clark; Power, Ann Marie R; Bredemeir, Brenda Light; Shields, David Light – Democratic Education and Children’s Rights