Foundations of American Education: Final Paper

Of all the individuals and philosophies we have discussed during this course, select one or two whose ideas have influenced you the most. What are those ideas, and what relevance do they have to your own philosophy?

When it comes to education, I have many ideas and opinions about what I believe is effective and worthwhile teaching. During my time teaching preschool, my style and philosophy revolved a lot around child-centered instruction, making learning fun, and teaching the whole child. In this way, much of what I view as important in education has been exemplified by two particular individuals we have learned about in our Foundations of American Education class; John Dewey and John Amos Comenius. Though they were from two completely different time periods, their ideas are linked in my mind, combining with modern teaching techniques and standards (the Common Core). Together, these ideas help me add to and form my own philosophy of teaching.

John Comenius believed that the primary role of the teacher was to become “the servant whose mission is the art of cultivating” the minds of children into their natural tendency towards goodness (Scheuerman, 2014). And while he believed that education should be organized and structured, it should also help students learn practical applications for life beyond the classroom (Scheuerman, 2014). For example, using our own sensory observations to form investigations of the world around us, or using visual aids to represent abstract data (Scheuerman, 2014). These methods even tie in with the Common Core, which has more relevance for my own teaching, as that is what I will be using. For example, Comenius argued that visual aids in the classroom, both to make the content more engaging and to make data more accessible to more students, were necessary. Common Core State Standard CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.4.7 states that students should be able to “interpret information presented visually, orally, or quantitatively (e.g., in charts, graphs, diagrams, time lines, animations, or interactive elements on Web pages) and explain how the information contributes to an understanding of the text in which it appears” (CCSSI, 2014), aligning with the belief of a man who lived more than three centuries ago. But most importantly, in my mind, is that Comenius believed that classrooms and lessons should be arranged in such a way that the students are excited about learning, and so that they are where they want to be while attending schools. As he put it, classrooms should engender “as much pleasure as fairs” (Scheuerman, 2014). Looking back on my own experience with education, it is hard to imagine a classroom that I enjoyed being in more than going to the King County or Puyallup Fair when I was younger. How can learning be that exciting?

I think that John Dewey had some ideas for how to make learning as fun for students as fairs. He believed that a child’s interests should guide the teacher’s instruction, drawing upon the child’s innate curiosity to make their lessons relevant and interesting (Scheuerman, 2014). As a preschool teacher, this is exactly what I tried to do to make my classroom fun and engaging, and it was actually expected of me. I think that coming from a background of teaching preschool gives me a unique perspective on how education should be viewed; in my opinion, we should be teaching older grades more like we teach preschool. This includes at the university level. John Dewey thought that kids who are enticed to learn will hold the lessons better, and I agree with his belief. This means that each individual student who comes into my classroom has their own interests and ideas, and it will be my job to capture these interests in my lessons. In a blog post I wrote about John Dewey, I created an example lesson that involves allowing students to choose the direction of their own learning. The project ultimately had the students learning about agriculture in Eastern Washington, but they were allowed to choose which aspect of geography most interested them, then took that interest and applied skills from the Common Core to their project (Welsh, 2014). This same idea could be applied to other lessons as well. When learning to write short stories, why should students have to write something they are uninterested in, or worse, hate? A friend of mine in Australia just finished a lesson on short stories for the 6th grade. In her lesson, the kids could write about whatever topic they wished (within reason), as long as they followed the process of prewriting, drafting, peer-revising and editing (Parrish, 2014). The kids, even the ones who hated writing, loved her lesson, and wanted to do another (Parrish, 2014). Her results were mixed, but all of the kids were able to improve upon their writing (Parrish, 2014). The best part is that these kids were marked as a lower-level English class, and they proved that with a little extra help from their teacher, they could achieve just as much as anyone else (Parrish, 2014).

When I was in first grade, I was “failing” spelling. My mom was shocked, since at home I loved spelling, and we would often play spelling games. My teacher invited her to come in and observe me, and what she discovered was that I was bored with the pacing, and didn’t bother to pay attention – or write anything down. So my teacher offered a solution: an alternate test for me to take. I was asked to draw pictures of the spelling words, use them in sentences, or write stories about them…and I did. These new and improved spelling tests suddenly gave me a way to creatively show my skills while also making them fun and exciting for me, paving the way to a love of creative writing (and spelling!) that has stuck with me to this day. This teacher is my inspiration to promote excitement and growth in all subjects in my own classroom. She used my own love of stories to increase my interest in my spelling test, and created a lesson that was exciting and engaging for my younger self. To me, this is the most important job of the teacher.

 

Many of the authors we study contend that if the most important goals of education are to improve the moral and social fabric of students and to raise academic achievement. Explain what this means to you and provide illustrations showing how these goals might best be attained.

For years, the purpose of American education was to promote good citizenship; to ensure that each generation of students graduates with the skills and ideals necessary to become productive members of society. In more recent years, we have seen a shift away from this idea, moving towards an education system that is more academic, competitive, and STEM-based. Especially after the communist scare and Sputnik (and consequently, A Nation at Risk), the United States has attempted to create a stronger push toward science, technology, engineering, and math (Scheuerman, 2014). However, I think that there is equal value in both academic achievement and also moral education. Earlier in the quarter, we learned that an education committee created the idea of the six pillars of moral education, which are six values or responsibilities that support what we value as rights of being citizens (Scheuerman, 2014). These pillars are service, honesty, civility, kindness, participation, and commitment (Scheuerman, 2014). These values, often discouraged from being taught for fear of entering religious grounds, are just as important as academic values. I think that teaching values in education can not only be connected to academic learning, but can also help form deeper meaning in the academic subjects that we teach.

Throughout this quarter, we have discussed the importance of teaching values alongside academic subjects. Once again, I think my background in teaching preschool has served me well in this case. Early childhood education often allocates some attention to emotional coaching, and teaching students how to be polite, respectful, kind, and compassionate to others. In my thinking, I tend to transpose this idea to elementary education as well, but with more complex concepts for morals and values in the students. I think that values should not be taught here and there in lessons, but instead throughout the year, allowing for a stronger link between these values and other classroom topics. For example, one of the pillars of moral education is commitment. In the math classes I tutor, I’ve noticed that students often are frustrated because they forget math facts (multiplication tables), can’t figure out a step in the process for solving equations, or tasks they see other students grasping with relative ease. Frequently, it is the same students, and because they are frustrated, they give up. It is up to the teacher to be the one to support and help these students over that frustration so that they may persevere. Just saying “you need to keep trying” isn’t enough. Sometimes, all it takes is for someone to nudge them in the right direction. Or it might take extra time and effort on the part of the teacher – meeting with parents and the student to find a method that works better for them may be necessary. But showing that student that giving up isn’t an option – not even for you – is vital. They need to be able to see the options available to them so that hopefully in the future, they ask for help or extra resources when they need it.

Throughout the year, there should be multiple examples of how students can follow the six pillars of moral education, making the lessons interesting and fun and also connecting these to what we are learning in class. If, as a class, we take frequent field trips to provide for the community, I can instill an appreciation of service in my students. If we are having a unit about the environment, in particular for the Pacific Northwest, one field trip we could make would be to a local pond or reservoir to study habitats and ecosystems. Meanwhile, we would come prepared with trash bags, with the notion of cleaning up any garbage we might see on the way. My high school science class adopted a road, and we took turns volunteering to head out to our road to clean it up. If we chose, we could later create a presentation about our experience, using it as original research, then follow it up with secondary research about something connected with either the road, the environment around it, or the community. This was for extra credit, but it was also connecting our community service to skills we were learning in class (research and presenting skills, for example), and it was available all year long.

Students should not only have a grasp on academic subjects, but they should also be prepared to tackle the real world, for it changes constantly. Hazel Haley (Sackett, 2008) once said in an interview that she is often asked how the children have changed over the years she has been teaching, and her response was that the children haven’t changed, but their world has changed dramatically. Advancements in technology, medicine, science, and society have all contributed to a world that needs a strong link between academics and morals. Teach strictly academics, and you wind up with a society that is cold to damage they may be doing but advanced in weapons, technology, and science. The reverse is that we only teach morals, and wind up with a kind and generous society, but one that is taken advantage of and needs to outsource our best-paying jobs. There is a happy medium there somewhere.

I recently read about an NFL player who walked away from a five-year contract to become a farmer. Even knowing nothing about farming, Jason Brown decided that being successful was more than about making money (Hartman, 2014). Brown said that a life of greatness is a life of service (Hartman, 2014). So he bought a big farm, and donates the first fruits of every harvest to food pantries in North Carolina. Some might argue that this life of service promotes more citizenship than a life of academics, while others may argue that the invention of Facebook and the rise of social media is more important. However, I think that a person with a working knowledge of how to navigate the world as well as a desire to promote the growth of the world is the true citizen, and I believe that it is the job of teachers to encourage this.

Sources CIted

Common Core State Standards Initiative (2014). English language arts standards: Reading: Informational text: Grade four. Retrieved from http://www.corestandards.org/ELA-Literacy/RI/4/

Hartman, S. (2014, November 14). Why a star football player traded NFL for a tractor. CBS News. Retrieved from http://www.cbsnews.com/news/former-nfl-player-farms-for-good/

Parrish, K. Personal communication. November 29, 2014

Scheuerman, R. (2014). Progressivism and intellectual development. Retrieved fromhttp://mountainlightschool.files.wordpress.com/2010/05/session-8-progressivism1.pdf

Scheuerman, R. (2014). Christian humanism through renaissance and reformation. Retrieved from http://mountainlightschool.files.wordpress.com/2010/05/session-5-humanism1.pdf

Scheuerman, R. (2014). Paideia and panhellenism: The Greek experience. Retrieved from http://mountainlightschool.files.wordpress.com/2010/05/session-2-paideia1.pdf

Sackett, E. (2008). Hazel Haley. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E5IBZ4sx3KQ

Welsh, M. (2014). Teaching a lesson based on principles of John Dewey. Retrieved from https://meghanwelshportfolio.wordpress.com/2014/11/23/teaching-a-lesson-based-on-principles-of-john-dewey/

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