There are many factors to consider when articulating a teaching philosophy. For starters, you rarely find you fit neatly into one category, but rather share traits from many different categories. I take the “Jeet Kune Do” approach to my ideologies, in that I don’t consider myself a subsection of a particular philosophy but a collection of all the ideas I consider to be the most sensible. With that in mind, I consider myself to share roughly equal portions of perennialism, progressivism, and social reconstructivism, with less emphasis on essentialism. I base my educational philosophy on constructivist principles, in that all students build their knowledge and world view from their previous experience, both in terms of academic knowledge and social and global environment (Powell & Kalina, 2009). I feel that no one worldview is inherently correct and that we should be emphasizing the role of multiple perspectives and evidence when evaluating our beliefs. What does this all mean?
Perrenialism stems from essentialist principles, in that there are a certain set of skills and academic knowledge that all capable and productive members of a society need to know, with rigorous standards and national curricula. But while essentialism focuses more on facts and knowledge, perrenialism places more emphasis on principles. Also moreso than essentialism, perennialism places emphasis on “human” subjects such as history and art, regarding all knowledge as a human achievement. I feel that in the case of math, reading, writing, and to an extent Social Studies can be taught effectively using perennial principles because these skills are a necessity in this society.
There are weaknesses though. While I believe that the teacher should take a leading role in the classroom, I believe this role should be to facilitate the acquisition of knowledge, not necessarily to espouse it. Additionally, I feel like technology has made this approach obsolete for other subjects that deviate from this “essential” skills list. Still, much of the perrenialist approach smacks of “sage on the stage” style of teaching, where research states that Constructivist methods taught with the teacher as a facilitator are more effective.
Social reconstructivists seek to change society through the awakening of critical thinking skills. Reconstructionism and critical pedagogy view teaching as a political act and teachers as agents of social justice and societal change (Boylan & Woosley, 2015). Involving critical pedagogy in the classroom means being critical of society, media, and the political process. I believe we should challenge our student’s traditional views of the world; religion is still used today as a tool of societal control, the media portrays an inaccurate version of the truth, and inherently sexist or racist ideologies hold us back as a species. Many systemic forms of oppression still exist in our society and if we want change for the better we have to make our students aware of injustice and give them the tools to speak out against it.
I feel that as teachers we do hold a position where we have the power to change society at the source. Teachers have the power to heal what damage inherently sexist or racist ideologies cause by examining our society within a critical context. Eliminating the divides between race, religion, and SES between our students is ultimately beneficial for society as a whole. While I see the value in teaching students to have an active role in society, I also see the potential for misuse and indoctrination when these concepts are taught to a student who may not be able to understand such concepts as sexuality, rape culture, and genocide. Indeed to Rob Moore (2000), many within the movement start with an analysis of society that may not be objective or universal to make their points.
Progressivism states that we should focus on current research, present experience, and above all the child when designing our classrooms and curricula (Labaree, 2005). While rigid structures work well for memorization and gathering results, much of progressivism is rooted in constructivist thought, our societal conventions of morality, and present experience. Progressivism decouples education from higher education, in that learning takes place for its own sake rather than to prepare students for university. In the classroom this is seen in hands-on, practical learning methods like inquiry and project-based learning, personalized learning goals for different students, integrated curricula, and critical thinking. Importantly, progressivists also teach inclusivity and social responsibility.
I see progressivism as the most definitive example of my beliefs. It uses knowledge as a means to an end, bringing many of the essential skills such as critical thinking and personal growth found in perennialism. While I do wish to reconstruct society to an extent, I believe fervently in the right for each individual to walk their own path. Not every student will share my beliefs about society, and not every student will be a champion of social justice. But while progressivism doesn’t emphasize critical pedagogy, many of the elements are found in progressive methods. Personalized educational goals take into account the relative skills and personal background of individuals regardless of race or sex, and the critical thinking, integrated curricula, and social responsibility reflect many of the same values found in social reconstructivism. Crucially, I feel like the theories of progressivism reflect a greater emphasis on empirical evidence as the driving force whereas many aspects of critical pedagogy (specifically the social justice side) has the potential to produce a black and white viewpoint of class and society. In brief, progressivism combines the constructivist approach to society and learning while also emphasizing critical thinking and an education that is tailored to the student, making it the most dominant aspect of my personal teaching philosophy.
Boylan M., Woosley I. (2015) Teacher education for social justice: Mapping identity spaces. Teaching and Teacher Education. Vol. 46 pp62-71.
Labaree D.F. (2005) Progressivism, Schools and schools of education: an American romance. Paedagogica Historica. Vol 41 pp 275-288.
Moore R. (2000) For knowledge: tradition, progressivism and progress in education – reconstructing the curriculum debate. Cambridge Journal of Education. Vol 30, no 1. pp17-36
Powell K.C., Kalina C. J. Cognitive and Social Constructivism: developing tools for an effective classroom. Florida Atlantic University. Vol 130, no 2. pp 241-250.