Teaching Philosophy

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While I chose my overall theoretical outlook as Perennialism and Progressivism, when it actually came down to the practical aspects of teaching I found myself often choosing the more conservative, Essentialist categories. For instance, while for the philosophical "direction in time" category I chose "growth, reconstruct present, change society, shape future" as opposed to "preserving the past," when I looked at the next categories of "Educational Process" and "Intellectual Focus," and the role of "Teacher" and Student," the more conservative, discipline-focused choices seemed more in line with my practical actions as a teacher. The idea of the student as "receptacle, receives knowledge, passive" and the teacher as "disseminates, lectures, dominates instruction" are much more how I act in a classroom setting. I think the Reconstructionist and Existentialist viewpoints, focused on individuality and societal change, can be good guides and ideas for an overall philosophical exploration. However, I think when it comes down to actually teaching and training students in a real-world classroom setting, it is good to come down to earth from these experimental philosophical standpoints and take a firm root in discipline, rigor, and conformity. Teaching students how to think for themselves and critically examine the world and their position in it can be useful in some settings, and may be more useful in teaching students how to create meaning or freedom in their personal lives. However, on a most basic level, students need to know how to survive and succeed in the real world, and philosophical categories such as "meaning" and "freedom" don't mean much when one cannot even hold a decent job, participate in society, and the like.

I think that perhaps it is possible to combine these two approaches in a more comprehensive fashion, but at the moment I think I generally stray toward the more conservative approach. It should be possible to teach students both how to think for themselves as well as how to listen to instructions, obey authority, and discipline themselves to work hard. However, in my educational career so far I have not been able to bridge the gap separating the conservative, Essentialist approach from the more radical Reconstructionist/Existentialist approach. I think that maybe as I progress in my career, I will get better at balancing these two things and be better able to teach students different ways of approaching education and the world, allowing them to form the model best suited to their own needs. Though this at first would seem to fit into the Eclecticist or Progressivist approach, I am more focused on rigor and discipline than those models generally allow. Even if students are taught about how to change society and how to develop their own potentiality as an individual, I still think that these tasks must be done with the utmost rigor and dedication, and these values must be emphasized very strongly no matter the educational outcome. I think that often an Eclecticist or Progressivist approach can lead too easily to mediocrity, allowing all but the most dedicated and self-motivated students to sink into apathy or laziness. I would like to incorporate elements of Existentialism and Reconstructionism into my teaching, but not without sacrificing the ideals of intellectual rigor and academic discipline. 

However, it is difficult to bridge these two approaches because often there is simply not enough time or energy to be able to teach students both how to think and explore for themselves, on the one hand, and how to follow orders and work hard on the other. In theory, it seems plausible, but in reality, of course, both of these approaches require a lot of time spent in learning and practicing, and often the one doesn't leave room for the other. For instance, to emphasize an Existentialist approach requires leaving the student lots of time and room to try new things, to explore, to fail, to be hurt or confused, and other such experiences which may be beneficial in the long run but detract from productivity and work ethic in the short-term. On the other hand, to develop a strong work ethic and a dedicated discipline require a constant training of the mind and body to adapt to tasks, force oneself through exercises, listen to authority even when it seems difficult or wrong, and other such tasks which don't leave much room for freedom, experimentation, and individuality. While on the theoretical level these two approaches seem both valid and reconcilable, on the practical level I have not found a way to consistently incorporate them into an educational practice and so the Existentialist/Reconstructionist approach is often sacrificed for the real-world needs of practicality, conformity, and discipline. I don't think this means selling out, because of the fact that students must learn first and foremost how to survive in the world, without which the ideals of meaning, freedom, individuality, and creativity lose not just their value but also their real concrete existence. 

Although I generally fit into the Essentialist category, I try to reject the more politically conservative aspects of it. For instance, while I think that a training in discipline and respect for authority are important, I don't believe in the creation/regulation of a homogenous society is a good or necessary thing. I think that education should be open to all, and should not try to force a pre-existing set of knowledge onto unwilling students. I do think, however, that education needs to take the real-world into account, to some extent at least, and to adapt itself to the demands of the workforce, and society as a whole. In this way, education should not seek to reinforce a certain culture and to reject those who do not fit into its mould—but I do think that there must be a focus on discipline and authority which cannot always guarantee a free development or expression of individual idiosyncrasies against the training of rigor and discipline.