Philosophy of Education: Kelsie Lamb

This summer, seven of our undergraduate teacher education students and one intrepid faculty member are spending a month in Peru studying the educational system and discussing their own philosophies of education. They are writing and reflecting on their journey, and we are following along! Read on for excerpts and blurbs from Dr. Gibson and the students’ blogs. You can read more on Marquette Meets Peru and check back for updates here.  

Kelsie Lamb

Teachers and students should be collaborators in the learning process. The “learning process,” however, is also more complicated than I originally thought.

My parents have always stressed how important it is that I try my best in school to get a good education. To them, education meant the door to an abundance of options and opportunities, which they did not have when they were younger. While growing up, my interpretation of this was that I needed to go to school so that I could go to college so I could get a job that would allow me to live relatively comfortably. School — and, therefore, education — was a means to an end. However, after spending the past month not only reading about different philosophies of education, but also seeing philosophies put into practice, I have learned that the purpose of schooling is not as simple as my younger self thought. Instead, defining words and phrases such as “learning,” “good education,” and “teacher” can be incredibly complicated and relies heavily on one’s personal beliefs regarding education and the goals of schooling. Based on what I have read from prominent educational philosophers like John Dewey and Paolo Freire and what I have seen both in American and Peruvian schools, I have begun to formulate my own philosophy of education that is centered around the reciprocal relationship between students and teachers, the importance of context and experience in the learning process, and the implementation of a good and just curriculum.

One of the topics that has struck me the most when contemplating my personal philosophy of education is the role of the teacher. In traditional schooling, the teacher was often seen as an all-knowing authoritarian figure whose job was to impart his or her abundance of knowledge onto the students. The seminal educational philosopher Paolo Freire referred to this system of education as the “banking model” in the second chapter of his Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Under the banking system, “the teacher talks and the students listen…the teacher is the Subject of the learning process, while the pupils are mere objects” (73). When this is the system of education that is used, students become passive spectators in their own education and may eventually cease to see the value of schooling because they are not being adequately prepared for their futures. Instead of the banking model, Freire suggests that we reconcile the teacher-student contradiction “so that both are simultaneously teachers and students” (72). From my own experiences with authoritarian teachers, I know how discouraging it can be when all you receive is negative feedback and are never permitted to share your own thoughts. It is essential that students are active participants in the classroom and have opportunities to voice their opinions. Further, it is important that educators embrace what Freire writes in his Pedagogy of Freedom: “There is no teaching without learning.” Like Freire, I believe it is imperative that teachers recognize that they too are students. To move away from the banking, authoritative model, teachers and students must be partners in the classroom and form relationships based on mutual respect and care. Teachers must show interest in their students’ beyond simply their performance in the classroom. While completing a week-long field placement at Colegio de La Inmaculada in Lima, one of the qualities I admired most about my fourth-grade cooperating teacher was the strong relationship he had with his students. When he would greet them, I could tell that he was genuinely glad to be with them. He and his co-workers would even sit with their students during lunch, strengthening the idea that students and teachers are partners. When I become a licensed teacher, I hope to form a similar relationship with my students, in which we learn and grow together as respectful partners.

Teachers and students should be collaborators in the learning process. The “learning process,” however, is also more complicated than I originally thought. One of the frameworks that we both studied and utilized while in Peru was the Ignatian Pedagogical Model. The foundation of a Jesuit education, “Ignatian Pedagogy embodies five key teaching elements — Context, Experience, Reflection, Action, and Evaluation” (2). Within “context” is the Jesuit idea of cura personalis, or “personal care and concern for the individual.” In the classroom, cura personalis involves realizing that each student has a unique set of experiences and assets, and that teachers may have to support more than just academic needs. In her piece “Lessons from Teachers,” Lisa Delpit advises teachers to “recognize and build on children’s strengths,” (225). This idea relates back to the collaborative, reciprocal relationship between teachers and students; all children have assets, so it is important for teachers to recognize those strengths and use them advantageously within the classroom. For example, while observing a first-grade class at Fe y Alegria II in Lima, one young boy sometimes had trouble staying in his seat. His teacher recognized that the boy was energetic, so she put that energy to use by asking him to help hand out materials and choosing him to participate in a dance class. Small acts such as these, in which teachers see students’ potential for good, are part of what can make a child’s educational experience a positive one. In addition, teachers must also understand the context of their schools to create a more meaningful and relevant curriculum. If teachers know the backgrounds and experiences of their students, they can relate the content and standards to their students’ lives. By doing this, students are not only more likely to remember the information, but can also understand and apply that information in a meaningful way. Delpit suggests that teachers “use familiar metaphors, analogies, and experiences from the children’s world to connect what children already know to school knowledge” (226). Included within my personal philosophy of education is the idea that learning is not simply the memorization of facts, but that it is a process by which students and teachers can build on familiar ideas and knowledge to promote the understanding of new information.

As I have refined my thoughts about the process of learning, I have also begun to consider how educators support authentic learning within their classrooms. One of the ways this is done is through the “experience” stage of the Ignatian Pedagogy. In John Dewey’s influential book The School and Society, he describes a traditional classroom with small desks packed tightly together and students “studying lessons out of a book.” Dewey describes this type of environment as conducive to listening, which means that it is not appropriate for learning. Instead, “the workshop, the laboratory, the materials, the tools with which the child may construct, create, and actively inquire” are extremely important to the students’ process of learning (32–33). As I have seen during field placements both in the United States and Peru, creating an environment that allows students to get first-hand experience while learning is beneficial to improving their understanding of content knowledge. For example, La Inmaculada has ample classroom space for their students, including computer and science labs. Most excitingly, the school also has its own zoo filled with endangered South American animals. I observed a fourth-grade science class in which students learned about what animals eat and how they reproduce. After discussing vocabulary terms, the students then walked to their zoo to find evidence of the animals’ diets and reproduction types. For instance, in the bird cage, the students saw egg shells, so they could conclude that birds are oviparous, meaning egg-laying animals. It was exciting to witness fourth graders not only learning complex vocabulary, but also putting this new knowledge to use through their work as young scientists. As a future educator, this type of real-life application is what I hope to engage my students in. Although it is unlikely that we will have a zoo on our campus, I believe it is necessary to incorporate community resources and local sites into the curriculum. Some of children’s most influential learning experiences take place outside the classroom, and part of the teacher’s role is to curate and facilitate these real-life, hands-on experiences.

Zoos, field trips, and computer labs are wonderful tools that aid both students and teachers as they work together to construct knowledge, but, unfortunately, these resources are not widely available. Publicly funded Peruvian schools do not have the monetary means to purchase the state-of-the-art resources that La Inmaculada has. Some schools in Peru, such as the Fe y Alegria in the impoverished Pamplona Alta, do not even have enough teachers to fill their classrooms. Many public schools in the United States face similar challenges. Although not included in this course’s curriculum, Gloria Ladson-Billings’ “From the Achievement Gap to the Education Debt” provides a good explanation of how historic and systematic injustice in the United States has led to widespread educational inequalities. Peru’s colonial history has led to a similar situation in which indigenous peoples and cultures have been viewed as inferior to Europeans and their descendants. There is no denying that disparity exists between wealthy and marginalized schools. Systemic inequality directly affects students; therefore, curriculums must address these disparities. A “good and just education” is one that exposes students to historic inequalities, gives examples of modern-day consequences of these past events, and provides students with opportunities to explore solutions to these problems. When possible, a good and just education should also include community-based learning to reinforce what students are studying in the classroom through first-hand experiences. This seems like a lot to ask of students and teachers, but Paolo Freire believes that this can be accomplished through what he calls “problem-based education” in his Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Freire’s problem-based education emphasizes the transfers of knowledge between students and teachers and the importance of critical thinking (80–81). In my teacher preparation courses, I have become familiar with inquiry-based curriculums, in which a big idea or question is posed and students work together with the teacher to answer the question and formulate their own questions along the way. While I did not witness any truly inquiry-based lessons during my observations in Peru, if these big ideas and questions relate to current events and injustices, an inquiry-based curriculum can orient students towards social justice issues and solutions, which is an important component of a good and just education.

Thinking about a good and just education leads to a broader understanding of the purposes and goals of schooling. As I believed when I was younger, school is meant to provide you with the content knowledge that will be useful in your future life and career. But the goals of education are more than that. Schools should not only equip students with the knowledge and skills they will need to improve their own lives, but should also educate children so that they are filled with the desire to improve the lives of others, as well. This idea is fundamental to the Ignatian Pedagogy: “Learners see service to others as more self-fulfilling than personal success or prosperity” (1). The tagline of Universidad Antonio Ruiz de Montoya, our host-university while in Peru, reflects this: “Be bold enough to be the change.” The mission of La Inmaculada, which is a Jesuit-run school, also embraces Ignatian ideals; within their goals, La Inmaculada hopes that their already-privileged students become “agents of change” and “men and women for others.” Through La Inmaculada’s service work and community activities, they are fulfilling an important goal of education: social justice. In the chapter “Moral and Political Aims of Education,” Harry Brighouse describes five “aims goals” of education. One of these goals is “cooperative capacity,” which allows students to cooperate with one-another as equals and engage in “give and take” (40–41). And as Freire argues education should be a liberating and humanizing praxis. These goals are not about simply passing a standardized test or mastering a curriculum standard, which shows that the goals of schooling go beyond in-class assessments. A good and just education should expose students to inequalities, pose questions for them to seriously consider, foster their ambitions to promote justice, and provide some of the knowledge, skills, and experiences needed to realize those ambitions. Although not easy, if a curriculum can incorporate these aspects, the social justice goal of education may be reached.

One of the most frustrating things about philosophy is the lack of definitive answers to questions that philosophers pose; suggest one solution and more questions are raised, provide a response, and others will challenge you. As I have discovered throughout the past month, philosophies of education are no different. The questions that current and future teachers are struggling with are likely those that we will continue to grapple with for years to come. Through my readings and first-hand experiences, I have begun to formulate my own philosophy of education. Perhaps as I experience new classroom contexts and face new challenges as a licensed teacher, my philosophical ideas will change. However, as I enter my last year of teacher education, the ideas, beliefs, and values I gained while studying in Peru will guide my actions and educational practices.

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