Philosophy of Education Final: Mary McQuillen

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.  

Mary McQuillen

There isn’t enough thought about equity when it comes to education because most parents want to provide the best for their children. That is not a crime obviously, it’s a beautiful gift, but one that not all can afford.

I loved being able to observe a number of different classroom environments in such a short amount of time. We were given the rare opportunity to take a step out of our world to be able to look into the world of a totally different country. There are some risks of judgement that come from observation of different cultures, classrooms, and politics. I tried my very best to realize that although we are looking at schools from the tip top of the scale down to the depths of poverty, a lot of the same issues of inequality are consistent in America. I went to a school very similar to Inmaculada and because of that, I have had more opportunities than the average American or human on this planet. I am also white, a native English speaker and I can get by in Spanish. I was able to achieve that due to my parents who constantly supported me, the school system for preparing and challenging me, as well as my genetics because I have no learning disabilities. I think one of the most important topics that we discussed was asking about how to make Education just because it forced me to critique how schools can contribute to furthering inequality. There isn’t enough thought about equity when it comes to education because most parents want to provide the best for their children. That is not a crime obviously, it’s a beautiful gift, but one that not all can afford. Those that are already better off can provide a stronger education for their children’s future and give them more opportunities for success in the work force. Sadly, that means that the children with parents that aren’t able to afford this education will fall further behind. A lot of what SEA, BECA, and other programs as such aim to do, is to provide early intervention for students of poverty in order to get them back on a track towards equality. Obviously equity would be the goal, but it doesn’t happen quickly. This is why they use the Ignatian Pedagogy as a structure to help them.

The Ignatian Pedagogy involved five key elements of learning; context, experience, reflection, action and evaluation. After a wonderful 8 years in a Jesuit teaching environment, I would definitely want to use this pedagogy in my classroom. It begins with the context, it validates the students background and the way they live their life. It then builds off of their context so that the students are better able to comprehend what they are learning because it is always relevant. “Teachers need to understand the world of the learner, including the ways in which family, friends, peers, and the larger society impact that world and effect the learner for better or worse, (Page 2, Jesuit Education and Ignatian Pedagogy). The next focus is on the experience of the students, asking the students to take what they are experiencing and develop it into knowledge. This is more of an active role of education both on the side of the student and the teacher because it takes work to create an environment that promotes learning experiences. It also requires the students to take charge of their own learning to be able to make the connections necessary to understand ideas and how they feel about them. Now there is reflection, something that I find essential for students to accurately process their experiences. A huge reason that we need teachers is to guide us in the right direction of thought, to challenge our opinions, and to inspire us to think beyond what we ever could have before. Next we have action, which is still guided by the teachers but the students need to care about what they are doing for it to be meaningful. These can be little things like changing someone’s mindset or it can be starting a movement for justice. It is simply important for the student to take what they have been reflecting on and to actually do something about it. The final element is evaluation, this is done by the teacher, with the goal of assessing “learners’ growth in mind, heart, and spirit,” (Page 3). The teacher has to put in the work to include all of their student’s background knowledge in learning, find a way to make learning an experience, lead the students in reflection, and then actually grade them on all of that work. I think a lot of the time teachers don’t put in enough work, and there are many different reasons for that. I hope that I never turn out to be one of those teachers who always seems tired and makes their students read in silence all day. I want to be able to inspire my students, push them further and hopefully give them a just education. Sometimes I wonder if I even want to be a teacher, but then I end up finding myself surrounded by children having the time of my life. I guess I’m just sick of all the observation because I want to take charge (surprise, surprise).

I did not spend a lot of time with older students, I spent the majority of my time with students in the primary grades. Luckily, I was able to spend a day with 13-year-old students in Cusco so that I could have a more well-rounded experience. When I was with them, we watched a video on a man who was born without arms but he’s still accomplished his dreams. In Cusco there are a lot of families in poverty, so I felt like this connected well with them because it inspired them to find richness in spirit instead of monetary value. Although the teacher seemed to waste a lot of time making squiggly boxes to write in… and her handwriting was god awful, what was most important to her and to the students was the message here. I could clearly see the way that she was including elements of the Ignatian pedagogy in her classroom on that day. I wish I would have had a better chance to understand what was going on throughout the reflection and understand how she could have moved further with this lesson. I truly believe that reflection is an essential part of learning because it creates a safe place for dissecting the experiences. In my own personal experiences with reflection I am able to evaluate the kind of person that I want to become and how I can move toward that. There are so many different ways to reflect, for some it is more personal and for others it is helpful when there can be group discussion. In my future classroom I hope that I can create a community that allows my students to feel safe to question the way the world works and hopefully make discoveries. I like the way that Clara explains reflection as, “reflection is spontaneous, common, real thinking” (Clara, 262). There should not be one way for people as a whole to understand their experiences because they look at the world through different lenses. I want to ensure that my students understand that they have every right to their own opinions and beliefs, but they should also be prepared to have to back them up. There are a lot of different opinions and beliefs, not any one is right or wrong, but they should have a good reason for their beliefs.

After this wonderful experience, I have been able to learn more about myself in a number of ways. I have learned how important it is to stand for something, to have a purpose, and to follow through on my ideas. I think it’s just all about accountability and being the best possible person we can be, that’s how we make the education system better. I hope that after this wonderful experience I can keep what I have learned in mind. Doing so will help me follow through with making my classroom a safe place for my students to reflect. I think living out the Ignatian Pedagogy in my classroom will be the best way to help my students to be the best they can and impact the world as positively as possible.

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