EDU 6120 Final Paper (response to questions 2 & 3)
Seattle Pacific University
December 1, 2010
Final Paper Response to Question #2: Taking into consideration the three best ways by which we obtain knowledge (received, discovered, constructed), what are the implications for achieving proper balance in teaching and learning?
The acquisition of knowledge is rarely a straight line from the source to the recipient. As teachers it is imperative to strike a balance between teaching and learning while addressing the three rudimentary ways in which knowledge is obtained. Just as there are multiple-intelligences so too are there multiple ways in which all people create understanding: In The Aims of Education (1916), Alfred North Whitehead explores the idea of receiving knowledge, as seen a way build a stable foundation from which to develop comprehension. John Amos Comenius pursues the idea that knowledge discovered is done so by living a life of “Viva Active” through the theories in The Great Didactic. While Quintillion and Plutarch explore how knowledge is constructed via the theories of balance in the readings and lectures.
In “The Aims of Education” Alfred North Whitehead examines how building a strong and sturdy foundation in a student’s mind allows a teacher to deliver a base information support the student’s growth. “A merely well-informed man is the most useless bore on God’s earth.” (Whitehead, 1916) In Whitehead’s philosophy a student receives knowledge from the teacher that is expert in nature. Whitehead focuses on the thought that “inert ideas” must be cast aside in order to attain retention expert knowledge and proper application of said knowledge.
In the history of education, the most striking phenomenon is that schools of learning, which at one epoch are alive with a ferment of genius, in a succeeding generation exhibit merely pedantry and routine. The reason is that they are overladen with inert ideas. Education with inert ideas is not only useless; it is, above all things, harmful—corruptio optimi, pessima. Except at rare intervals of intellectual ferment, education in the past has been radically infected with inert ideas… Let us now ask how in our system of education we are to guard against this mentality. We enunciate two educational commandments, “Do not teach too many subjects,” and again, “What you teach, teach thoroughly.” (Whitehead ,1916)
In this passage it is evident that “inert ideas” are the same old, recycled ideas with no new thought or change. This would leave the student with no reason to have interest or power to support retention of knowledge. In the last line, “Do not teach too many subjects,” and again, “What you teach, teach thoroughly.” (Whitehead, 1916) it is apparent that the teacher must know their content comprehensively. Teachers must focus on students reception of knowledge by introducing “few and important” ideas. Too much focus on many subjects and not enough depth on the “few and important” can cause a student to flounder. For a teacher to build upon these “few and important” subjects allows the student to form a lasting and concrete foundation for future knowledge to be discovered.
It is the teacher responsibility to observe the students interests and incorporate these into the curriculum, “…that theoretical ideas should always find important application, with the pupil’s curriculum. This is not an easy doctrine to apply, but a very hard one.” (Whitehead, 1916) In this statement it possible to hear the words echoed by, Dr. Scheuerman (personal communication through lecture October, November & December 2010), each week, “What is most important is a compelling curriculum.” Whitehead emphasizes that it is up to the teacher to find inspiration for the student. The teacher must passionately inspire and share knowledge and encourage the use of this knowledge daily. “The best education is to be found in the gaining the utmost information from the simplest apparatus. The provision of elaborate instruments is greatly to be deprecated.” (Whitehead, 1916) In other words, let the basic information, in its simplest form be the bricks laid to form the foundation to support discovery of new knowledge.
Secondly, it is important to explore the ways in which discovery becomes an active process in attaining knowledge. Through John Amos Comenius the significance of the Greek theory of “Public Square” becomes apparent. While exploring Comenius’s pedagogical methods it is obvious the importance that progressive change and discovery comes from experiences in the classroom. Comenius argues for the pursuit of living a life of, “Viva Activa” both inside and outside the classroom; which will translate into rich and vibrant life lessons. Dr. Scheuerman expounded on Comenius’s idea, “The classroom should be arranged to engender ‘as much pleasure as fairs”(Comenius 1592-1670). It is fascinating and inspiring to envision a classroom that is busy, active, colorful, and as exciting as a fair; the classroom environment, design, decoration and construct now become a tool for teaching. To illicit discovery in young students a teacher must think and teach at a level that is appropriate. The teacher must additionally encourage students throughout the discovery process in a way so as to promote expansion of knowledge. The teacher then, too, becomes a constant learner and partner in this process of discovery. Comenius focuses then on the role that is the obligation of the teacher:
The Beginning and End of our Didactic will be to seek and find a method by which the teachers teach less and the learners learn more, by which the schools have less noise, obstinacy, and frustrated endeavor, but more leisure, pleasantness and definite progress, and by which the Christian State will suffer less under obscurity, confusion, and conflict, and will enjoy a greater amount of light, order, peace, and quiet. (Comenius, 1633-38, sel.)
Comenius focuses on the teacher as a guide to create a classroom that is fun, exciting and full of the pleasure of learning through discovery. Teachers then are required, by Comenius’s example, to become active guides in the discovery of knowledge as opposed to simply dump trucks for unloading this knowledge on the student. Through all this receiving and discovering of knowledge there must be some sort of construction for which this attained knowledge can be applied.
Lastly, in order to examine how knowledge is constructed and how it can be applied it is imperative to first visit the idea of balance. Throughout the exploration of all the great philosophers there is a common theme of balance. This balance is seen in the four cardinal Greek values of courage, wisdom, moderation and justice. Balance is seen in Judeo-Christian values of faith, hope and love. Balance is seen in the Roman values of memory, monuments and festivals. It is this Roman set of values that aids in the exploration of Quintillion’s and Plutarch’s vision of balance for the use of constructed knowledge. In The Education of Children, by, Plutarch (46-120 AD) there is a constant theme of balance in order to construct knowledge.
As a general statement, the same assertion may be made in regard to moral excellence that we are in the habit of making in regard to the arts and sciences, namely, that there must be a concurrence of three things in order to produce perfectly right action, and these are: nature, reason, and habit. By reason I mean the act of learning, and by habit constant practice. The first beginnings come from nature, advancement from learning, the practical use from continued repetition, and the culmination from all combined; but so far as any one of these is wanting, the moral excellence must, to this extent, be crippled. For nature without learning is a blind thing, and learning without nature is an imperfect thing, and practice without both is an ineffective thing. (Plutarch, 46-120 AD)
The balance that Plutarch argues is essential is the balance of nature, learning and practice. It is crucial that this balance occurs in order to construct knowledge that is applicable and vital for existence in society. Teachers need to actively balance this construction of knowledge to enhance the student’s desire to pursue further knowledge in the future and to become and active citizen in the world.
Additionally, it is important to discover Quintillions expectations when striking a balance of constructed knowledge. In Quintillion’s examination the teacher must implore the student to seek knowledge constructed through a balance vis-à-vis monuments, memory and festivals. Within this construct of knowledge the teacher can see the pedagogical implications revealed. Monuments stand for visual construction of knowledge that inspire and create passion within the student. Memory impresses upon the student the actual need to recite or draw from words the importance of an idea or symbol. Festivals represent the sharing and applying constructed knowledge with a group or community. For example a teacher could develop a lesson for Independence Day around Quintillion’s idea of balance. The teacher could take the flag as a monument and explore what the meaning is behind the stripes and stars. For the memory the student could delve into the words of the Pledge of Allegiance and recite for a school assembly. Lastly, for the festival the teacher could have the students celebrate the 4th of July in a class party by re-enacting events that led up to the writing of the Declaration of Independence. It is through actions that Quintillions theories are echoed in developing curriculum in the classroom today.
For as a rule the result of the dry textbooks on the art of rhetoric is that by straining after excessive subtlety they impair and cripple all the nobler elements of style, exhaust the lifeblood of the imagination and leave but the bare bones, which, while it is right and necessary that they should exist and be bound each to each by their respective ligaments, require a covering of flesh as well. (Quintillion 35-95 AD)
Quintillion expresses here the importance of teaching to a life of “Viva Active” in comparison to simply the textbook. That to simply teach from a book with no personal discovery or hands on learning is contrary to Quintillion’s philosophy completely. Quintillion urges teachers to take an active role in their student’s exploration and physical style of learning. This style of learning allows the student to gain knowledge while the teacher strikes a balance. In this balance the student is able to receive, discover and construct knowledge that will be the ground work for their future education. Once the student has become comfortable with this style or balance they will then learn to actively seek out more knowledge in this manner.
All these pathways help to develop the teacher’s ability to design a compelling curriculum. This curriculum then becomes the foundation for the teacher and the student to build upon. For it is with a sturdy foundation that is solidly built with a balance of values, teacher and students alike will be able to pursue life-long endeavors for a more educated future.
Final Paper Response to Question # 3: Of all the individuals and philosophers 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?
Of all the individual authors and philosophers that we explored this term the one that has left the biggest impression on me is Johann Friedrich Herbart (1776-1841). His philosophy of “Circle of Thought” engendered a sort of enthusiasm in me that I hope to pass along to my future students. Through the investigation of Herbart’s pedagogical philosophies, in context to his time, I was astounded by how applicable they still are today. Herbart’s role of teacher, instructional technique and classroom management style were forward thinking for his time and are all still very appropriate for today’s student, teacher, and classroom.
“The term virtue expresses the whole purpose of education. Virtue is the idea of inner freedom that has developed into an abiding actuality in an individual. Therefore, as inner freedom is a relation between insight and volition, a double task is at once set before the teacher. It becomes his business to make actual each of these factors separately, in order that later a permanent relationship may result.” (Herbart, 1776-1841)
Herbart expresses, through this passage, the amazing task that we as teacher have set before us. Teachers must not only teach the course material but we must help to develop a student’s sense of moral being. We must encourage the student to examine and strive for a better individual moral purpose in life versus concern for what society might deem moral or just. Herbart explains this by simply stating, “(H)uman dignity consists of respect for one’s own conscience, not in fear of external punishment, human or divine.” (Herbart, 1776-1841) In other words we as teachers are obligated to pass along the best to them and to actively guide students with high moral character.
During our time together this term we were asked to interview current master teachers. Many of my fellow MAT candidates remarked how their interviewees possessed and exhibited “passion”. In fact the teacher that I interviewed had that same passionate desire to help the students be better. When asked about why she teaches,
“It’s a wonderful job, hard and thankless at times but the rewards are huge. What drives you to keep going are the hugs, the kids love and the excitement when they get it. You have to have fun with the kids, connect with the kids make sure the kids by into it. You have to hold on to the small things because it is so worth it.” (Personal communication Interview of Amanda Bailey 4th grade teacher Ordway Elementary School, October 13, 2010)
In this statement I see the passion to enjoy the students at their very core as contributing individuals. Mrs. Bailey’s job is to teach the children the standards; however, it was a common theme throughout all the interviews that it is also the obligation of the teacher to help shape the moral character of a human being. Mrs. Bailey seems to invoke the spirit that Herbart was hoping for all teachers to, “cultivate humanity to impart a natural morality” through being an “active guide”.
Dr. Schuerman often referred to “Crazy Passion” (personal communication through lecture November 2, 2010), as quoted from Jeffrey Canada of Harlem Children’s Zone, as being one of the single most important traits of an effective and memorable teacher. Herbart echoes this sentiment when he says, “Our neglect in tending this realm of intellectual potential is to deny youth their inheritance.” (Herbart, 1776-1841) Here I believe that Herbart is calling us to action as teachers. Saying that we can plant the garden but without work that garden will die. A teacher must actively cultivate the minds of children. In order for a garden to grow, blossom, develop a crop, harvest and cultivate new and sustained crops it must be carefully tended to. Water, food, sun, fresh air, weeding, fertilizer, tools, hours of sweat and so forth these are the things that make a garden grow. It could be said too, that this is what a child needs to grow. Water and food to feed the brain, sun and fresh air to energize the mind and redirect thinking, fertilizer (new material) to support innate knowledge, tools (strategies) to grow knowledge and discovery new possibilities and hours of sweat (hard work) from both the student and the teacher to work together. Here is where the crazy passion becomes the driving force, because even when tending to the garden, a teacher must now plan and plot for a new garden with different crops and unique soils, year after year. Herbart’s philosophies suggest a conclusion that if a teacher neglects the work of tending to the minds of children then that teacher has failed. A teacher, by Herbart’s standards, must have balance or “many-sidedness” of social, academic and artful interests in order to promote “desire and will to be good”.
In this garden analogy it is clear to see Herbart’s emphasis on 5 instructional techniques:
These instructional techniques carefully planned and included in lessons incorporating the great works, social and academic interests of the student can help to promote the balanced life. Using Herbart’s model of this type of educational planning a teacher would be successful by including the student’s active involvement in the learning process and thus would allow another opportunity for the teacher to lead by example. As Herbart promotes “a life of volition” it is imperative to have both the teacher and the student playing an active role. If a teacher embraces this idea they can take student interest and incorporate that interest into the lesson plan. With this active involvement the student becomes a vital cog in determining what they want to learn and consequently will do well.
The most compelling and readily applicable of Herbart’s idea is the notion of the classroom being a microcosm of a governing body/democracy.
“Where a number of students are assembled there arises, naturally, on a small scale, a system of laws and rewards. This system, and the demands, which in the world at large spring from the same ideas, must be brought into accord.” (Herbart, 1776-1841)
In a classroom it is possible introduce the idea of democracy and governing rules. If the students set up the rules, with the guidance of the teacher, at the beginning of the year there would be a natural buy- in that happens. Moreover, when the students are involved in decision making, creation of class expectations and sanctions, i.e., determining what is acceptable there is a natural group “law” and order. The teacher and the students must work together in order to grow and create this partnership in success. In this, Herbart seems to allow for failure. He contends, “The constant presence of the idea of perfection easily introduces a false feature into moral education in the strict sense.” (Herbart, 1776-1841) To have a student try and fail and show them the correct way is, one way of teaching. However to try, fail, encourage the student to try again a different way only to succeed is a powerful tool. Herbart was imploring teachers to encourage students to learn through failure, to try an alternate, and share the joy of searching for a connection. Herbart encouraged non-perfection because perfection is an end. To be imperfect is to involve the students in searching and exploring while promoting a desire for innate curiosity.
Although Herbart was extremely focused on religious values, moral character, and virtuous development, the well balanced life, or “Circle of Thought” style of curriculum development, seemed very forward thinking for his time. His passionate desire to improve the life and minds of the young seemed to influence my thinking the most. I hope to build a philosophy of my own centered around a well-balanced curriculum that incorporates the arts, sciences, mathematics, languages, reading, music, philosophy, social studies, physical education, and the state standards without sacrificing myself in the process.
1. Comenius, John Amos (1633-38, sel). The Great Didactic. Retrieved December 1, 2010 from http://mountainlightschool.files.wordpress.com/2010/05/session-5-humanism1.pdf
2. Herbart, Johann Fredrich (1776-1841). Circle of Thought & the Ethical Basis and Aim of Instruction. Retrieved December 1, 2010 from http://mountainlightschool.files.wordpress.com/2010/05/session-6-enlightenment1.pdf
3. Plutarch, (46-120 AD). The Education of Children. Retrieved December 1, 2010 from http://mountainlightschool.files.wordpress.com/2010/05/session-4-rome1.pdf
4. Quintillion, Marcus Fabius (35-95, AD). The Institutes of Oratory (sel.). Retrieved December 1, 2010 from http://mountainlightschool.files.wordpress.com/2010/05/session-4-rome1.pdf
5. Whitehead, Alfred North (1916). The Aims of Education. Retrieved December 1, 2010 from http://mountainlightschool.files.wordpress.com/2010/05/session-1-goals1.pdf