Archive for December, 2010

The development of individuals intellectually and morally at the initial levels of education is the foundation upon which society is built.  The character of a society is defined by the beliefs and actions of its inhabitants.  Education is the Paideia where individuals develop their sensibilities and ability to discern truth.  Educators have the singular privilege and opportunity to enrich and improve the development of an individual’s place in society.  The most important goals of teachers are the improvement of the moral and social fabric of students and the raising of academic achievement (reflective of increased intellectual development).  The intellectual and moral development of individuals is essential to a good and stable society.  Education is power and the ability to provide for and defend oneself and others.  Society needs to have institutions that focus on the development of the individual, so that the intellectual capability of the populace is cultivated for the betterment of society and the world.

There are many thinkers who have written on the importance of an individual’s intellectual and moral development and on how this is to be accomplished.  Plato (n.d.) wrote in “On breaking the Bonds of Ignorance” and other works how an individual can find the most fulfillment through a true philosophy of truth seeking.  Plato believed that tradition and society obscured the observance of truth as defined by reality.  True understanding comes from a process of taking specific examples as evidence in the process of discovering general truths.  Important to Plato was an individual’s ultimate perception of what is ‘good’ or what is beneficial to individuals and society.  The true pursuit of knowledge, therefore, should produce virtue (wisdom, courage, temperance, and justice) (R. Scheuerman).  If we follow Plato’s argument to its logical conclusion, then truth or reality is something observable and knowable by everyone.  True understanding, comes from observing or learning from others what reality is.  Truth that is absolute engenders confidence of information’s future application and necessity.  Education, therefore, needs to be established on the principle of a knowable reality so that understanding and morality can follow.

Jean Jacques Rousseau (1773) writes in Emile about the importance of nature and its observance in education.  Knowledge and understanding for the individual are the products of curiosity about the nature of things.  If someone desires to develop an understanding of morality, one must first observe nature and how the world is affected by actions and consequences.  Morality is taught to students through personal example and through having them practice good deeds.  Education should be focused on the development of an individual’s feeling and conscience to a greater degree than reason and science (R. Scheuerman).  Rousseau looks to the natural state of things for the development of an individual’s understanding of morality.  Morality and the understanding of what is ‘good’ comes from the observance of what happens in the world around them.  The teacher should be working to develop an individual’s perception of morality through real world examples and observations of consequences for actions.  Understanding what is beneficial to themselves and others develops an individual’s understanding of their responsibility to do what is good because of the consequences they have observed in the natural state of things for specific actions or behaviors.

Johann Friedrich Herbart (n.d.) wrote in “The Ethical Basis and Aim of Instruction” about the need for the development of an inner motivation to and understanding of morality.   Virtue is inner freedom and the relation between volition and insight.  True education and religion depends on the awakening of a moral sense in an individual, not the fear of punishment.  A society that is educated without morality is not sufficient: it must have a moral or ethical foundation.  Understanding of morality is accomplished through experience and through observance of the teacher.  Students should take historical studies for the heart: in other words, their moral understanding should be derived from their observance of the experience of others (R. Scheuerman).  History is a perfect setting for developing an understanding of morality.  Society and it’s laws loosely define morality, but suffers if individuals don’t have an understanding of what is good for them and those around them.  A good education includes an understanding of morality and ethics.  Teachers must teach their students morality and responsibility through discussing consequences in history and through providing a good example for students.

Horace Mann (1848) wrote in “On Education and National Welfare” about the responsibility of the state to the physical wellbeing of individuals.  The best way for the state to provide this is for individuals to be taught how to provide for themselves.  Individuals should be taught from an early age to work hard so that they can reap the profits of their labor.  Unlike European nations where individuals are forced to serve upper classes, the people of the United States pride themselves on their ability to affect their environment for the enrichment of their lives.  Education in this way is the means to change your life for the greatest good and the ability to protect yourself against the selfishness of others.   America is a land of great opportunity where individuals are given the ability to choose the conditions of their life which will affect its overall quality.  Students need to be taught to see the rewards that they will receive for the work that they put into their education and other pursuits.  Education often determines an individual’s quality of life. This understanding should motivate students to work hard and take their education seriously.

John Dewey (1859 – 1952) wrote about how education is about the life long intellectual development of an individual.  Students are important to the fabric of tomorrow’s society.  Education, therefore, should focus on the development of the individual, with instruction bending to their needs and curiosities.  Because of an individual’s crucial part in society, instruction needs to focus on problem-solving with practical instruments and scientific approaches.  Optimism for tomorrow should be produced in the pursuit of preparing an individual for their future place in society (R. Scheuerman).  If individuals can be taught their future responsibility in society, perhaps they can be motivated to be educated.  Understanding of purpose for learning eradicates the feeling or perception of futility.

In conclusion, individuals need to be taught that truth is knowable by everyone, that it is knowable through instruction and observance, that morality is understandable in observing consequences, that future quality of life will be determined by amount of hard work and effort, and that education should be taken seriously because in the future they will be asked to take a responsible part in society.

Of all the individuals and philosophies that we discussed in class, the ones that had the most effect on me were Johann Amos Comenius, Leo Tolstoy, and John Dewey.

Johann Amos Comenius (1592 -1670) was a Moravian Brethren minister who wrote several works on education that were not published until after his death.  In The Great Didactic (1633 -1638) and other works Comenius wrote about the role of the teacher as a servant whose mission or goal is the cultivation of young minds to understandings of order and truth.  Reason and science reflect God’s design, purpose, and ideas.  From these understandings of how the world works, God can then transform the soul of the individual for his purposes (R. Scheuerman).

These perspectives and beliefs resonate with me because I agree with his perspective about teachers taking a serving role and because I share his religious motivations.   I am a Christian who believes that God reveals himself to mankind through revelation and through nature.  I believe that reason and order in the world point to God.  I want to see others come to Christianity, but my classroom is not a pulpit.  I believe in absolute truth and absolute reality that is knowable and understandable by every individual.  Observance and study of this truth, I believe, brings people to belief in God.  But I also believe that the best leaders are those who serve those that they are leading.  Often, for the cognitive development of students the teacher must ask questions that inspire inquiry on important subjects. This often must take place instead of the teacher simply informing students what they believe.   Religious convictions are deeply personal and teachers must allow their students to make their own decisions.

Leo Tolstoy (1828 – 1910) is one of the most fascinating characters in Russian history whose writings recorded and challenged many aspects of Russian society.  In “On Popular Education” (1860), Tolstoy writes about how the masses resist the education that government and society provides for them.  Human beings have the natural tendency to resist whatever is being forced upon them.  The Russian Education system at the time had a curriculum which boasted many classical and religious works and understandings.  To an audience who was becoming modern and Atheist, the curriculum seemed pointless and useless.  It therefore begs the question, according to Tolstoy, what is the legitimacy of a certain curriculum being forced on individuals?  Tolstoy’s conclusion is that education should not be restricted to a hard curriculum of information that may or may not be useful.  Education in Russia, Tolstoy argues, should be defined by freedom to learn what is necessary and interesting and by experimentation with the system for the best possible outcome.

What Tolstoy brings up here is a question that needs to be answered by all educators and asked by every student.  Often, the perspective of students for education is limited to the punishment they will receive if they do not participate or perform.  How often do students and teachers ask about the legitimacy of being forced to learn specific information?  What reason does society give for asking individuals to learn a specific amount of information they find important?  The answer is that society has agreed on this information as being necessary for students to prepare them for being future responsible citizens.  If students are brought to understand the significance of their place both in education and in their future community, perhaps more motivation to studies and learning can be cultivated because of its significance and importance.

John Dewey (1859 – 1952) was an American educational reformer who wrote about the centrality of a student’s interests in effective education.  Dewey believed that the future involvement of an individual in society should define the focus and instruction of the educational system.  Therefore, instruction should focus on the intellectual development of the individual and be set up to bend to their curiosities and interests.  Education should not be about learning specific information as much as preparing an individual to fix problems in tomorrow’s society.  By preparing individuals to deal with tomorrow’s problems, schools will be working to create optimism in schools about the condition of the world and their place in it (R. Scheuerman).  The central motivation of this system is the empowerment of the individual.

John Dewey’s focus and beliefs appeal to me because he identifies the core of education: the development of the individual for their future wellbeing.  Often it seems that educational systems can lose their perspective of the needs of the individual if curriculums and testing focus on the benefit of only the majority of students.  If teachers teach with the perspective of reaching only the majority, they miss the opportunity of developing relationships with students who are struggling with their studies.  The central motivation of most teachers is the enrichment of individuals.  The process of helping students succeed where they otherwise would have failed often legitimizes a teacher’s perception of themselves and their ability.  Teaching is about reaching individuals and often different individuals struggle with different things.  Humanity is enriched by the differences between human beings and the variance in human beings creates the best society.  Therefore, having an individual centered perspective on instruction which highlights the differences and abilities of individuals allows those individuals to become who they are meant to be to the betterment of tomorrow’s society.

From the writings of Comenius: teachers should be servant leaders who put the development of their students before the justification of their own beliefs and perspectives.  From the questions of Tolstoy: Students should learn to ask why they are learning what they are learning so that they can gain a perspective of the future application of their education.  Finally, from the writings of John Dewey:  individual differences enrich the fabric of society.  Teachers should focus on empowering individuals with instruction centered on their development with the perspective in mind of their future place in tomorrow’s society.

References

Scheuerman, R. (n.d.).  EDU 6120 Foundations: American Education Past and Present (Lecture Notes).

Retrieved December 3, 2010, from http://mountainlightschool.wordpress.com/mat/edu-6120/

(Lectures 2, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10)

Plato (n.d.).  On breaking the Chains of Ignorance.   Retrieved December 3, 2010, from

http://mountainlightschool.files.wordpress.com/2010/05/session-2-paideia1.pdf

Rousseau, J. (1773).  Emile.  Retrieved December 3, 2010, from

http://mountainlightschool.files.wordpress.com/2010/05/session-6-enlightenment1.pdf

Herbart, J. (n.d.).  Ethical Basis and Aim of Instruction.  Retrieved December 3, 2010, from

http://mountainlightschool.files.wordpress.com/2010/05/session-6-enlightenment1.pdf

Mann, H. (1848).  On Education and National Welfare.  Retrieved December 3, 2010, from

http://mountainlightschool.files.wordpress.com/2010/05/session-7-universal-ed1.pdf

Comenius, J. (1633 – 1638).  The Great Didactic.  Retrieved December 3, 2010, from

http://mountainlightschool.files.wordpress.com/2010/05/session-5-humanism1.pdf

Tolstoy, L. (1860).  On Popular Education.  Retrieved December 3, 2010, from

http://mountainlightschool.files.wordpress.com/2010/05/session-8-progressivism1.pdf

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