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“Hang Up Philosophy”: A Note on Philosophies of Education

By Dave Stuart Jr.

When I was graduating from my teacher preparation program, I remember writing a “Philosophy of Education” statement in Microsoft Word. It had a cool font, and I printed it on cool paper. You looked at the thing, and you were like, “Dang. This guy.”

So impressive… until you read it. That's when you realized it should actually have been titled something like, “Some Thoughts on Education from a Guy Who Is Practically Devoid of Any Real Professional Skill or Knowledge.” (Note: I don't mean to harshly critique all freshly credentialed teaching candidates, but I do mean to lovingly lambaste one of them.)

Self-deprecation aside, the more research and practice I do as a teacher, the more I wonder why we need statements of educational philosophy at all. We just need one philosophy: schools exist to promote the long-term flourishing of kids. The question that teachers and researchers and parents get to explore is: how best might we do that?

That question pushes us toward research, practice, and strategy. The secondary English department can say, “All right. We're here for the long-term flourishing of young people. We suspect that one short-term outcome worth aiming for, then, is that we might cultivate in our students a love for reading. So: What are the best ways for doing that? Let's brainstorm.”

From here, we can discuss the strengths and weaknesses of different approaches — those that we've come up with, or that we've found in the research, or that we've learned from other teachers. How do we get kids to value reading? (And “love” is simply the value belief, after all — this article gives an overview of the five key beliefs, and they are treated at length in Chapter 2 of These 6 Things.)

Is choice reading the way, or whole-class texts?

Then, of course, we get into conversations about the complexity involved in making strategic decisions toward the long-term flourishing of kids. If we opt, in our English courses, for an approach heavily favoring student-selected texts, what does this do to shared knowledge-building? How does it affect, positively or negatively, the quality of whole class instruction we're able to give in our English courses? What might happen to student motivation, in both the short and long terms? Who might we get to pilot some of these ideas in a few of our courses?

Similar conversations can happen in other secondary departments — but all under the auspices of our one shared and (I think) inarguable philosophy: the schools exist to promote the long-term flourishing of young people. What role do cognitively demanding questions play in mathematics instruction? How should our science department treat the tension between necessary content knowledge and critical thinking? In the fine arts, should we spend any time studying past masterpieces?

The starting point is long-term flourishing — it's a common ground. And the conversation, the earnest and amicable debate, the research, the classroom experimentation — that's around strategy.

Long-term flourishing is the only philosophy of education we need. For all the rest, let's use evidence, research, practice, and collegiality.

Note: My apologies to William Shakespeare for borrowing a line from his Romeo and Juliet in the title of this post.

One Response to “Hang Up Philosophy”: A Note on Philosophies of Education

  1. jnolds August 22, 2018 at 3:58 pm #

    Here in our preparation week, several of our local high school teachers are soaking up the concepts of long-term flourishing along with the five beliefs and putting them to work in great ways that I can barely keep up with. Yesterday, as staff members were drafting their own “Everest statements” for long-term flourishing this year, they also mentioned many thoughtful ways that they wanted to take care of others: “make sure that nobody let’s go of the rope,” “don’t die,” and “take good care of the Sherpas” are some of the many memorable responses. Indeed, love as a value, ranging from loving to learn, to loving others by helping them focus. Thank you so much Dave for helping us focus!

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