Sunday, February 12, 2012

Philosophy of Life - Education

Truth calls us to submit ourselves to the community of which we are a part, to fidelity to those bonds of troth in which our truth resides. This view is dangerous, for submission, will transform us, require us to become something new. In truth our lives are no longer our own but belong to the whole community of creation" (Palmer, To Know As We Are Known, pp. 67-68). 

Palmer has within this quote nested the role and effects of truth within our concept of who we are and what we are. One of the fears attending those who truly strive to change, refine and improve who they are, is whether their developing character, persistence and clarity of vision will sustain them in this endeavor throughout their life. The first fear I felt at that moment, when I realized I was experiencing a form of illumination and insight unique to human experience, was whether I could remain true to that vision and thereby exemplify the obedience to that truth, that would prepare me to again receive such a life-clarifying experience. 

Who I am cannot be separated from the principles and truths that give meaning and direction to my life. As I refine and become this person I believe myself to be, then that awareness dictates expectations that guide me in how and what becomes meaningful and truthful in my life. When a teacher focuses on the expression of learning (homework, written assignments, oral responses) without an appreciation for how that learning defines the learner and without a regard for compassion for who the learner is, then the learner will experience a deterioration of his/her self-identity. 

This deterioration might be reflected in a short story. In an elementary class, a teacher held up a self-portrait of one of her students. This student was shy, seldom spoke or participated in discussions, was not well-treated by other students and at other times, basically ignored. The teacher wanted to show the effect negative comments and exchanges could have on a child. 

She started by telling the children she had a story to tell about the person in the picture. When the student got on the bus, the bus driver growled at her and said hurry up, I'm late. The teacher tore off a piece of the girl's self-portrait. When the student got off the bus, a boy bumped into her and said, "Why don't you watch out where you are going!" The teacher tore off another piece of the girl's self-portrait. When the little girl went to place her coat and bag on a shelf, another student said, "You can't put your stuff there, that is my place!" The teacher tore off another piece of the girl's self-portrait. During the reading class, the teacher asked the shy girl a question, but she was slow to respond, so the teacher ignored her and let another student respond. The teacher then tore off another piece of the girl's self-portrait. When the children went to lunch in the school cafeteria, an older child bumped into her and knocked some of her food on the floor and then someone yelled at her, "Clean that up!" Another piece of the girl's self-portrait was torn off. By now, there wasn't much left of the little girl. At the end of the day, the little girl began to cry, and a classmate said, "Don't be a cry baby." Something inside the little girl died just a little bit each time part of her self-portrait was torn away. 

The class became very silent. They felt the pain. They didn't like the feeling. They knew it wasn't right. The teacher then led a discussion on how each student could do his/her part to restore the little girl's self-portrait and thereby the self-image of whom she is and the role she might assume in the class. 

Palmer implores us to heal the wounds that society inflicts upon its members. Teachers should be experts at healing the wounds of personal identity, of nurturing and sustaining a child's vision and/or belief in whom she/he can become. How I view myself allows me to give space to others that they too may view themselves. Part of who they are I can see, and part of who they are is inside of them and I can only see that by what they choose and reveal to me. Many are afraid to go inside themselves because others diminished and marginalized who they were becoming. I must create a space that allows them to recognize their place. 

As I was growing up and learning to make friends, I realized that the people I knew had one of two influences on me. They either influenced me to care more or to care less about life and its various activities. This idea has served me well over time. The influence of this class, our discussions and the increased skill we are gaining in expressing ideas, truths and identities, has led me to another realization. This realization impacts our ability to sustain those positive attributes and features of our identity, especially under duress. 

The people I associate with continue to have one of two influences in my life. They either expand and enhance my identity or, they diminish and marginalize it. This principle is experienced in our schools everyday with profound negative effects on a student's identity and their social role. This realization is similar to an observation skill I learned while studying and enjoying photography. When I would look at a person to take their picture, I noticed that their facial symmetry was not exactly balanced. Each person's nose points either to the left or the right; I don't know which way dominates. I also realized that a feature of beauty occurred when a person's facial symmetry was more balanced. 

What does facial symmetry have to do with expanding or diminishing who we are? Philosophically, I have been able to refine an earlier principle, and in the process heightened my awareness of how our interactions influence and affect our identity. This principle is important in how teachers and persons in positions of authority magnify or marginalize other people, especially students. 

This paper is about the importance of identity for all people, adults and adolescents, and how this impacts the quality and kind of interaction between teacher and learner. It provides a philosophical basis and understanding of the adage, "I don't care how much you know until I know how much you care!" I also hope to demonstrate by a few experiences how education's lack of whole vision or misunderstanding of the importance of individual identity and social role is frustrating the learner and corrupting the learning environment. 

II         Space/Leaving some things unsaid. 

An experience happened this semester that helped me to understand a person's identity and how I might enlarge it, yet challenge the person's role as a learner. 

Walter, not his real name, was in one of my classes and having difficulties. These difficulties resulted in his distracting the large group teacher and getting in trouble. We got along all right in the small group class because I was able to interact with him more easily because there were fewer students and the rapport in the class was different. 

Later in the semester, he was having some difficulties again. While the class was busy with a group activity, I invited Walter to visit with me to the side of the classroom. He came over, sat down, and tensed up his demeanor. He was ready to be reprimanded for his disturbance. He was ready to experience another negative teacher-student private conference. He had heard it before and would probably hear it again. 

I smiled at him. He looked at me, a little confused. I asked him how things were going in his other classes. His face lighted up and the tension seemed to go out of his body. I talked to him about him. I encouraged him. I didn't act like his teacher and I didn't treat him like my student and it made a difference on the inside of him that shined on the outside, through the tone of his voice, the attentiveness of his eyes and the smile on his face. We felt good together. 

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