Saturday, January 2, 2016

meet FRED, an educational philosophy

Private schools often seem to need a philosophy (Montessori, Waldorf, Democratic School, etc.). This is especially true if they have not existed for 100 or more years or if there are several private schools close to each other. Public schools, on the other hand, cannot have a philosophy, at least not in New York, although they can in Oregon. Charter Schools can have a philosophy.

Is the philosophy marketing or does it help with education? Let's consider.

If there are true believers in the philosophy, even if the philosophy is not really effective in any systematic way, you sometimes see a placebo effect and the institution prospers because the people working in the school THINK is should prosper. If the philosophy is merely marketing and no one really believes it -- maybe it was instituted top down long after the school was up and running and was imposed on the staff -- then it won't work very well even if it is good.

I homeschool 4 kids, my own, 6 years. I have also founded and participated in many homeschool groups. I taught in the public school in the Bronx and worked as an adjunct professor of anthropology in the CUNY system in New York City. I have two masters degrees (M.Ed. and M.A.) from Columbia University in New York in education. All of that might or might not matter to the discussion that follows.

I kind of don't believe in explicit educational philosophies intrinsically. Yet I just said that a philosophy, if truly believed, can help achieve results.

Maybe I'm a true believer in not believing in any one idea, so it works for me. Nevertheless, I will now offer my formula for education so others can believe it and make it work (but it won't work if you don't believe it and I offer no particular proof, as philosophies don't tend to offer proof).

These are things I thought of regarding my recent experience teaching, and looking around at what I see. I don't know how well these aphorism really apply anywhere else. It's in no way systematic. I am sure that my approach is skewed to young kids working with adults, as that has been my recent experience.

And these points contract each other. But I'm pretty sure of these few points. Not sure of much else. But I think, at least initially, I can go with these:

1. Education is not a kid thing.

Point one is absolutely critical. If you as the educator are not actively educating yourself as you claim to educate others, you're definitely doing it wrong. We all need more education. If you have three PhDs and speak 12 languages, you know need more education. The educator must be educating him or herself and loving learning what he or she is learning, even if what s/he is learning is not what s/he is teaching. It's a little like the "if you believe" it hypothesis above: you have to believe in education to educate and if you believe in it, you'll be doing it.

On the policy level, everyone should be learning all the time and this "I'm in school" and then "I'm out of school" dichotomy is a problem.  You don't go back to school because you lost your job. You should be in some kind of class all the time -- everyone, all the time. Continuing education should be happening at town halls, libraries, job sites, police stations, factories, and be paid for by the government if necessary. It should all be voluntary.  Education is never a waste of money. You might learn art history when you're 60 and somehow that increase in the community of knowledge might lead to a new computer program by your cousin six years later. How can that happen? I don't know -- by chance. All kinds of change ideas and projects will come out of a generally better educated community.

2. Don't kick tradition to the curb. 

The past is full of all kinds of horrors, as is the present. There is no reason to think the people of the future won't judge us very harshly, as well they might, if we leave them a shitty planet. So, we need to listen to the people of the past. Realize that they are different. Try to understand and sympathize with them more than you judge. Do not write them off. Do not write off their wrong ideas about science. Do not write off their religion, even if you do not accept their religion.

Without a past, you can't really have any education. You will be adrift in the cultural moment and find your mind stuck on trivia, or gossip, or jealousy, or arrogance. You will need to feel the past to be full and happy, even if you learn nothing that makes money. You will learn much that is useful.

4. As a people, our race is in it's adolescence. 

You hopefully noticed I skipped 3 and went to 4. That was too prove how immature we are as a people (okay, as I am).

But really, we've only come up with the systematic search for knowledge a couple hundred years ago. We need to be careful about what we don't know.

It's best to have kids know how much we don't know. Doing research should be a huge industry. If you know three lawyers, two teachers, and a doctor but don't know anyone in your intimate personal circle who is professionally employed in the expansion of knowledge, that's because you live is a head up its ass culture.

There should be five researchers for every lawyer and three for every doctor and two for every teacher.

And these jobs should change around, and be mixed up. We're going to live longer and longer, hopefully, and have better and better health, hopefully, and should have time to have two or three careers each.

I listed my educational credentials above. I almost never do that and you should not have been impressed. Not too important.

3. Love is best, but fleeting and hard to work with.

If you teach children you love, it's quite magical for all involved. These children do not have to be your own. But in an institution, such as a school, you can't do this. It's impossible. You won't love all the kids. You will be professional. So, what can I say, go ahead and be a professional. But, if you can teach with love, it's magical. But like all magic, it is also dangerous and can disappear in an instant.

But there is proof of the work of love. Take Alice in Wonderland for example. Lewis Carroll wrote it for his colleague's daughter, Alice. There was a real Alice. Carroll and Alice were lifelong friends: she at 7, him over 40, then she in her 40s and he in his 80s, dying.

It would be a stretch to call Alice in Wonderland a collaboration but the 7-year-old Alice was quite a bit more than a bystander or audience.

5. "What is education?" is as profound a question as "what is justice?"

Figuring out what education should be is no trivial matter. It's profound. It's about what it means to be human.

Nevertheless, to make it really work, at some point, you'll need some data. Data is great. If the justice system was more based on data and peer reviewed papers than "expertise" and "professional judgement" there would be less bias and more fairness.

The same is fundamentally true with education. Some kind of data is ultimately necessary and, if interpreted in an open way with a truly democratic process, likely to be better than a philosophy, I just don't know what data and how to look at it.

6. The mirror will know. 

Powerful and rich people steal at will and never get arrested or otherwise punished or even stopped. Poor people get in a pipeline to prison while crooked and stupid DAs and judges prance around a strut and feel good about themselves as they break hurting and broken people into a fine dust. No one notices that there should not be urban ghettos, that should never happen, and they aren't an accident. Schools have slogans on the wall of the library, like "excellence." And there is no excellence, thus killing excellence. They have to line up. We don't have a functioning democracy. The people don't get what they need. They take away more and more. We have an infinite number of styrofoam cups that will be our legacy to the future. We keep on dividing up the farm land and woods and paving them and then driving more and changing the climate to live in unhappy communities with no sidewalks. Ammosexuals care more about stroking their guns than the lives of children. The president, like Zeus with a lightening bolt, can order a strike to kill a person or someone who fits the pattern in Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan, Syria, Iraq, Libya, Afganistan, and maybe Cleveland, without any legal justification and without having to answer to anyone, or, if he wants to, invade. Cops and presidents get away with murder. No law to protect you now. No plan to protect the future. How many planets in the Milky Way have liquid water? We don't know. How does the brain work? Why do we sleep?

Like those people in the past,  you have to know who you want to be, look in the mirror, and then be that person.

Okay, there you go, a philosophy. I think I'll call it Fred.

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