As educators it is important that we have a clearly defined personal philosophy of education. While this seems like a straightforward and obvious statement, defining that philosophy, allowing for it to develop with our experiences, articulating and defending it require careful thought. As I reflect on my personal philosophy of education, I see how easy it is to jump into the catch phrases of, “I believe all children can learn,” “I believe all children should be able to attend a safe and welcoming school,” and yes, these are parts of the ethical considerations, but if we were to apply Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to this study, these statements would fall at the foundational level of meeting the physiological, safety and belonging needs.
It is in looking at the level of self-actualization including morality, creativity, spontaneity, problem solving, prejudice and acceptance that one’s true philosophy can be found. Thus stated, I believe we have a moral obligation to presume competence on the part of all students. While the American educational system espouses a desire for higher levels of achievement, the system is set up to support mediocrity. It is imperative that we meet learners where they are. It is essential to engage the gifted student in ways that challenge them to grow intellectually in ways that the student finds engaging and relevant I find it heart-breaking that the Thiel Fellowship http://www.thielfellowship.org/ is where our most gifted students have to go to reach their potential. It is through dropping out of college and our educational system that their gifts are being developed. I am grateful that Peter Thiel has created this fellowship and has taken on this moral responsibility and saddened that our society and legislature function in a system so focused on a standardized process that we do not support the innovators of our society.
At the same time, we also have and equal responsibility to students who are labeled as disabled. There are gifts and far higher levels of understanding among these students who do not blend or express themselves in non-traditional methods of communication than most give them credit for. There is a moral obligation to assist all members of society in finding and providing the means for them to express their voice and to engage their minds and bodies to reach their highest levels of potential.
The importance of combining both the art and the science of teaching as well as the research based with the innovative cannot be understated. It should not be either or. Education has an obligation to be creative, to combine the planned with the spontaneous, to let go of pre-conceived notions of learning, particularly those designed around a system designed for the industrial era, to let go of our prejudices and be open to considering the multitude of modalities available to engage, teach and inspire.