All teachers have a philosophy of education. A philosophy of education is a set of commitments on education’s purposes and processes. Some teachers think deeply about these; others have practical, experience-based expertise. Others repeat assumptions dominant in their schools or countries, without realising that they are doing so. By considering several questions, a teacher can write a genuinely personal philosophy of education statement without being an academic expert. Any educational professional should have and know how to defend a personal philosophy of education.
The best philosophy of education statements are characterised by breadth and balance. As life and society become more and more complex, there are more and more factors to balance, the obvious example being that in 1950 a philosophy of education would not have emphasised computer proficiency. Education is a moral activity, concerned fundamentally with bringing the best out of people and into society. People have multiple potentials and society has multiple tasks; an intelligent philosophy of education statement balances different individual potentials and different social tasks.
People have the potential to be physically healthy and fit. We are able to use various technologies to adapt to and alter our environment. Through science, we can develop our knowledge and understanding of the environment. In apparent contrast to other animals, we can create graphic, auditory and literary artefacts to communicate meaning to one another. We can learn to use different languages. There is a range of different cultures, past and present, to understand, and we can draw on their materials in forming our responses to questions about existence or practical tasks of survival or enjoyment. Human beings have a track record of amazing achievement and each individual has potentials to add to it. Good education poses varied problems and possibilities, revealing precisely what potentials are latent within each individual.
Once potentials are manifest they have to be addressed to social tasks. Some tasks are permanent, including the need for a viable economy, to bring up children, to treat the sick, provide shelter, nutrition and clothing and so on. Their application varies by era and location, contemporary European architecture and medicine differing from those of Northern Canada or eighteenth century Europe. Other tasks are contextual, for example, building good relations between different ethnic or religious groups in an urban area of high immigration and plurality. There are further demands on societies, such as balances between work and leisure, cohesion and originality, tradition and innovation. Good education addresses all this. Good educators have understanding of the needs of society as it develops, not just the individual.
Similarly, good education provides a variety of learning methods. Active learning, experiential learning, arts and computer-based learning, workplace experience, travel and research-based project study all have importance, as does the more traditional knowledge-based learning used for examination-based qualifications. Some people will be better than others at different styles and good schools enable students to reflect on their progress, make choices and develop specialisms.
Everybody has a philosophy of education, but not everybody has a personal philosophy of education. To develop a personal philosophy of education, consider how schools should balance the different kinds of potential found in students, the different tasks that society needs to fulfil, and the different kinds of learning that activate students’ potential to fulfil those tasks. Discuss these questions with your colleagues, as good professional development, with your students, to build good relationships and student responsibility, and with their parents, to foster good community relations and support. Write your personal philosophy of education statement clearly and with confidence but be prepared to review it periodically, as you would your CV. Education evolves, as will your own talents, especially as a reflective personal philosopher of education.