I believe the purpose of education is to cultivate students minds and equip them for finding the truth. This is effectively executed through constructing environments that foster student-directed learning. In these experiences students should learn more than just the content, they must learn to be well-equipped citizens of the American democracy. Students must be instilled with America’s core values such as hard work and community so that they are able to successfully grasp the core ideas of democracy such as the open flow of ideas and knowledge.

The values of hard work and community are woven into what America stands for, they are important in all aspects of life, including schooling and democracy. These values can teach students how to live well in a democratic society. One of the core characteristics of democratic schooling is the open flow of ideas. This characteristic opens communication of “ideas, regardless of their popularity, that enables people to be as fully informed as possible” (Beane and Apple 2007 p. 7). Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines community as “a unified body of individuals: such as the people with common interests living in a particular area.” Google defines it as “a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.” I believe both these definitions together describe the type of community America values. It is important for students to see the value of community. In eighth grade when I joined the wrestling team I experienced real community for the first time. We were all “living” in the same area (wresting practices, tournaments, etc.). We had this sense of fellowship from sharing common interests and goals. The connection I had with my wrestling friends was different from that of my friends outside of wrestling. We need to show the students that we are all Americans, we’re all here to make the best of our lives, and no matter how different we may think, act, and look from each other it’s our similarities that should bring us together and teach us to appreciate the differences. Community and the open flow of ideas are intertwined. The open flow of ideas can only be achieved in a healthy community. This flow of ideas is so valuable because sometimes the most unpopular ideas are actually the best ideas. For example, if two very different groups that often don’t get along discover they share a common goal, the unpopular idea may be to work with that group to accomplish it. However, working together could be the best possible way to meet that goal. This is why it is important to develop a community where all ideas are listened to. One way to promote this environment in a classroom is to do group work. Groupwork can open up doors to not only the ability to learn more but also increased social and collaborative skills. I believe teachers should use group work when possible and encourage students to get used to engaging with people outside of their normal groups. Doing these kinds of activities in the classroom will start to prepare them for crossing social boundaries in the outside world as well. Crossing those social boundaries allows for an even more open flow of ideas. People from a similar group will often think similarly while those from different groups will be able to share different and sometimes better views.

Another important characteristic of democratic schooling is knowledge. This so closely relates to the value of hard work. As Rice and Kennedy describe it in the film American Creed, “it doesn’t matter where you came from, it matters where you are going”. This encapsulates the idea that no matter your background, poor or rich, black or white, you can make a life for yourself, as long as you are willing to put in the work. This value is so important to me because I have seen the fruits of it play out in my life. When I was in high school I put forth the least amount of effort as possible to pass my classes with average grades. When I got to college I assumed I would have to actually put in effort, but my grades would stay the same — average. Throughout the past 4 years of college, I have worked hard at my classes and impressed even myself with my grades. In these much harder classes than high school sometimes taking 18 or 21 credit hours, I have managed to keep a 3.8 GPA by applying myself. Getting A’s in classes I thought I would get a C or worse in taught me that if I am willing to work for it I can achieve great things. This is a mindset that is crucial for students to learn. I hope to instill this value in my students early on. No one pushed me in school, my parents were okay with average grades, so were my teachers and so was I. If someone would have pushed me to reach my potential I would have seen what I was capable of much earlier on. It is crucial for our students to see the fruit of hard work early on. Everyone in a community must work hard to educate themselves and be proactive about maintaining and building up our democracy. Good things require work and a democracy cannot stand if all of its citizens are too lazy to maintain it. I believe it is vital to teach our students to be humble and bold. They must know that even in a country like the U.S. we are not immune to the breakdown of democracy. Students should be taught to learn from the mistakes of other countries to see the warning signs and recognize the false alarms. Students should be made aware of the fateful missteps that have wrecked other democracies (Levitsky & Ziblatt p. 10).

The two philosophies of education that align most with my own philosophy are Perennialism and Progressivism. I agree with the purpose and preferred curriculum of Perennialism. Like I stated before, I believe the purpose of education is to cultivate students minds and equip them for finding the truth. We as teachers don’t just feed students what we believe is true, but we also give them the tools and techniques to find truth in life for themselves. I am not saying that we should not teach students what is true, but that we should encourage them to have a sense of curiosity and question everything for themselves. Otherwise, we will be left with students who just accept everything they hear as true with no desire to know why. As for the role of teacher and student, my philosophy aligns more with progressivism. I believe the teacher should be teaching through constructing environments geared toward student-directed learning. I also believe group work is something that should be frequently happening in the classroom. The teacher is there to guide the students down the right path but not to just feed them the information, the students should make the meaning for themselves. The student’s role is to be actively engaged in the learning process. Like I said before, they should be questioning what they are learning and making meaning out of it. Students should be listening but more importantly, they should be doing. Doing something for your self will help to solidify what you are learning. Schooling should instill students with strong core values, educate them on the core ideas of democracy while challenging them through student-directed learning environments that incorporate group work and hands-on learning.

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CC BY-SA 4.0 Schooling, Cultivating Community by Tanner is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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