The primary purpose of an educator should be the creation within the student of a desire to learn more. Using technology, an educator will impart a broad base of mathematical and scientific principles, the ability to write literately and persuasively, and the ability to critically consider issues of art, history, geography, politics, practicality, and social mores. An educator will not discriminate on the basis of gender, gender preference, race, creed, income, social status, disability, or any other physical or social characteristic.
Webb, Metha & Jordan (2010) define philosophy as “the study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence” (p. 50). From Webb et al (2010), there are three traditional philosophies and two twentieth century philosophies that apply to education: Idealism, realism, and neo-Thomism (also called theistic realism) have existed for centuries, while pragmatism and existentialism are relative newcomers from the early twentieth century. Each philosophy has a component of metaphysics, epistemology and axiology. Metaphysics considers the nature of reality, epistemology considers the nature of knowledge, and axiology considers the nature of values (Webb et al, 2010).
Naturally, the first question is axiologic in nature: What value does this discussion have? Why should we care about amorphous philosophic generalizations, and what value does an examination of such a generalized subject hold for teachers and education? Webb et al (2010) writes, “To teach without a firm understanding of one’s personal philosophy and philosophy of education would be analogous to painting a portrait without the rudimentary knowledge and skills of basic design, perspective, or human anatomy” (p. 50). Perhaps the metaphor can be stated another way: If a mechanic persists in turning the nut the wrong way to loosen it, the problem will never be solved. It is only through knowledge of how things work that we can make things work. Philosophy forms the foundation upon which ideologies are built, and ideologies form the construction that allows the teacher to test and use theories (Philosophy, ideology, and theory, n.d.). Without a firm foundation in philosophy, a teacher is unable to make a selection of appropriate ideologies or theories from which to operate, creating a career which drifts from rock to shoal at the mercy of the current, instead of demonstrating personal control toward a goal. For this reason, educators are well served by the consideration and construction of their philosophy. Knowing which direction to apply force will help loosen the nut.
Webb et al (2010) defines metaphysics as descriptive of the nature of reality, which is subdivided into ontology (the nature of existence) and cosmology (the origin of existence). As an aspiring math or science teacher, my metaphysical philosophy must be based on realism. Webb et al (2010) describes metaphysical realism by stating, “the universe exists whether or not the human mind perceives it. Matter is primary and is considered an independent reality,” and “the interaction of matter and form is governed not by God but by scientific, natural laws” (p.56). This principle can hardly be disputed in science or mathematics. Mathematically, definition and principle are intertwined in ontology such that a number, regardless of language or culture, represents a discrete value or an independent reality. Scientifically, certain laws are presented, based on our understanding of ontology and cosmology, and even though the perception of these laws can change with new information, realism proposes that there is an ultimate law which is true. It is true that our knowledge of laws was once far more faulty than it is now, and undoubtedly there is much more to know. Up until the 1930s, Scientists believed that protons, neutrons and electrons were the smallest building blocks of creation, but we now know that these small particles are made up of even smaller particles called quarks (Fundamental particles, 2009). Realism does not present that all things are known. Instead, realism simply presents that there is a truth which we can come to know. Nevertheless, there are certain laws which are known, and are unlikely to change. For example, the discovery of quarks did not invalidate the known behavior of atoms. Einstein’s theory of relativity enhanced our understanding of gravity, space, and time, but a person would be unwise to leap from a height while questioning Newton’s reality of gravity. No matter how strong their ideal, considerations of the knower would have far less impact than their body. This metaphysical realism rules out idealism, pragmatism and existentialism, since each considers reality to be relative to the knower (Webb et al, 2010). Neo-Thomism presents a different metaphysical consideration, though. Neo-Thomism, also known as theistic realism, embraces reality, but rather, postulates that reality was created by God (Webb et al, 2010). Metaphysically, I do not reject neo-Thomism, but there are epistemologic concerns that cause me to reject this as a teaching philosophy.
Epistemology describes the nature of knowledge, defining ways of knowing, including logic, intuition, deduction, observation, etc (Webb et al, 2010). In terms of science and mathematics, the priority of perception (including measurement), followed by inductive and deductive reasoning to extrapolate meaning, appeals to my sense of realism. It is on this basis that I must reject neo-Thomism, because Thomas Aquinas, the philosopher for whom the theory was named, created a hierarchy of epistemology that places revelatory knowledge above reasoning, and reasoning above observational perception (Webb et al, 2010). I consider this opposite of true knowledge, where perception drives reason, and reason confirms revelatory knowledge.
Axiology describes the nature of values, questioning purpose in terms of aesthetic and societal values, as well as social mores (Webb et al, 2010). The value of a realistic foundation in science and math can hardly be debated. Math, science, and engineering careers pay well and provide highly autonomous careers, but even without pursuing a career directly related to math and science, a firm grounding in those disciplines provides a foundation for critical thinking. Without an understanding of how the world works, critical consideration of an issue is bound to be far less effective. Nevertheless, realism encourages a sense of equation to learning, which suggests didactic delivery and rote learning. Nothing is relative, this is the way things are, and we expect the student to learn a series of principles. But thought processes do not follow scientific principles of cause and effect, and students are not equations. Ormrod (2008) writes, “Contrary to what many students think, rote learning is a slow and relatively ineffective way of storing declarative information in long-term memory” (p.204). So, although realism supports the subject material of math and science metaphysically and epistemologically, realism fails the student axiologically in the analytic division between the process of delivery within education and the goals of education. Frankena, Burbules & Raybeck (n.d.) create a philosophic distinction between the process of delivery (aims, methods, and effects) and the goal of education (desired skills, knowledge, and beliefs), writing:
- Some such normative theory of education is implied in every instance of educational endeavor, for whatever education is purposely engaged in, it explicitly or implicitly assumed that certain dispositions are desirable and that certain methods are to be used in acquiring or fostering them, and any view on such matters is a normative theory of philosophy of education (para. 7).
Philosophies of methodology and disposition retain axiologic value in our consideration of purpose, and should be considered separately as a means to furthering education. So far, we have discussed realism in terms of the subject matter (disposition), but Frankena et al (n.d.) describes axiologic value in various methods that create the dispositions that we value.
Psychological theories of behaviorism, cognitivism, constructivism and the theory of scaffolding success create an ideal of more efficient absorption of information and mastery learning, but these theories are based on experimentalism (pragmatism), which we rejected metaphysically and epistemologically for lack of certainty in content. Nonetheless, Frankena et al (n.d.) creates a distinction that permits separate consideration of content and delivery. While realism forms the foundation for content, experimentalism forms the foundation for delivery, allowing the teacher to tailor the method of instruction for different learning abilities.
Regarding disposition, my philosophy is governed by realism, but there must be a distinction between disposition and method. Essentialism states there are fundamental objectives of non-debatable mathematic and scientific principles which students must know (Webb et al, 2010). Nevertheless, students are not equations, and do not behave or learn by principles of science. One overall philosophy will not work for disposition and method, and recognizing the value of behaviorism, cognitivism, constructivism, and scaffolding success requires the teacher to consider experimentalism in the delivery while maintaining realism for disposition.
Frankena, W.K., Burbules, N.C. & Raybeck, N. (n.d.). Philosophy of education: Historical overview, current trends. Retrieved August 5, 2010 from http://education.stateuniversity.com/pages/2321/Philosophy-Education.html
Fundamental particles (2009). Stanford Linear Accelerator Coalition (SLAC) National Accelerator Laboratory. Retrieved August 9, 2010 from http://www2.slac.stanford.edu/vvc/theory/fundamental.html
Ormrod, J. (2008). Educational psychology: Developing learners (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River,
NJ: Merrill Prentice Hall
Philosophy, ideology, and theory. (n.d.). EDU215 Education Foundations and Framework Module 2, Lecture Introduction. Phoenix, AZ: Grand Canyon University.
Webb, L.D., Metha, A. & Jordan, K.F. (2010). Foundations of American education (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill