What are modern philosophical orientations of teaching? How have teachers applied these philosophies in the classroom?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Given the level of intricacy in the modern classroom, there are many philosophical orientations for the modern teacher.  In terms of definable approaches to philosophy in the classroom, I think that one of the most present is essentialism.  The essentialist orientation focuses on what students must know.  "Core curriculum" and "standards" are critical elements in the essentialist philosophy. The modern teacher that has emerged under No Child Left Behind legislation and the current "Common Core" realities understands essentialism. The notion of teaching students what they need to know is behind both current phenomena in the modern classroom. The essential nature of what is should guide instruction.  There is a structure in place, and adherence is critical.  In the modern classroom, this structure is essential and guides all teaching and learning.

Another philosophical approach is a more contemplative approach.  This approach stresses that there is an "inner" aspect to learning that must be understood.  This can be seen in the establishment of charter schools that focus on conflict resolution, and decreasing stress and anger in the personal frame of reference of the student. It can also be seen in curriculum that asks students to increase their sense of empathy. For example, the study of the Holocaust can adopt a contemplative orientation if it focuses on bullying and intimidation and appropriate responses to such a reality on a personalized level. This approach is something that educators are beginning to understand.  As the lives of the student is becoming filled with more tension and more intensity, leading to destructive behaviors both within and outside of the student, a more contemplative educational orientation is embraced.

As seen in the teachings of John Dewey, progressivism is another philosophical orientation in the classroom. Progressivism stresses that active experience and "learning by doing" become critical in the education of students. Answers to questions are more inquiry based, as students have to test out hypotheses and understanding in order to better understand why things are the way they are.  Answers are not essentialist in nature, as much as they are subject to exploration and the wide ranging nature of inquiry.  Texts and other sources are resources, not as much taken as the font of all learning.  In the modern setting, the use of projects and other forms of inquiry are examples of settings where students act as agents of their learning, creating centers of potential independent study, as opposed to rote memorization.

Reconstruction or Social Reconstructionism is another interesting educational orientation.  This philosophical approach teaches children to deconstruct the elements of construction around them.  Engaging analysis in light of social change becomes critical.  The Social Reconstructionist approach views education as a means to generate social change.  The classroom becomes a vehicle of what can be in response to what is.  The teaching of social and political values of what should be or what ought to be represents the critical aim.  As issues of race, class, gender, and sexual identity become forces with which students have more familiarity, bringing this approach into the classroom as a way for students to understand the world and their place in it is seen in the modern classroom setting.  This philosophical approach invites social and personal forms of questioning.

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