What Is Education For?
I believe that the primary purpose of education should be to equip students with the skills, knowledge, language, and cultural capital (Bordieu) that they need to successfully negotiate higher education, and the workplace, so that they can acquire the economic wherewithal to support themselves and their families.
However, recognizing that economic success in this society is not predicated solely on education (the economy, systems of inequality, and many other factors all play a role), and that many students need schools to address their material needs as well as their intellectual ones, I believe that education must also serve other purposes.
I believe that schools should serve as anchors for communities, providing social services (health and dental clinics, daycares, senior centers, adult education courses, etc.) to families who might otherwise have difficulty procuring such services.
As Dewey himself said, "I believe that education is the fundamental method of social progress and reform." Education should foster connectedness to ones community, civic engagement, and a strong sense of social justice. It should prepare students for life in a diverse society,
I believe that education should empower students to critique, question, and challenge problematic situations that they encounter. I believe that education (and educators) should both try to answer all of students "Why?" questions, and dare them to ask even more.
I believe that education is currently positioned as the governments whipping boycontinually under-funded, continually in the midst of a political tug-of-war, and yet also continually cited as the root cause of most societal problems. I believe that education is capable of alleviating some (but not all) of these problems, but would argue that educators must demand more resources to address these issues, instead of continually trying to do more and more work with fewer and fewer resources. Importantly, I do not believe that education alone can solve the economic inequities that exist in our society. Like Christopher Jencks, I would argue that a serious overhaul of our economic system would be required in order to truly provide every person with equitable economic opportunities.
What Does Social Studies Education Consist of?
I believe that bringing up multiple perspectives on the same issue, having students study and analyze primary source documents, and challenging students to critique the dominant narrative are all critical aspects of social studies education.
I believe that any student can develop a passion for history if given the opportunity to study the history of a subject that interests them. The study of history in any classroom should involve the study of histories that the students themselves are interested in.
I believe that students should be taught a historical narrative which seamlessly incorporates the stories of many groups into the telling of any given event. I also believe that this narrative should help students see themselves as a part of the past, present, and future of this country, instead of as perpetual Others.
I believe that American History should be taught and presented not as an entity separate from the history of the world, but as series of regional events (crafted into a narrative) which were very much affected by events occurring all over the world. Furthermore, I believe that any educator teaching history should incorporate the study of economics, sociology, psychology, anthropology, statistics, and other social sciences into the examination of historical events to provide a more nuanced picture of those events.
I believe that students should be taught to attend to the elements of human behavior that shape historical occurrences. If students see the past as predestined and immutable, then it becomes much easier for them to view the present and the future in that light as well. I believe that highlighting the roles that bystanders, rescuers, and resisters have played in various historical contexts will help students understand the role of human agency in history, and subsequently, the role that human agency can play in shaping the present and the future.
The Role of the Teacher
I believe that the teacher should be a member of the community of learners in her classroom, rather than ascribing to the banking method of education (Freire), in which she positions herself as an outsider who imparts knowledge to her students, but is not willing to receive knowledge from her students.
I believe that to be effective, teachers need to enact the following three As: They must affirm their students cultural backgrounds and life experiences, advocate for their students rights, and actively promote the intellectual and emotional growth of their students.
I believe that teachers should be active participants in the school community in ways that extend beyond the walls of their classroom, serving as coaches, club advisors, and mentors for students.
I believe that teachers have a responsibility to get to know their students on a personal level, and to use their understanding of a student to tailor the education that student receives.
I believe that teachers should be connected to the communities in which their students live, and to their students families.
I believe that teachers need to be very aware of the resources available to their students both in school, and in the community. When they encounter an issue that they do not have the knowledge or ability to handle, teachers need to be able to direct students to resources (in the form of people, organizations, services, etc.) that may be able to help.
The Nature of Method (Pedagogy)
I believe that the above goals are best accomplished through the utilization of a multitude of pedagogies and practices which address the varied learning styles, academic levels, cultural, gendered, sexual, and socioeconomic backgrounds of the students in my classroom.
I believe that all students in my classroom must be challenged to meet high academic standards, but supported, encouraged, and guided in their efforts to do so.
I believe that culturally responsive and culturally relevant pedagogies are critical to providing meaningful and engaging instruction to students of color. Such pedagogies (see Ladson-Billings, 1995) have three characteristics at their core:
1. Students must experience academic success.
2. Students must develop and/or maintain cultural competence
3. Students must develop a critical consciousness through which they challenge the status quo of the current social order (1995a, 160).
I believe that as a teacher, I should consciously make explicit the vocabulary and practices of the "culture of power" (Delpit) in an effort to help my students negotiate that culture.
I believe that all students, regardless of race, class, gender or sexuality, should receive an education that is multicultural and social reconstructionist in nature. Sleeter and Grant (1994) define such education as promoting "social structural equality and cultural pluralism" (211), but its implementation has the potential to be transformative. In addition to making the classroom a site of democratic decision-making, building on students' learning styles, using cooperative learning, and tailoring lessons to students' skill levels, the teacher who engages in Education that is Multicultural and Socially Reconstructionist organizes course content "around current social issues involving racism, classism, sexism, handcapism; organize[s] concepts around experiences and perspectives of several different American groups; use[s] students' life experiences as starting point for analyzing oppression; teach[es] critical thinking skills, analysis of alternative viewpoints; teach[es] social action skills, empowerment skills (211)."
I believe that assessing the success or failure of pedagogical techniques is critical, and believe that such assessment must take multiple forms, all of which require students to demonstrate different types of proficiencies, and also offer students with higher levels of proficiency in certain areas, but limited proficiency in others, ways in which to be successfulportfolios, papers, oral reports, art projects, and so on. However, I would argue that the repercussions of assessments should not fall squarely (and solely) on the shoulders of students. If current educational efforts are predicated on the notion that all students can learn given the proper instruction and resources, then students failure to successfully handle assessments cannot be entirely their fault. No assessment of student knowledge and skills should have such high stakes that it bars students from further educational (and in many respects, employment) opportunitiesespecially when such high stakes are not placed on the President and Department of Education, whose ill-conceived plans contribute to student failure; or Congress, whose unwillingness to fully fund education contributes to student failure; or state and district officials, whose willingness to lay down and allow themselves to be steamrolled over for the sake of diplomacy contributes to student failure; or educators, whose complicity in a faulty plan contributes to student failure. All of us are responsible, but only students take the fall. I believe this is utterly unjust.
I believe that education must be student-centered in a multitude of manners. It must be driven by students learning styles, by their life experiences, and by their material needs, but in saying these things, I do not concede that education should be solely vocational, or heavily tracked, in nature. Educators must be able to envision more for their students than those students may even perhaps envision for themselves, and subsequently challenge those students to reach the heights that have been envisioned for them.