Monday, September 30, 2013

New President Interview -- Part 22 Living Bridges –Part 2

Q: It seems that some administrators are more concerned with a process rather than using a philosophy for defining an organization.  What exactly does a philosophy of education do for an institution?  How does a philosophy affect learning outcomes?

A: Education in the broadest sense is the way a social group renews itself.  Education is necessary for the continuity of the group. Since we are all members of multiple groups, the institution needs to determine which aspects of renewal are to be addressed. These groups we are members of included geographic, political, religious, professional, and familial, religious, human beings, and more.  Groups have beliefs, history, hopes and needs.  For example under geographic designation we are members of neighborhoods, cities, counties, countries, and the world.  Each has different demands on our time and attention.  People in Chicago do not need to know about building codes in other cities.  But we are all Americans and needs to know what it takes to be citizens.   Members of ethnic or religious groups need to learn their history and traditions to take their places within that society.

Just as a physical existence is renewed through breathing, eating, building, and removal of waste, society is an entity that wants to transmit its history, beliefs, ideas, social standards, and rituals.  Society seeks to renew itself with the education of the young or neophyte.  The “young” is not just the young in years, but anyone of any age who needs to be part of the society.  In the college we admit students of many age groups.  A forty year old learning health science for a new career is “young” when measured against what one needs to know the new career, but experienced in many other aspects of life.  Education and training are the tools to attain the next level of being.

When teachers transmit knowledge of the past based on the life experiences of society members, the students are able to create new knowledge. Knowledge is the synthesis of data gathered from multiple sources.  Just as a baby is helpless without language; a new student needs to learn the language and tools of the next step they want to attain.  For example a person learning in the health sciences start by learning the vocabulary of medicine, gross anatomy, microbiology, etiology of wellness, and finally pathology.  Then they can learn the clinical skills to deal with patients.

A philosophy of education for the institution focuses the behavior a large goal.  The goal is an ideal that is never really attainted.  With the philosophy in place the institution write the steps to create learning goals. One of the main purposes of a college is to prepare students for either their role in the society or the next step in their education. Education is supposed to be a transmission of an organized body of knowledge. At one time the “great books” of civilization formed the core of undergraduate education.  One had to understand Locke and Plato to learn how the framers of the American Declaration of Independence and constitution came up with the ideas of freedom and government.

If the goal of the College is to make sure students understand society, then they much understand the historical and intellectual background of the thinkers who came before.  Too often the study of history is the study of wars.  The study of the thinkers of the society is passed over.  Sometimes a fighting war gets in the way of the spread if ideas.  If the Germans were more interested in spreading knowledge, influence, and making money, than conquering and killing, they would have emerged from the 1930’s and 1940’s as the dominant world civilization.  So much of their intellectual might was killed or forced into exile that the country never recovered.

A: How does a philosophy affect learning outcomes?

The philosophy makes a shell for the faculty to create class and discipline level goals for learning outcomes.

A: What is the difference between a philosophy for traditional education and one for progressive education?

The debate concerning traditional vs. progressive education has been occurring in educational circles for at least 80 years.  In traditional education the adults impose adult standards and subject matters on the students.  In a progressive philosophy teachers are agents for the organization and transmission of knowledge.  Teachers don’t impose academic materials, they help students learn to be critical thinkers and act accordingly.  The progressive school builds on the past so that current society is understood, but does not dictate the future. What is taught in the classroom is not static, but a dynamic foundation for the future.  Knowledge gained from discovering the past as well as a hands-on searching and doing. Progressive education, hopefully, prepares student to meet new situations that have never existed in the experience of the teachers and texts.

The progressive educational philosophy runs the risk of being dogmatic if it is not based on a critical examination of faculty-student experience and the search for continuous improvement.

A: How do students learn from the past so that it is part of the living present?

Critical learning skills are important at all levels of education.  Learning about the connections between what we do today and the historical antecedents can be very exciting.  I am reminded of the 1978, 1994, 1997 PBS series, Connections.  James Burke, the creator, writer, and host of the series traces a series of seemingly unconnected events, but by the end of the episode the viewers understand a fundamental aspect of modern life.  (For more information see: “Connections (TV series)”  and  )

The understanding of causality is important in all disciplines.  Since the physical sciences have more precise experiments than the social sciences, causality may be easer to visualize. Historical development may help understand current events while understanding human development helps us understand adult behavior.  Since performing experiments is one way to understand the world. The philosophy has to encourage exploratory and experimental behaviors.  The philosophy needs to include the theory learned via the text and the empirical and experiments gains from doing and experiments.  Text based learning and experience are both important for a balanced education system.  One without the other leads to a distorted understanding of the world.

To be continued …

Q: Thank you very much. 

* Part twenty-two of imaginary interviews with the president of the College. After 20 interviews the president is no longer “new,” but since we are all works in progress I am continuing the series as if s/he were a “new president.” Please feel free to suggest new ideas for interviews and presidential comments. This article is for your information, amusement, and edification. Any connection to a real college president is strictly coincidental.

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