Philosophy in & Beyond the Classroom
By Mark Sanders (University of North Carolina Charlotte)
I have been teaching a Philosophy of Education class at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte every fall for the past five years. The class examines the role Philosophy should have in education and should more properly be titled Philosophy of and in Education. At the core of the course is my belief that there is a philosophical foundation to education and that it should be made more explicit, especially in K-12 education. There should be more Philosophy courses taught in K-12 and that the overall curriculum should be more infused with philosophical ideas. Education should be more open to questioning, more dialogical, more deliberative, more collaborative, more explicit about critical thinking, more concerned with ethics, more creative, more experience based, more practical. “If we are willing to conceive education as the process of forming fundamental dispositions, intellectual and emotional, toward nature and fellow men, philosophy may even be defined as the general theory of education.” (Dewey, Democracy and Education, p. 6)
My Philosophy of Education class is largely informed by John Dewey’s ideas about education and from Jana Mohr Lone and Michael Burroughs’ ideas about teaching Philosophy to pre-college students, especially in their book Philosophy in Education. A central feature of the course was the design and implementation of philosophy lesson plans for high school students, by the students in my class. Over the years I have partnered with several K-12 teachers at various schools in the Charlotte area, including the two early colleges on UNC Charlotte campus: an Early Engineering College and an Early Education College, high schools that teach the International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum (which includes a Philosophy elective and a required Theories of Knowledge course), and most recently some outstanding teachers that I had the privilege of working with over the better course of a year on my Seminar–The Philosophical Foundations of Education through the Charlotte Teachers Institute (CTI). CTI is an innovative partnership among CMS (Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools), the University of North Carolina at Charlotte (UNC Charlotte), and Johnson C. Smith University (an HBCU in Charlotte). Through intensive, semester-long seminars led by faculty from UNC Charlotte and Johnson C. Smith University, CMS teachers learn new content, work collaboratively with other district teachers, and develop curriculum units for their own classrooms.
My Philosophy of Education class learns about and I try to emulate the model of a community of philosophical inquiry, which is an idea which has its origins in American pragmatism and was explicated in theory and practice by John Dewey and was further articulated and developed by Matthew Lippman and Ann Margaret Sharp in their work with Philosophy for Children. I followed the guidelines laid out by Jana Lone Mohr and Michael Burroughs in their book Philosophy in Education. In order to establish an open and productive environment, participants (including and perhaps most importantly myself) should acknowledge their fallibility, refrain from using too much technical philosophical language, and be willing to engage in a critical collaborative inquiry where any question or comment is acceptable as long as it does not belittle or devalue others in the group. (Mohr-Lone and Burroughs, pp. 54-55)
I want to help break down the wall between both the Academy and the community and Philosophy and pre-college education. Exposing pre-college students to Philosophy is beneficial to those pre-college students. Showing them that they are already philosophical, in the sense of questioning and engaging in critical thinking in approaching and solving problems, but hopefully making it more explicit, and demonstrating the meaning and value of Philosophy and a philosophical approach to education and life. (Another hope is that some of these pre-college students may take a Philosophy class or two or even decide to minor or major in Philosophy in college.) Lastly and most crucially, I hope to work with high school teachers and perhaps administrators and contribute to the idea that pre-college education should be more philosophical so as to infuse K-12 education with the spirit of philosophical thinking that is specifically pragmatic; to bring to the forefront: the importance of practical experience for understanding the world, guided by fallibilism and inspired by meliorism.
My students are currently working on their philosophical lesson plans and will be delivering them in their K-12 classrooms soon. They will be sharing their self assessments with me by the end of the semester and one of them will share them in an upcoming PLATO Blog.
Philosophy in Education : Questioning and Dialogue in Schools by Jana Mohr Lone and Michael D Burroughs
Philosophy in the Classroom by Matthew Lippman, Ann Margaret Sharp and Frederick S. Oscanyan
Experience and Education by John Dewey
Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paolo Friere
On Education by Jane Addams
CHAPTER: “On Philosophizing as Education” by Cristina Cammarano (in PreCollege Philosophy and Public Practice)
ARTICLE: “The Philosopher’s Pedagogy” by Amber Strong Makaiau and Chad Miller (in Educational Perspectives Volume 44)
Mark Sanders is Associate Teaching Professor of Philosophy & Undergraduate Director at University of North Carolina Charlotte. He can be reached at msander2[at]uncc.edu