What schools need to remember

Philosophy of Education and Teaching-Angela Parrino, Ph.D. November 28, 2015

Being an educated person should not be equated with the completion of a number of credits or state requirements. It is much more than the finite degree an institution awards at the completion of a set of courses. It is a way of being and interacting in society.

When we educate or become educated, a dialog is created that is not unilateral, but rather encourages a reciprocity of ideas so that both the educator and the one intended to be educated, learn. It is dynamic and interactive. In this volley of knowledge, there is the intention that there will not only be an increased interest in the content to be learned, but that this content will be learned more profoundly over repeated experiences and practice. It is also the intention that s/he who seeks to be educated will continue to do so.

How do learners best take ownership of new information? What is the role of the educator in the learning process? Education requires engagement both on the part of the learner as well as the educator. Neither learning nor educating happens in a vacuum. Connections must be made so that hungry brains discern similarities, differences, and patterns; piggybacking new information onto prior knowledge is essential. “Ah-ha” moments are the goal of the educator and a gift for the educated. When they happen seamlessly during one’s education, it is because of the educator’s skill. Such moments bring learners to higher ground. They excite. When they don’t happen, there is frustration, an unmet longing.

The educational stage must be set; there’s much to do. Here is where an educator’s awareness and experience are essential. Not teaching exclusively as one was taught requires discipline. Going beyond how an educator best learns is required. Identifying the varied learning styles of a particular group of learners and incorporating a variety of strategies that tap into those styles is a key responsibility of an educator. Although powerpoints have a place in an instructional repertoire, using them exclusively as a teaching strategy to impart knowledge does not address the needs of those learners who require a kinesthetic or hands-on approach to understand, for example. Educators allow students to shine when they assess what makes students “tick” early on in the learning process and figure it into the teaching of a body of knowledge to be learned. In this way, educators shine as well. We earn the respect of those we engage because we are respectful of the learning/teaching paradigm. Our lessons aim to advocate for learners-where they are and where we’d like them next to be. They are a combination of teacher-fronted and student-focused activities that develop critical learning skills and prepare learners for their own professions and lives. Regurgitation of facts is ultimately not the goal of the educator for his students nor the students for themselves. However, an application of a declarative knowledge pearl such as: young children are concrete learners may find itself proceduralized in a step by step role play by a child of brushing one’s teeth. As would be suggested by the tenets of David Ausubel’s obliterative subsumption, just reading the steps in a flowing narrative would not encourage meaningful forgetting (the program of brushing one’s teeth subsumed in long term memory – ultimately what we do want the young learner to accomplish), but rather systematically forgetting (bumper cars of information bouncing off each other without purpose or unified direction).

Education is a public good. Maybe not all think this so. Schools have a responsibility to bear this in mind lest one day there are no students to be educated. Schools are responsible to do their best to foster and promote the best teaching/learning environments from which education will blossom and spill over without end onto the society in which those educated will live, thrive, and affect the future for years to come. Great teaching makes the difference.


Mother’s Day: Who Will be My Mother? Whose Mother Will I be?

With Mom’s Day upon us, it seems only fitting to devote something to all the mothers among us, my own at the top of the list. It’s only been a breath in time since my mother passed seven months ago. She was mom to me and my two sisters, Joanne and Susan. Our mom was a self-sacrificing woman who tenaciously embraced life to the end (and contact lenses when they fell, finding them quickly despite weakened eyes and hips). She forged forward despite her many brushes with illness and ultimately, death. She was a woman whose dedication to her marriage vow of “in sickness…” found her abandoning her hairdressing career of five decades for few years to care for my dad following his traumatic cerebral event. This extraordinary woman was always a great mom. However, I’d be naïve to say that all moms are extraordinary, that all moms deserve jeweled tiaras. And, furthermore, all moms are not beloved by the children they have birthed, rightfully or unrightfully so. Certainly, I’d like to believe all moms have only unadulterated good intentions to shower on their offspring all the love they unconditionally deserve. Somehow paths get muddied, though; roads become unclear of how to best do so. It has come to my attention across the years, that sometimes the best moms aren’t moms at all, but friends, sisters, cousins, aunts, neighbors, and yes…even men. And some of these great mothers never birthed children of their own, never knew the pain and the pleasure of being a mother.

There is a children’s predictable book, the kind with limited linguistic structures repetitively presented throughout, entitled: Who will be My Mother? In the book, lamb’s mother dies and lamb (we never learn if lamb is male or female) searches for a replacement among a horse, bull, rabbit and hen to no avail. Each states the obvious: I can’t be your mother because I am not a lamb. Totally frustrated, lamb comes upon a boy and ventures to ask if he could be lamb’s mother. At first, the boy, as the others before him, says no, but when lamb breaks down crying, the boy recants and agrees to take lamb’s mom’s place. I used to use the book to model this specific genre of reading material for prospective ESL teachers once upon a time when teaching graduate students at CUNY-Hunter College. On one occasion, at a taping of techniques for a video I produced, I had the pleasure of gathering a small group of children aged four through nine. One of the children, now an attorney herself, asked how the boy could be lamb’s mother if he was a boy. We discussed what it meant to be a mother. The essence of what we talked about was this: to be a mother goes beyond the biological; to be a mother you must mother.

If you check out Wikipedia, you will find that some countries celebrate Mothering Day an event which preceded our own celebration of Mother’s Day, but which captures the essence of what the boy demonstrated to lamb in the story Mothering, is what we all seek as human beings to receive, and if we are so gifted, to give. This mothering goes beyond age, gender, and species (perhaps you have even read about Tara, the elephant who mothers Bella the dog). You can become a mother by birthing or adopting a child and mother but simple by having those titles does not mean you will mother. And to give my mom just yet another compliment, she always understood this notion of what it means to mother because each Mother’s Day she gifted both my aunt and me a rose although we are noone’s “official” mothers as my sisters and she are. I guess she believed we knew how to mother, if only a wee bit.

I’d like to close with the words of Joan Chittister, from her book, In a High Spiritual Season, who in fact highlights the notion of Mothering Day here shared. Blessings on all… those who will be mothered and will mother on Mother’s Day and beyond:

“The Irish call it Mothering Day. The title manifests the growth of an idea. The fact is that man and woman alike, parent and guardian alike, friend and stranger alike, must learn to mother. Mothering is the art of reassuring what is gentle and loving and patient and receiving in all of us.

Who are all the people who mothered, who nourished, who comforted you in life? Thank God for them.”

– Cowley, Joy. (1983). Who will be My Mother? Illustrations: Rita Parkinson
The Weight Group, under exclusive arrangement with Shortland Publications Ltd.

– Chittister, Joan. (1995). In a High Spiritual Season, Triumph Books.