In my next several posts I will attempt to articulate my personal philosophy of education. While meditating on my philosophy of education, I find my philosophy of science to necessarily interrupt my thought processes. I found this useful as I must consider the purpose of my content area as I consider the purpose and usefulness of education in general. With this in mind I will often digress from education into the realm of science; providing what should be a deeper look into my personal philosophy of education. I do not claim these ideas to be new, or even my own, but through the process of synthesizing these ideas for myself, I have learned a great deal about why I am an educator, and how I will continue to pursue my goals in the field.
I find myself riding a similar wave as John Dewey, who held experience as the judge of all ideas. His pragmatism forms a solid foundation of things that have happened or things that have been tried and tested. While metaphysics is not a strong aspect of pragmatic discourse, I find a connection to realist ideas. When studying the natural world through the methods of science, one is tied down by experiment and the experiences the experiment creates. While it could be said that atoms do not exist (as we have not seen one) our experiments have cast little doubt on the idea; that is to say the idea works, and very, very well! When faced with the overwhelming evidence, scientists are hard pressed to commit to the notion that atoms are not “real”. Here is where my realist notions meet with pragmatic. If the experiment that tests our idea works, it seems illogical that our idea is somehow non-existent. I know the argument could be made, but the purpose of the argument seems only to point out that we cannot actually know anything. (The computer you are working on may not actually exist – think back to The Matrix). Yet our experiment works, our idea explains phenomenon, for practical purposes our idea is a real thing or process.
The pragmatic stance of little focus on metaphysics, I believe, makes philosophical discussion difficult. Without some kind of “truth” or guiding principle, we are very much on our own, without direction, without purpose. We are merely “along for the experiential ride”. Science has aligned itself closely with this stance with its ability to revise itself. Don’t get me wrong, science’s ability to revise is perhaps its strongest and most useful feature. If tomorrow we make a new observation that our current models cannot explain, science will look for a new model…well, that’s not entirely accurate. Science will first look to the experimenter, what mistake did they make, what variable have they not accounted for, surely our idea is safe, there must be a mistake! This subjectivity is not unwarranted, mistakes are made quite frequently, and if the anomaly persists, changes in models will eventually occur.
Moving from the scientific to the educational realm, I find experiment to have great value. A new idea on how people learn? Put it to the test! (Thus the value of action research). While this process can provide valuable insight, little can be tested about what people should learn, who should be educated, and who should be teaching. To begin answering these questions a deeper look at metaphysics is needed – a topic I will expand on in my next post.