“Experience is the best teacher.”
Indeed, we learn best though experience, and most of the time this means leaving the classroom, what is the point of going to school, then? What’s the point of being an educator if people learn more outside his class?
Unlike the realist and idealists in a previous post, the pragmatists are less concerned about deeper meaning of things and focus on what works in finding new ways of solving real-life issues in in their contexts. For them, life has meaning because we are able to do what we are supposed to and are able to make the most out of our days. These pragmatists shy away from dogma because they know too well that reality changes, that reality is always in constant transit to the next stage, making dogma invaluable.
Imagine that the three philosophers were living under one roof. As the realist and idealist battle it out for the location of truth, the pragmatist is taking out the trash and making sure the two contenders don’t make too much of a mess in the room. Pragmatism is the practical side of living. This kind of Philosophy is seen in schools that emphasize student-centered and experiential-learning rather than the more traditional, teacher-centered learning experiences. The goal of this kind of learning is to help promote democracy among learners and transfer important life skills such as oral communication, problem-solving, and critical thinking. Usually, the instructor acts merely as a learning guide rather than the source of information.
However, despite the many advantages of this kind of Philosophy, this kind of education does not welcome the less empirical subjects found in values education and the arts. Because of the emphasis on what is practical or deemed more important to address the needs of society, the more human, affectionate side of education is lost making this, at least in theory, an incomplete Philosophy education.
As a Values Education teacher, I too have my own experience of these biases from both students and their parents. “Why do we need to study Christian Living Education? Will that get me in to the university I want? Will this subject get me to my dream job?” These are the usual complaints I hear directly and indirectly from most of my students. This makes teaching the subject even more challenging because of the perception that this is simply a “required subject”. Admittedly, when I was younger, I also had the same perception, that this was an added burden to my already “burdensome” life. However, after working for almost two years and going through many tough transitions, I soon found out that being “practical”—having good credentials, graduating from a premiere university, holding great communication skills and exuding notable critical thinking skills—was simply not enough to get through life. This led me to the question “How are schools today preparing students for a life outside its walls? As a teacher, am I preparing my students for a life beyond the school gates?”
There is a classic proverb that goes: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” Is life all about being practical? Is life all about survival? Is life all about getting the high-paying job, enrolling in the best universities, overshadowing other people? Is there really no deeper meaning in life than living practically? Does everything have to have been useful for it to be meaningful? Do dreams have to be certain and empirical before that are pursued? These are the challenges posed against the pragmatic way of doing things which seem to focus more on the necessities for survival and good decent living rather than the deeper meaning of life.
Maybe an effective educator is someone who understands how things work and passes on that insight to his students, not through words, but through action and experience. Maybe an effective educator is less concerned about the details of his topics but is more concerned about how his students will apply the essential understandings in their contexts.
If formal education were to be relevant and impacting in a person’s life, then, maybe an effective educator has to move beyond transferring society-preferred skills necessary to survive the ever-transitioning world. Maybe an effective educator should also know how to instill in the students the courage to experience the world first-hand so that these students can make a difference. Maybe the effective educator should point out that knowledge is changing, that methods are improving, that life is always moving. This way, education can be more practical.
If people learn more outside of people or when school ends, then they should have the courage to plunge into the experience while holding the humility that there might not be just one thing in doing things, that most things can be agreed upon in a democratic way—a pragmatic way.
Will this kind of teaching work? I don’t know. We shall see shall we?
Let’s take the plunge!
Images taken from: http://pinterest.com/pin/144607838006243763/