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Philosophy of Teaching and Learning

McKenzie Sterner
Westminster Choir College of Rider University
Critical Pedagogy 2
ME 272-N1
Dr. Frank Abrahams
December 01, 2015

Introduction
A relatively diverse school in Northern Virginia with decent funding had just hired a new
choir teacher. The girls of the advance women’s choir filed in, talking and laughing, ready to
meet the new director. Mr. Phillips [the teacher’s name has been changed to protect his identity]
smiled and passed out the music. As a high school student myself I watched with anticipation to
see what kind of first impression he would make. He taught the notes of the pieces and then
dismissed us. Every day like this afterwards was the same. We came, we learned the notes, and
we left. Mr. Phillips began to see the frustration we brought to class every day, but he couldn’t
pinpoint what was wrong. We had progressed in sight-reading skills and were singing harder
repertoire. However, we still were dissatisfied with him. It all came to a head when he passed out
“Nigra Sum”. A Caucasian student made a snide comment about an African American student in
the class. Someone else started yelling. Before he knew it, Mr. Phillips’ students were out of his
control. What had begun as a small discord between two students had grown to a class-wide
feud. Many other students, including myself, had been caught in the cross-fire. Mr. Phillips
wondered what he could have done to influence such a close-minded and angry group of
students.

Social Justice
Whatever Mr. Phillips had or hadn’t done with his students had encouraged tension
between them. This unspoken aggression escalated into a verbal manifestation of whatever anger
and misunderstanding that had not been defused during the semester. This silent aggression is a
problem that my philosophy and supporting framework both confront.

The framework that most supports my teaching philosophy is social justice. This
framework is an action. It is when teachers and students actively participate in challenging
oppressive thoughts, ideas, and actions. Iris Young (2014) writes of the five faces of oppression.
She outlines the types of oppression today’s world faces: exploitation marginalization,
powerlessness, cultural imperialism, and violence (p. 12). Although many school systems
encounter all of these forms of oppression, the one my philosophy addresses is powerlessness.
Powerlessness is a form of oppression that renders the minority silent. The oppressed minority
may even enable the oppressive circumstance. (Young, 2014, p. 22). Paulo Freire (1970) goes
further into detail, calling this the culture of silence. When the ignorance of the oppressed is due
to the economic, societal, and political domination it contributes to this culture of silence. This
submission is a hegemonic situation (p. 30). This hegemonic circumstance is often due to a
socially constructed truth or an idea that is accepted by the majority of a culture. In this case the
idea is oppressive. My philosophy is centered on teachers cultivating open-minded, critical, and
compassionate learners. In turn this will empower them to challenge oppressive socially
constructed truths that promote powerlessness.

My Philosophy
This philosophy encompasses three skills that I believe empower a future generation of
conscientious people. The these qualities are open-mindedness, critical thinking, and
compassion. Open-mindedness is the ability to approach any idea from multiple angles and
respect the perspectives if others. Critical thinking is the process of analysis and deeper thought.
Compassion is the driving force in human connection that promotes change. I believe that these

qualities should be a primary goal for education. They are the qualities that build a cornerstone
for equality in our future, and they enable students to further learn and grow.
Open-mindedness and critical thinking are developed through classroom practice. The
way that an educator conducts instruction can influence these important skills. A dialectic
approach parallels the goals of cultivating open-minded and critical learners. Carr and Kemmis
(1986) outline dialectics as the speaking about contradiction with the intention of acquiring a
solution (p. 31). This approach resembles the works of Hegel in which he views the world
through the lens of thesis, anti-thesis, and solution (Carr and Kemmis, 1986, p. 10). Dialectics
finds two contrasting ideas and upon discussion and analysis draws conclusion about their
interactions. This approach to education falls under the assumption that the two ideas up for
discussion are not mutually exclusive but mutually constitutive (Carr and Kemmis, 1986, p. 33).
For example, thought and action are two ideas that may seem completely different, but truly they
shape one another through interaction with one another. Dialectic thinking allows students to
examine every side of a problem and think about it critically. It inspires a deeper understanding
and open-minded perception of the world. When a learner must view the world through the eyes
of a classmate they develop a skill of open-mindedness. It involves constantly challenging ideas
and approaching the world with an analytical mind-set, which parallels the attributes of a critical
thinker. This will allow them to have perspective more readily and recognize oppressive
situations. When a student can recognize an oppressive situation they begin to break a cycle of
ignorance and silence. The next step to increase the student’s awareness of the knowledge and
power they possess.
Once learners have the skills to recognize these oppressive situations, they must have
ownership of their skills and knowledge in order to challenge oppression. This ownership is

labeled by Paulo Freire (1970) as conscientization. Conscientization is when the teacher and the
student know that they have strength and knowledge (Freire 35). This is a sort of agency of
knowledge and skill that propels people to make great change. McLaren and Farahmandpur
(1999) write about the power that conscientization gives students. They write that knowledge and
conscientization in the hands of the oppressed can be used to battle any source of oppression
(p.87). This empowering force gives learners the tools to analyze and break, when necessary,
socially constructed truths. When these truths are oppressive, students that have developed
critical thinking skills and open-mindedness will then identify the oppressive truths.
Conscientization will then allow them to challenge the oppression.
Compassion is a quality that propels learners to act against oppressive situations.
A learner with open-mindedness and critical thinking skills may recognize an oppressive
situation. Compassion is the quality that compels one to act. Nell Noddings (1988) writes that
education should be a moral practice, centered around character development. This approach is
the ethic of caring (p. 218). It encompasses the predisposition everyone possesses from kindness
and compassion. Stemmed from the writings of Aristotle on praxis, this system of ethics comes
from an intuitive place. Aristotle theorized that because shaping people is such a unique process
it should be grounded in predetermined human morality (Regelski 10). An educator should be
guided by a natural inclination to create a milieu that develops compassion and care. Noddings
(1988) goes on to write that every action of an educator should not come from a motivator of
duty, but from a drive for care of the students (p. 218). An ethic of caring is the primary force in
developing compassionate students. When a teacher develops this honest disposition it conveys a
hidden curriculum of care. The students that are reached through the teacher’s compassion are
then enabled to care for others. This compassion and empathy will help learners to challenge

socially constructed truths. This quality allows learners to connect with others in oppressive
situations, and it propels them to act. Compassion is a unique and undeniable force in combatting
powerlessness.
How will we reach these goals of development for our students? How might they
possibly gain such advanced academic prowess and sophistication? The principles of
constructivist teaching are helpful tools in this process. In this approach, students actively
discover how learning is connected to their life. It emphasizes student involvement through
processing meaning and application (Abrahams and John, 2015, p. 19). Siegel (1978) writes that
through the constructivist approach, the behavior of a student is a direct result of the way they
organize and remember their experiences. These ideas stem broadly from Vygotsky’s social
learning theory (Sigel, 1978, p. 334). Constructivist learning theories favor Type 1, Type 3, Type
4 learners who are social and action based learners. However, the Type 2 learner may not benefit
from this approach as greatly (McCarthy, 1997, p. 3). Therefore, differentiation of instruction
should be encouraged. Constructivist learning also highlights macro objectives; building long
term skills and dispositions are some of these long-term objectives. These macro-objectives
would be geared toward open-mindedness, critical thinking, and compassion. Constructivist
teaching also allows students to make real world connections that increase significance of
material they learn. When an educator connects material in the classroom to current social justice
struggles they develop the learner’s ability to recognize and analyze oppressive socially
constructed truths.
The qualities discussed above are paramount to the goal of challenging powerlessness in
the education system and at large. Open-mindedness and critical thinking are founded in dialectic
thinking and they are ignited through conscientization. An ethic of caring is an approach that

develops compassion and human connection through education. Constructivist teaching is the
means by which these skills may be developed. When learners have these tools they may break a
culture of silence. They have the strength and knowledge to promote equality in our world.

Conclusion
Mr. Phillip’s classroom was professional and straightforward. However, his instruction
neglected to realize and address the social concerns of his students. He did not develop students
with open-mindedness or compassion. This allowed for misunderstanding between the students.
For some time a culture of silence was built as the African American students were marginalized
by their classmates. What could Mr. Phillips have done differently? He could have begun a
dialogue with the class on “Nigra Sum” and covered the implications of the piece. He could have
had an ethic of caring and created a milieu of safety through his disposition. He could have used
constructivist approaches to repertoire to address the tension in the classroom. These actions
would have challenged his students to think critically and compassionately. As the students came
to know each other they may have developed an open-mindedness toward their peers. Mr.
Phillip’s class is a prime example of how students can be harmed when social justice is not
prevalent in the classroom. I believe that the aim of education should be to develop students with
open-minded, critical, and compassionate tendencies. This will promote equality in our future. It
will empower our students with knowledge and strength.

References
Abrahams, F., & John, R. (2015). Planning instruction in music: Writing objectives, assessments,
and lesson plans to engage artistic processes. Chicago, IL: GIA.
Carr, W., & Kemmis, S. (1986). Becoming critical: education, knowledge and action research.
Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the Oppressed (30th Anniversary ed.) (M. B. Ramos, Trans.).
Hegel, G. (1807). Phenomenology of Spirit (First Indian ed.) (A.V. Miller, Trans.).
McCarthy, B. (1997). A Tale of Four Learners: 4MAT's Learning Styles.
Educational Leadership, 54(6), 46-51.

McLaren, P., & Farahmandpur, R.. (1999). Critical Pedagogy, Postmodernism and the Retreat
from Class: Towards a Contraband Pedagogy. Theoria: A Journal of Social and Political
Theory, (93), 83–115.
Noddings, N.. (1988). An Ethic of Caring and Its Implications for Instructional Arrangements.
American Journal of Education, 96(2), 215–230.
Regelski, T. A. (2010). Toward an Applied, Professional Ethics for School Music. Paper
presented at the May Day Colloquium, Montclair, NJ.
Sigel, I. E.. (1978). Constructivism and Teacher Education. The Elementary School Journal,
78(5), 333–338.
Young, I. M. (2014). Five Faces of Oppression. Albany, NY: State University of New York
Press.