The task of describing my teaching philosophy leaves me feeling overwhelmed. This is primarily due to the fact that so many thinkers have influenced my educational philosophy that it is difficult for me to know where to begin and who to include. Added to this is the fact that my actual teaching philosophy is still developing due to my ongoing transition from graduate student to educator. This transition is affording me the opportunity to test what I have come to believe are valuable practices, but it is still too early for me to share an actual teaching philosophy. Consequently, I will focus on those people who have had the greatest influence on my learning and my thinking concerning education.
I will begin by briefly describing the experience that inspired me to become a teacher. It was a delightful experience I had in Okinawa with an elderly Okinawan gentleman, Mr. Oshiro, who patiently labored to teach me the Japanese language some thirty years ago. Mr. Oshiro was an extremely effective teacher due to the nurturing environment he created where he gently shared his knowledge of the Japanese language. The environment was both physically and emotionally calm and comfortable. This supportive environment coupled with his peaceful demeanor encouraged students to take risks and produce the language they were attempting to learn. Mr. Oshiro ensured that his learners felt safe and unhurried in the environment that he had so carefully crafted. He taught me much more than the Japanese language, he taught me how effortless effective teaching could appear. That is, in a very deliberately-designed environment where prior thought is given to every little detail. My goal is to create a nurturing environment for students where they can feel safe and unhurried while learning.
Now, on to the others and the portion of this exercise which leaves me feeling like the proverbial kid in the candy store. There are so many great thinkers that have shaped my thinking concerning education that I will only be able to include a few of them. As far as their common traits, they are all effective listeners, clear communicators, empathetic, and focused on ethics in education.
- Noam Chomsky, of course for his work in linguistics, but especially due to his passion for true education and his courage to stand up to those in power, exemplified by the following quote, “The whole educational and professional training system is a very elaborate filter, which just weeds out people who are too independent, and who think for themselves, and who don’t know how to be submissive, and so on — because they’re dysfunctional to the institutions.” Education should encourage learners to think and should not just be vocational training. Chomsky and his ilk have been advocating this for many years.
- Mahatma Gandhi, Gandhi’s autobiography is titled The Story of My Experiments with Truth and the title speaks volumes about the man. He was a humanist who believed in the goodness of human beings and that this individual goodness could indeed lead to a peaceful and harmonious society. He argued that a proper education would bring out this goodness. Education as a means to overcome ignorance and encourage ethical behavior.
- Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo is a British born author, teacher, and prominent Tibetan Buddhist nun. She spent twelve years living in a remote cave in the Himalayas meditating and is a very effective mediation instructor. I highly admire her for her outspoken advocacy on behalf of women and her passionate teachings on loving kindness and ethics. She is a brilliant communicator who refuses to compete with the noise around her for air time. Instead of promoting a system of philosophy to heal the world with a top-down approach, she encourages the individual to heal themselves, which will lead to an ethical and harmonious whole.
- Friedrich Nietzsche and his existential teachings on ethics. His proclamation that God is dead, and that mankind killed Him was one of his motivations for attacking the prevailing ethical systems of his time. During Nietzsche’s lifetime Europeans were turning away from the Church. Although he condemned Christianity and argued that it taught people to be weak, he acknowledged that the Church was where most people learned ethics. He was therefore deeply concerned with what ethics and morality future generations would learn, and where they would learn them, once the Church lost its influence. Nietzsche also railed against nationalism and racism, especially anti-Semitism. He passionately argued that the individual must build for themselves a system of beliefs supported by many small truths. The arts and education were the keys to mankind’s liberation, according to Nietzsche.
- Barbara Oakley and her focus on how to learn. Oakley is a professor of engineering at Oakland University and a Fellow of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering. She co-teaches the poplar Coursera course, Learning How to Learn, which I highly recommend. Oakley uses the latest research from neuroscience and cognitive psychology to help learners overcome procrastination and numerous other learning obstacles. She is a passionate educator who clearly communicates and generously shares her knowledge on learning. I frequently employ her techniques and refer to her book, A Mind for Numbers.
- Matthieu Ricard for his teachings on ethics and meditation. In 1972 Ricard received his Ph.D. in molecular biology from the Instituit Pastuer in Paris. He soon thereafter became a Tibetan Buddhist monk and teacher. He co-authored the book The Monk and The Philosopher with his father, Jean-Francois Revel, who was a prominent French intellectual and western philosopher. In the book father and son discuss the meaning of life from two very different perspectives. It is the best example I have found of how to hold a fruitful open-hearted dialogue. Two intellectuals passionately endeavoring to understand each other’s perspectives.
- Alan De Bottom is a Swiss-born British author and documentary maker. The How to Be a Good Teacher video offers a few of his thoughts on teaching which I find quite helpful.
“The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people are so full of doubts.”