“You cannot teach an individual anything, you can only help him find it within himself.”
― Galileo Galilei
“What do you say of him, Meno? Were not all these answers given out of his own head?” (Plato, n.p) In one of the most classical works on education, Plato’s Meno, Socrates presents one of the most intriguing philosophies of teaching. Through demonstration, he shows that teaching is not the art of “putting in” but rather of “drawing out.” The etymology of “education” comes from the Latin meaning “to draw out” (OED) in contradistinction to the word “indoctrination” which means “to put in doctrine, i.e., teaching” (OED). Socrates invites a boy to answer his questions, and when the boy is able to do so, it becomes evident to Meno that true education is a “spontaneous recovery of knowledge [in] recollection” (Plato. n.p). The lesson from this dialogue is that individuals have innate ideas, moral sense, and intrinsic dignity, and that the proper role of the teacher is simply to foster the drawing out of the truth in the souls of these same individuals.
With this lesson in mind, I am convinced that all students desire to learn and are capable of it. I will strive to inspire every individual to be excited to learn by bringing in material that interests and motivates them, is applicable to their lives, and inspires creativity and imagination. I will help provide them with the tools to responsibly access knowledge, and to assess it curiously and critically. My goal will be to aid my students in becoming civically responsible members of society who make informed decisions and sound moral judgments. In order for students to become positive contributors to society, they need to know who they are in their core. As educator and human rights activist Jean Vanier poignantly states:
Socrates said, “know thyself.” That remains a fundamental need. As we begin to know ourselves, with our gifts and flaws, our yearning for truth and justice, and our compulsions and blockages, we begin to take our places in society, each of just who we are, working for peace, unity, and justice. (Vanier, 2011)
In guiding my students to know themselves, I will be attentive – through lesson plans, the materials I bring in, and the assignments I create – to their intellectual, moral, spiritual, physical, psychological, and character development, so as to help them achieve the formation necessary to be global change makers who are confident and assertive lovers of wisdom.
My classroom will be one based on the democratic principles of equality and participation, where diversity is celebrated and the students understand that they can learn respect, compassion, and humility from one another, and where they are able to discover and become the best versions of themselves. In the Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis (2009) evaluates the state of education and finds the prevalence of rationalism to be to the detriment of emotive sensibility, of moral sense. He says:
For every one pupil who needs to be guarded from a weak excess of sensibility there are three who need to be awakened from the slumber of cold vulgarity. The task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles but to irrigate deserts. The right defense against false sentiments is to inculcate just sentiments. (p. 12)
And so, I am committed to providing a learning environment that inspires this awakening in students to recognize the distinction between false sentiments and just ones.
In conclusion, I am a human being and an educator, guided by the principles of integrity, compassion, and justice. Through inspiring spontaneous recollection and the ability to discern between various sentiments, my teaching philosophy will affirm the dignity of my students. In seeking the truth with them, I will guide them meaningfully in their own lifelong quests for truth.
“Education.” The Oxford English Dictionary. OED Online. Oxford University Press.
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“Indoctrination.” The Oxford English Dictionary. OED Online. Oxford University Press.
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Lewis, C.S. (2009). Abolition of Man. New York: Harper Collins.
Plato. (2009). Meno. Maryland: Arc Manor LLC.
Vanier, J. (2011). Becoming Human. Toronto: House of Anansi.