In the old days, before institutionalized education, children were brought to the churches and temples of their villages, for it was understood that learning was sacred. In some places, children were left to their own, although always under a watchful eye, to begin to shape their own impressions of the world, for it was understood that the developing mind must find the soul walking on all paths. The old days have come and gone, remembered as a distant, fading memory. Charmed in romance, the old ideas of the past linger on the fringes of society where few wander any longer. What used to be the iwikuamoʻo of society – the backbone -, the kamole – the taproot-, is now left contained within stories unexpressed, like a seed that cannot germinate.
Today, education is an indentured servant to society. In other words, education has been commandeered by the essentialism of a utilitarian government, bent and broken into a mechanism for developing individuals into productive members of society. Well-intentioned, but inherently flawed, education in the modern-day emphasizes the value of whole-process development while paradoxically seeking specialization of each unique individual. Through all of its intent and carefully crafted agendas, modern education sees the value of each individual as befitting to the order of its master: society. It is only at the philosophical level that we may begin to see the brittle infrastructure of such an institution. And we need not look any further than the concept of individuality. It is here we meet face to face with the contradictions and misplaced role of education in society. We find that our beliefs are shaped by the way in which we use the very words that constitute our world view. To return to a philosophy of education founded upon the actual principles of the individual requires, like all confusions and conflicts in life, a return to an origin of meaning.
The word ‘individual’ finds its origins in the ancient language of Latin. Made up of two parts, ‘in’ – not – and ‘dividuus’ – divisible – , individual means undivided. In society, education is the conduit in which the individual meets the world at large and begins to formulate their individuality around. In some sense, education has taken upon itself the parenting role, as the child leaves the environment of home and is placed into the stimulative environment which firstly provides the basic needs of food, shelter, and safety. The observation that the individual is taken from one environment and placed into another is and of itself a predicament, in the sense that it already contradicts Education’s value in the individual – for it is dividing up the child’s experience of the world, and a child’s experience is what shapes the individual, the undivided being.
Because the inherent structure of Education immediately contradicts the whole process of the individual, any remedies made within this structure will fall short from meeting the needs of the growing pupil. Therefore, if I am to follow the same mainstream philosophical approach to education under the constitution of valuing the individual, then I must confront the blaring contradiction rooted in the foundation of this philosophy, and from there heed my own radical approach.
Let us begin with the student, for it is the student who represents the true subject on the matter of education. The student represents that which is vulnerable in society. By the time the student reaches adolescence, their vulnerability takes the form of initiation into the world, both in terms of the responsibility expected of them as they enter secondary education, and also biologically as their bodies begin metamorphosing into maturity. As the focus of this philosophy, the adolescent reflects to us what we find most valuable in the world. We look at our students and ask ourselves: what is worth passing down? And how?
The student is a role in which the individual embodies in order to allow the process of learning to be enacted. By the time a child has progressed into their teens, they are well acquainted with the role as a student, at least habitually, but may yet still be confused as to what that role entails in actuality. In the words of Michael Meade, a mythologist and renowned storyteller, “Education at a deep level means to ‘lead out’ what is trying to be born from within.” The student is undergoing the process of bringing out their own individual uniqueness. This process requires an utmost level of vulnerability on the part of the student as they navigate their sense of self in relation to the world. As a student, the individual’s role is to stay true and centered, undivided by the external forces at play which tempt the student into submission through inherent structures of habitualized behavior, and disciplinary cognitive patterning. It is the role of the individual student to excel in education based on their own desires and motivations and not by the ambitions of the teacher, family, school, or education institution. Assuming this role as a student can only be accomplished through radically altering the role of the teacher, who must resist the temptation of imparting their own ideals onto the student.
As I fly towards the glory of becoming a teacher, I found myself caught in the inevitable web of expectation. If following the same philosophical principle of valuing the student as an individual, then the role of the teacher is to guide the awakening of the inner-self of the student. Today, the teacher has become a mediator between the student and the school, caught in a web in which the more the teacher struggles against the idealism of the school, the sooner the spider bites down and paralyzes the teacher. A teacher models the mastery of the individual, and through this mastery, the student sees the teacher not as an imposing force of conformity and obedience, but rather a source of inquiry and understanding into the complexity of being. This is especially important in a changing world in which a body of students come from diverse backgrounds. Much conformity has already occured within an adolescent’s life, and so the successful teacher must seek mutual respect not based on the discipline of habit; a mechanized form of respect, but instead based on the freedom of the individual from ideologies of others.
The ideological teacher builds a different kind of relationship with the individual that is not consistent with the role of a student. If a student only learns that they must perform well based on the expected outcome of others, then they will only learn veneration for their teacher through fear of reward or punishment. This inconsistency of fostering the individual leads to the student’s internalization of the teacher as a representation and thus false understanding of society – something to become subservient to.
For an individual, like myself, to subsume the role of a middle school teacher consistent with the young adolescent’s role as a student, I must not react to the symptomatic ailments of a child’s emotional or cognitive behavior, but rather pry deeper into the cause of disorderliness to find its true source. Otherwise, learning inside the domain of the teacher’s space cannot occur. A teacher must be fully invested in the complexities of the whole being while simultaneously avoiding the web of ideology and self-ambition.
The school attempts to represent the world as a whole. It is an abstracted form of reality designed to model the implicit development that occurs within the individual as they move through life. Education has taken up the role of creating an enriched learning environment. The student who passes through the program exceeding the standards, which constitute the learning environment, will be well-equipped to engage in the world independently and productively. But if the purpose of education is to truly align with the valuing of each individual student, then it would need to be in service of the student, instead of the student being in service to the school which as an institution is locked into the conditioning of being subservient to the expectations of the both the State and Federal education committees.
As the foundation to my philosophy is a return to the true meaning of the individual; the undivided being, so then the management of my classroom and design of my curriculum appeal to the diverse population of students expected to be found in my classes. Focusing my philosophy on the undivided being recognizes that implicit in each individual is a soul calling out, or rather recalling, its purpose in life. The soul represents the uniqueness of each individual which transcends any cultural or societal norms already imparted on each student. The struggle I see in my approach is not so much in the challenge of maximizing learning in the environment I have autonomy over, but rather instead I forsee facing challenges with the surrounding environment of the school and the meta-environment of education as an institution.
Incorporating the diversity of families into education requires the fostering of right relationship between all parties. Right relationship relies upon the undertones of reciprocity in which an exchange of value occurs throughout. The value usually takes the form of voices simply being heard. Essential to this approach of reciprocity is the student whose education is what is of utmost concern. Cultural barriers, social conditioning, and belief blind-spots should all be taking into consideration when involving families in the student’s education for it is within this realm where prejudices and conflicts of interest arise with unwavering temperaments.
As the young adolescent confronts the totality of life, it is crucial their educational environment responds in kind. Within the expressed behaviorism of each individual lies clues into their purpose and drive in life. If education truly desires the highest rankings in academic performance for as many students as possible, then it is best to return to what makes actual sustainably productive members of society: a sense of self. Adolescence, beginning around intermediate grade level, is the threshold that determines how invested a child is in their own education, how willing they are to work hard and perform the best to their potentiality of ability and skill in each subject. If a child is left feeling divided in their sense of self, then they can no longer move forward as an individual who feels worthy of pursuing a life of their own. Academic excellence is merely a desirable by-product that arises from the truly valued individual as an undivided self.