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Engagement, Opinion, Promising Practices, Teaching

5 Psychologists, One Philosopher and the Conversations That Could Emerge

Making Room For Another Perspective in Our Educational Discourse

The elevator door opened on the third floor of our board office last Monday and I stepped aside to allow an enthusiastic group of binder-toting, suitcase-dragging, coffee-carrying folks to clear the car. I recognized some of the group and quickly determined that everyone on the elevator was part of our district psychology team, obviously gathering for a day of work together. After unsuccessfully trying to come up with a witty comment that might be appropriate to frame the scene, I simply said, “Have fun”, and boarded the elevator.

The elevator door opened on the third floor of our board office last Monday and I stepped aside to allow an enthusiastic group of binder-toting, suitcase-dragging, coffee-carrying folks to clear the car. I recognized some of the group and quickly determined that everyone on the elevator was part of our district psychology team, obviously gathering for a day of work together. After unsuccessfully trying to come up with a witty comment that might be appropriate to frame the scene, I simply said, “Have fun”, and boarded the elevator.

But, as I moved through my day, I couldn’t help but think about the role that the study and practice of psychology plays in the modern school system. To a large extent psychology informs and influences the way that we frame our research agendae, our learning theories, the way that we address the unique needs of our students, and the way that we engage in conversations about the present and future of the overall schooling enterprise.

Now don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the perspective that psychology brings to our work in education. I appreciate the time that I spend with our school psychologists and the discussions that emerge as a result. I do wonder, though, how our conversations about teaching, learning, school purpose and quality might be different if we committed ourselves to injecting a little more philosophy into our lives as educators.

In the most recent issue of Paideusis, the official journal of the Canadian Philosophy of Education Society, Theodore Michael Christou and Shawn Michael Bullock present a compelling case for the development of philosophical mindedness among educationists: teachers, students, parents, administrators. (I would add researchers and policy-makers to that circle)

Don’t panic; adopting a philosophical perspective doesn’t mean that we suddenly have to insert words like ontology, teleology, phenomenology or epistemology into our conversations (I have to look these words up whenever I encounter them). But I would argue that some of the questions that emerge from these branches of philosophical enquiry are very much needed in our deliberations about educational change: reformation and transformation. Questions about value, moral purpose, and the meaning of success are reframed and deepened by the perspective that philosophy can bring to the table. Conversations about what it means to know, what it means to learn, and what is essential about the teaching and learning dynamic are rooted in the philosophical tradition, as are the much broader questions about social participation, citizenry and justice.

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CC photo by: Make Love Not Art

We live in a time where most of the mainstream conversations about school, success and effectiveness are centered around the search for evidence-based best practices. Most of these are derived from some form of scientific research informed, to a large extent, by a psychological perspective on teaching and learning. Certainly, science (and technology) have something to say about 21st century education but, on their own, they are insufficient to allow us to meet the demands and challenges that emerge when we try to re-imagine this place we call school.

So, I’ll begin with a rather modest proposal for my own school district: for every 5 psychologists hired to work in our system, I would like to see one educational philosopher brought into the mix.

Can you imagine the conversations that might take place if we allowed our philosophers to walk freely among our administrators, our teachers, our students, our parents, and our policy-makers, encouraging (but not necessarily answering) the questions that are unique to their way of thinking? Can you imagine what might happen if a spirit of philosophical mindedness was present in our discussions about board improvement plans, school design and curriculum planning?

There is, of course, much more to discuss here, but I wanted to simply plant the seed and see where it went. As for me, I’m off to become a member of the CPES, if they’ll have me. Care to join me?

Next: The Power of “I Wonder”

Meet the Expert

Stephen Hurley

Stephen Hurley

Education Consultant, Catalyst, voicED Radio

Stephen Hurley is a recently retired teacher from the Dufferin Peel District School Board in Ontario. Stephen continues to work to open up public spaces for vibrant conversations about transformation of education systems across Canada.

Stephen Hurley est un enseignant récemment retraité de la Dufferin Peel District School Board en Ontario. Stephen continue de travailler à ouvrir des espaces publics pour des conversations dynamiques sur la transformation des systèmes éducatifs partout au Canada.

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