In the first two posts of this series, philosophy has been briefly explained. In my research on this topic, the vast number of ‘philosophies’ is really overwhelming. In this post will be a brief look at teacher-centered vs child-centered philosophy.
A quick disclaimer: Within the different philosophies, there is overlap. I believe this to be inevitable. Our world is a complex one, and we are complex beings. It would be nigh on impossible to distinguish cleanly the different areas of life and learning.
What do you think of when you read or hear the words ‘teacher-centered’? Think about that for a moment while I set up some things for philosophies within this method. To begin with, we will look at two: Realism and Essentialism.
Realism is a metaphysically based philosophy. It attempts to answer “what is there?” and “what is it like?”
Realism holds that reality is not subjective. Regardless of how we may think of an object, or a truth, it holds a truth all its own. An example is a rose. A rose is a rose, whether we have it in our hand physically or imagine it in our minds. The attributes of a rose are universal and not subjective. We can determine that a rose is not a daffodil because of the differences we can observe.
In realism there is a logical process in which learning takes place and the truth can be discovered. A teacher-centered realist philosophy will present lessons that are systematic, focusing on the scientific method for achieving the outcome set by the teacher. The teacher will guide and direct the students to follow the process to come to the truth.
Essentialism falls into the realm of epistemological philosophy. One way to understand this is to simply view the word ‘essential’. What is essential for students to know to enable them to be productive members of society? What essential body of knowledge or skills must the teachers present to the students to form the students into what society currently embraces? This is another objective philosophy; based on visible, observable fact.
Essentialism leads teachers to present lessons that focus on building basic skills that will allow for further learning in the foundational subject areas. This also means presenting to the students moral values that the teacher feels are essential to be a productive citizen.
What came to mind when you thought about ‘teacher-centered’? How did this align with the philosophies I briefly mentioned above? Both of these ‘-isms’ rely on what the teacher determines the student needs to learn.
Moving to ‘child-centered’ philosophies, I present Progressivism and Constructivism. Progressivism resides under epistemology, or how we come to know. Constructivism takes us into axiological philosophy. This looks more at what we teach based on the value we place on things such as truth, beauty, and goodness, or the practicality of these.
Progressivism is also more about the child than either the content or the teacher. The truths in this philosophy are more subjective, or relative, because it is through the experience, experimenting, and questioning of the learner that answers are reached. There can be much ‘group-think’ in this philosophy.
A progressive learning experience will include the student in planning what to learn as well as its importance. It will focus on the enjoyment of the student to plan the lesson content. But the lessons also focus on the fact that life and the world changes so quickly we cannot rely on the past to be the guide.
The last philosophy for this post is Constructivism. It is similar to Progressivism in that the truths are relative and it is very much child-centered. The belief behind constructivism is that each person constructs their reality, or truths, based on their experiences. When they are presented with new information, it must be connected with a previous experience to be fully understood. Scaffolding is important in constructivist philosophies.
A Constructivist lesson often includes project based learning. The teacher creates open-ended questions and a complex problem to students who are to come to a solution. The solutions the students come to are based on their own level of understanding of the world that they live in and know. Group-think is also fostered.
Recently Hillsdale College offered a free online course titled “A Proper Understanding of K-12 Education” in which the college President, Larry P. Arnn, defined child-centered as children working alone and coming to a truth based on what they feel to be important.
Do you view your homeschooling philosophy as more teacher-centered or child-centered?