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Chad Miller

Teacher of the Year 2012 - Hawaii

1

There is a huge difference between education and school. We currently school kids.

“…children hunger for meaning, and get turned off by education when it ceases to be meaningful to them” (Lipman, 1993, pg. 384). Education is in a crisis.  However, the problem is much larger than these reported or any that lie in problems of funding, standards implementation or literacy scores. Classrooms around the country are filled with bored, apathetic and unmotivated students who see little meaning or usefulness in school. The purpose of school has become solely an extrinsic one; “I have to go to school so I can get a good job.” Schools must move from being institutions that give students extrinsic meanings to institutions that provide students with the necessary circumstances and tools that allow each to personally construct meaning in their own learning and lives.

In the next decade this nation will lose a massive number of teachers to retirement, so there is no time like the present to initiate change. If we can create teacher education programs that instill pre-service teachers with the democratic principles and social learning theories needed to bring the students back into the schooling process, change will occur. Teachers, not administrators or politicians, are the ones working each day with students. If we want change, it must come from those on the front lines. If we teach teachers how to make the change, a revolution we will see.

2

Teachers must live the examined life.

According to Socrates, the examination of one’s beliefs and conceptions of the world gives life purpose. Teachers who are committed to creating a meaningful educational experience share this belief as a fundamental value. For such teachers, the examined life pervades the work they do in the classroom, and, in turn, lends teaching and learning a philosophical purpose.

To bring this sense of purpose into schools, teachers must incorporate their sense of wonder, curiosity, and critical analysis of life’s meaning into the curriculum they design and into the relationships they develop with their students. The content of the classroom, in addition to the methods of instruction, are an extension of the teacher’s examined life outside the classroom. The art of philosophical teaching is an extension of the teacher’s (and students’) growth and development both within their job and beyond.

3

Teachers must challenge contemporary measure of student assessment.

The concentration on standards and high stakes testing has had a tremendous and negative impact on classroom pedagogy. Teachers, who are under pressure to prepare students to successfully pass state examinations, have altered and/or develop their instruction to focus on “end products” or what their students should be able to know or do on the state assessment. In this school culture of testing, learning has become synonymous with passing “the test” and the profession of teaching has been changed. Pedagogically educators have moved from teaching critical thinking as an integral aspect of the learning process, to efficiently providing their students with the knowledge to pass a series of exams.

Contemporary measures for classroom assessment must also account for the intellectual growth or philosophical progression that students experience while engaged in the process of learning. Learning, by definition, is an activity. It is a process that places importance on students’ abilities to think for themselves across contexts, and in the face of new problems. The presentation of an answer is only part of the learning process. Teachers to challenge contemporary measures of classroom assessment by making the thinking process the primary focus of their assessments.

So how do we assess thinking? We start by making both teachers and students accountable for the development, progression, and methods they use to arrive at their conclusions. We recognize that when students thoughtfully engage in inquiry it often reveals how complicated a question or topic really is (Jackson, 2001, p. 463). Uncertainty; confusion; the emergence of new ideas; willingness to challenge one’s thinking; increased depth of understanding; and cognitive, emotional, and intellectual connections all become indicators of growth.

4

Philosophy is the general theory of education.

Dewey (1916) noted one's pedagogical commitment should make a fundamental connection between education and philosophy.

If we are willing to conceive education as the process of forming fundamental dispositions, intellectual and emotional, toward nature and fellow men, philosophy may even be defined as the general theory of education (Dewey 1916, p. 328).

Philosophy as the general theory of education conceptualizes schools as a place where human beings, who have thoughts, feelings, cultures, and experiences, come to engage in personally meaningful learning. The person, not the content, forms the core of the philosopher’s pedagogy.

The purpose of education is to tackle the same philosophical task that Socrates’ addressed—to lead an examined life. For him, the activity of philosophy is part of the answer to this timeless challenge, and for teachers who employ this philosophical pedagogy, the activity of philosophy must lie at the conceptual foundation of a teacher's practice. In this light, my theory of education is identical to or, at the very minimum, resonates with my theory of life. Why else would we seek education if not to improve our life through a process of questioning it? Pedagogy should primarily concern the shaping and developing of our students' characters as a means to improve the overall well-being of society.

5

We need an educational terrorism of sorts.

At this moment, we do not necessarily educate our students to be morally just citizens in our democratic society, as much as we train them to achieve “passing” marks on standardized tests. And apparently, as the news outlets continuously remind us, we are not schooling our children that well; students are failing to pass examinations or to prepare themselves to “compete” in the global market. The reason we are not schooling them well is that is not the purpose of education.

Somewhere along the line the two got confused with each other and in many circles they have become synonymous when in fact they are far from being similar. Ironically, in urban and basketball culture, to “get schooled” refers to the degrading or abusing of another’s abilities or intellect; I hardly think this is the idea of school any of us had envisioned, yet this is where we are today. School, as it has evolved, trains people for future ends (such as a job), while the true aim of education in a democratic society, as indicated by John Dewey (1916), is to build the capacity for continued personal growth. To meet the needs of our nation, the education system needs to focus on educating rather than schooling our youth. Change is needed.

We need an educational terrorism of sorts. We must challenge status quo and upset the established order to make room for the changes that society needs. We cannot wait for policy makers and schools of education to carry out this revolution. In fact, teachers must be the revolutionaries that initiate and lead this change.

Teaching is a political act by nature; therefore teachers must understand the power they hold extends far beyond their classroom. They are (and in many ways they need to be more of) an agent of change. The significant changes our country needs call for this grassroots revolution that will begin in the classrooms of our children.

The views expressed on this site are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Pearson Foundation.

Biography

In 2000 Chad Miller graduated from John Carroll University where he played football and received his B.A. in philosophy and communications. Upon graduating, Chad enrolled in the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa’s Masters in Education and Teaching program. During this time, he developed an instructional pedagogy with Philosophy for Children (p4c) Hawaiʻi at its foundation and continues to be the way he teaches each of his secondary English classes. Chad was named the 2012 Hawai’i State Teacher of the Year due to the success his students achieved under his "philosopher's pedagogy."

In addition to teaching high school students, Chad has been a mentor teacher to pre-service and beginning teachers, most notably those students who have taken Dr. Thomas Jackson’s PHIL 492 (Philosophy with Children). In this capacity, he has mentored undergraduate and graduate students, current classroom teachers, and visiting faculty from other universities from around the world. The aim of this collaboration has been to help teachers develop a learner-centered pedagogy grounded upon community, inquiry, philosophy, and reflection.

Chad, who is also a National Board Certified teacher, continues to present his research concerning p4c Hawai’i’s application to the classroom at international academic conferences, such as the Philosophy of Education Society of Australasia’s Annual Conference, the American Association for the Advancement of Curriculum Studies’ Annual Meeting, the American Educational Research Association’s Annual Meeting, Comparative and International Education Society’s Annual Conference, the Hawaii International Conference on Education, the Hawaii Educational Research Association Annual Conference, and at the Creative Engagements Global Conference on Thinking with Children in Oxford, England. While he is proud to have presented his research at each of these venues, he is most eager to finish his current dissertation research project titled “Philosophy Goes to High School: An Inquiry to Understand the Experience of Philosophy as an Approach to Teaching.”