I believe that knowledge is essential for human survival, that it is transmitted via teaching, and that there are multiple kinds of knowledge. I believe that teaching is essential for the continuation of our society, and that it encompasses more than just the traditional “three R’s”. Despite this, the philosophy I find myself agreeing with the most is essentialism.
Essentialism is an educational philosophy that came about during the early 20th century in response to progressive ideals that were in style at that time. (Parkay 2016) It believes that there is a set of knowledge and skills that is essential for success in our society. Essentialists believe that this set must be transmitted to students before all else. The knowledge set includes, but is not restricted to: reading, writing, mathematics and the hard sciences. The skill set includes, but is not restricted to: discipline, self-control, healthy work ethic and respect for authority (Parkay 2016). It is a traditional, teacher-based approach where the teacher transmits knowledge from an evolving curriculum based on what is necessary for success in society at that time (Tozer 2014). Basically, the teacher presents the material and the student is expected to learn it with minimal fuss and regurgitate it on the test or in an essay. While this method definitely does not sound pleasant or effective I believe that it works. To support this belief, I hold up the current American society. Essentialist thought has pervaded both the classroom and educational policy for decades on both the local and national levels (Imig & Imig, 2006). The vast majority of people in the United States have been subjected to essentialist teaching methods or policy.
During this time technological growth has been explosive. Nuclear power, the space program and moon landing, the sequencing of the human genome and the modern computer are all either the products of or advanced and maintained by generations of students educated with essentialist policies. I believe that all students are capable of learning to some degree, and that some students will excel in some areas more than others. I also believe that students are capable of learning more when guided firmly by an adult than they are capable of learning independently or with lax supervision. I believe that most students do not know what it is that they need to know to survive in today’s modern society. Students that will willingly learn on their own the mathematics necessary to become a nuclear or aerospace engineer are few and far between, as are the students who learn multiple computer languages or organic chemistry for fun. Educators and policy makers must set an appropriate curriculum to prepare students for work. In my experience the average elementary, middle and high school student balks at performing basic math, science, reading or writing. They rarely think of the long-term future. This is where both student and teacher dispositions come into play and conflict.
Educators must guide, coax, cajole, persuade and in some extreme cases force students into putting forth effort and learning the building blocks for higher education. They must do this in a way that is professional, appropriate for the situation, ethical and above all does not cause harm to the student. Some students can be convinced to learn with encouragement and praise, while others require a stern word and constant reminders. Student dispositions must be taken into account when teaching. Educators must be prepared to adjust their methods to achieve the maximum result. This includes adjusting their overall philosophy if needed. While I tend to agree with essentialist philosophy, I must be prepared to step away from that philosophy and adjust my personal disposition if doing so will ensure that my students master the basics. Only when the basics are mastered can students effectively determine their own interests and talents and choose an appropriate path for themselves.