I have waited to post my final paper on my philosophy of education. If you are a philosophy geek, and an educator, you may enjoy the post. If not, don’t bother reading it, because it is weird.
The first day of class, my professor talked about the Allegory of the Cave. I was drawn to the story, partly because it is an extended metaphor, but mostly because it captures the essence of the human condition. I began writing a generic regurgitation of my personal educational philosophy. But, the images of the cave in reference to our current educational predicament inundated me. I often call my home office, my cave, because there are no windows, and I spend much of my time in there, writing and planning for instruction. So, from my cave, I wrote about the educational cave.
Thanks Daniel for the awesome sketches. Somehow, you captured what was in my mind. Wow.
Allegory of the Educator
Long ago, there was a school, nestled between a mountain and a river. On the side of the river, the sun shone directly into the library. The view from the mountainside of the school was solid rock. The teachers on the mountainside lived in the school. The inside of the school was the only world they knew. Nothing else existed. And if anyone talked about a world outside of the school, they would create a new philosophy representing the idea of that made-up world. For ideas could exist without matter, and matter only existed because of ideas. Sometimes, the stories of the other place became myth and were re-told as fictional accounts.
The walls were always walls, and only ever walls. The floor could only be floor, and made only of floor. There was something they breathed in and out, but the true nature of that was somewhere in a book, found on the riverside of the school. It wasn’t important because the thing they breathed in and out would never run out, according to a story they re-told one another.
Many of the teachers had been chained to the walls of the school, because they thought that was what they were supposed to do as inhabitants of a school. They didn’t need mobility of mind nor body.
Seldom did anyone venture to the riverside of the school. The chains kept teachers in their respective rooms, and there was no need for books since everyone had memorized the curriculum.
The students had lost two and a half dimensions, and they became a generation of shadow students. The shadow students had smoke and mirror thoughts. All student thoughts conglomerated into one mass thought. At the end of the school day (when the lights were turned off) all thoughts evaporated. They turned into thought vapor, and when the new day began (when the lights were turned on) the thoughts would trickle down and return to the dim brains of the shadow students. The same thoughts were recycled daily. If there was a new thought, where would it go, and what would the teachers and students do with it? It wouldn’t fit anywhere, so why have it?
The atomic make-up of a shadow student consisted of percentiles, rankings, and standardized test scores. When shadow students were injured, numbers would leak from their bodies. The school nurse would scoop up the lost percentiles, and attempt to put them back into the shadow students. Unfortunately, once a student lost a percentile or a ranking, it was almost impossible to put it back. In order for the percentile to be valid again, there was extensive paperwork that had to be completed. It had to be stapled three times (one millimeter apart) in the upper right hand corner, be signed by fourteen school dignitaries, and be put in a red folder, with a tab in the middle (not on the left or on the right). As each number bled from the shadowy bodies, the students began to further fade. So, it was in their best interest to keep still, sit in seats, and stare vacuously at the stone walls.
On murky school day, after students learned about the philosophy of penumbra, took three hundred forty-five assessments, filled out sixty-two scantron sheets, and watched the nurse sweep up the numbers left by a faded shadow student (who met his demise with an errant pencil) a teacher realized her chains were broken.
She stood up and balanced herself on the cinderblock wall. She felt dizzy and unstable. She had been chained to the wall since the beginning. The beginning of something important. Long ago.
No one noticed as she stood up. They continued to sit; they remained chained to the walls and watched the shadow thoughts move through the thought cycle. The only noise in the classroom was the clanking of the chains when a teacher would re-position him or herself.
She looked beyond the classroom and saw a light curving its way into the thing outside the room. Later, she would learn the words hall, brick, mountain, block, learn, books, brain, chain, teach, learn, walk, ask, breathe, and choice. She limped to the door and peered to the left. She glanced to the right. She gazed straight ahead. She closed her eyes and felt that thing in her chest pound. She stepped outside of the room.
Her gait was unstable for she had been chained since the beginning. As she walked, the thought dust obscured her sight. She had only seen the classroom to which she was chained. Her brain couldn’t assimilate the new images bombarding her consciousness. Eventually, she found the room with the books and light. Beyond that room was a door. She could see outside the door and the stone was gone. She remembered the myth of the outside place. She was instructed to teach the shadow students that the pictures of the things in books were only a product of someone’s mind. They weren’t real. But, now she was looking at trees, sun, river, squirrels, and grass. The invisible thing (later she would know it as wind) was blowing in her face, and it moved through her hair. Had she found the truth? How could she trust what she saw? If she left, would those things still be there? What was REAL?
She ventured outside to see students with all dimensions intact. Each student had a thought bubble attached to his or her head. Instead of smoke and mirror thoughts, each child’s thought bubble was full of images of concepts they were learning. Some students were playing musical instruments, and others where playing soccer. The teacher with the students was wearing a shirt that read, I Heart Socrates.
The mountainside teacher heard the students’ conversations. They were working in groups to solve various problems. The students shared new thoughts. And the thoughts were original, unlike those of the shadow student back in the school. There was a sign on the grass that read: “Please frolic and play on the Dewey grass.”
The riverside teacher introduced himself to the mountainside teacher.
“Hello, I’m UTO P. IA. You can call me UTO. Are you a new hire? What is your name?”
The mountainside teacher stared at UTO. She had never needed her name before, but she knew she had one. She reached into her frontal lobe and pulled out her name.
“Hello. I’m..well. I’m PAV L. OV You can call me PAV.”
She touched UTO’s shoulder and flinched when she realized that he was not smoke and mirrors. She longed for the safety of the cave. As she wandered back inside, she pondered the term, ‘new hire’. The sounds of the multi-dimensional students faded and the light dissipated.
She knew she had to go back and tell everyone that they had been wrong about the ideas. The ideas were real. Or the things were real. Maybe they were both real.
On her way back into the school, she saw a small, plump man sitting in the middle of the hallway. He was bald and effortlessly smiling. His t-shirt read, I’m Siddhartha. Just call me Buddah. She walked close to him and he said, “You have desired nothing, therefore you haven’t suffered. Now, you are experiencing the desire to learn about life, and share that knowledge. Well, now you will suffer.” He smiled and then he began to laugh. As he laughed, the word truth flew out of his mouth. With each breath, a new version of truth came out. Some truths were small, some were large, some had fancy fonts, and others were looked as if a child scribbled them. Pav didn’t see any of the truths as they few over her, under her, and around her.
She walked past the little man, because she didn’t know how to respond. She was never taught what to do when a new sentence was uttered. And in this case, a new sentence with a new thought.
She found her way back to the classroom where she had been chained. The teacher in charge introduced herself.
“Hello. I’m UT O. PIA. You can call me UT.”
Pav had known UT since the beginning. UT ignored the faint bouts of recognition and decided that she didn’t know Pav. The thoughts weren’t real without words to support them. Pav realized that UTO and UT had the same names. But the two teachers were polarized, yet very content. This confused Pav because she only knew one form of contentment, and that was the classroom cave.
Pav knew that she had to tell everyone about the outside place.
“UT, I need to tell you about something. It will change everything we do here on the mountainside.”
“Well, okay-go on. The thoughts have not completed their cycle yet. I don’t need to clean the empty thoughts off the floor yet.”
Pav was nervous for the first time.
“UT, I found the outside place. There were children, who were different from the ones here.” She pointed to the shadow students and they were still and staring.
“They didn’t just sit. They talked about the things they were learning.”
UT was noticeably shaken.
“Pav, stop there. You of all people should know that those alleged children out there are behaving as they were told. This is what we know: It is our truth.
Pav thought of her words before speaking. She tried using her common sense to talk to UT, but it didn’t seem to be working. Their words were different now. Pav’s words didn’t mean what they used to (before she visited the outside place).
Pav wondered what was real. Was UT really there, or was she experiencing the idea of UT? Then, she began wondering if she was real. She wondered if anyone else saw her. Did she really teach?
“UT, don’t you want to know what is out there? Aren’t you curious? It’s real! We don’t have to continue to teach like this!”
UT looked at Pav, and she hesitated before she began to vacuum the empty thoughts from the stone floor. The empty thoughts looked like giant dust clouds as they retreated to the guts of the vacuum.
Pav had some decisions to make. Familiar things are easy. She could go back to teaching the shadow students, and perpetuating the smoke and mirror thoughts. But, the more she thought about the outside place, the more curious she became. What if she ventured to the riverside and learned that all that she knew was wrong? What would happen?
We run the course of philosophies during a teaching career. There is no one, set philosophy that lays the foundation for my instruction. Every day, I strive to be the teacher that students can count on. I want to be mentally aware, as I teach, not on autopilot.
I may have lost the idealism I had when I began teaching. The invincibility shield has been tarnished. It isn’t the kids: It never is. It’s the quagmire through which we sift in order bring us close to the place where we felt we could change the world. That place is not lost; it is hidden beneath the years.
So, hopefully Pav will take the road less traveled and take a few risks to make that difference.