Philosophy of education

I come from a long line of uncommon teachers. An uncommon teacher is one who teaches or trains in the duties of an everyday work life, rather than in a classroom. My father was a videographer who far preferred explaining the intricate guts or the laborious editing process than the actual job of shooting a wedding or editing the event afterward. In his spare time, he would elaborate on the way a car engine was put together, why the clouds were cumulus before a storm, or the exact process of how to perfectly cook a soft boiled egg. My mother was celebrated as an encourager, a trainer, and a mentor. She relished in the act of taking a neophyte through what normally was an agonizing dance of making mistakes, and surpassed her peers in her ability to toss the neophyte into action while at the same time holding the learners’ hands. After 25 years of trying to operate a small sales business, she finally found her passion in mentoring and training missionaries for the field.

Background of new model. From these experiences of uncommon teachers, plus my ten years of teaching experience, I have developed a unique model of education for adult learners (specifically, above the age of 17). My model was inspired by classic theories of education (Bloom, 1956), combined with a Christological worldview and my own unique perspective. I have also used Jane Vella’s approach (2002), some ideas of Parker Palmer (1998), and some of Bruce Chilton’s research (2000) on the concept of the teacher during first century Jerusalem which paved the way for the unique style utilized by Jesus. In this paper, I will apply each of the ten areas of my model to a specific question relating to learning theory. The goal of this paper is to clearly illustrate and define a new model of education and learning that is both based on the transformation of the individual towards a Christ-like state, as well as instilling an ethical approach towards cross-cultural education (specifically in comparison with Chinese models of education, as I am a teacher in a Chinese university).

Based on apotheosis (or heroic transformation), my model should not be confused with Meizrow’s transformational model (1991), which focuses on the three meaning schemes of beliefs, attitudes, and emotional reactions. My model uses three core concepts of educational psychology in Bloom’s taxonomy (1956): cognitive (to know), affective (to change behavior), and psychomotor (to experience). I relate the concepts to 1st Corinthians 13:13: “And now these three remain: faith (cognitive, to know), hope (psychomotor, to experience), love (affective, to change behavior).”

With the goal of apotheosis, each of the three concepts (faith, hope, love) expands into two paths. Faith (known in the model as enlightenment) opens into synthesis (ability to process knowledge) and intellect (ability to utilize knowledge), hope (known in the model as pilgrimage) opens into enculture (lifestyle) and expertise (skills), and love (known in the model as virtue) opens into eudaimonia (happiness) and discernment (critical thinking). Faith is dyadic, necessitating an acceptance of both belief in a creator and reason (see Pope John Paul II’s encyclical letter on fides et ratio, September 14, 1998), hope is ultimately focused around the eschatology of the establishment of the Kingdom of God on Earth through the return of Jesus Christ, and love is centered in the Second Commandment: “to love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 12:30-31). I will review each of the ten concepts in my model by answering a simple question about adult education and learning. I divided the questions into three categories: 1)What is learning?, 2)the adult learner, and 3)the teacher as learner.

Figure 1: Original educational model of transformation

educational transformation

What is learning?

1. What is the purpose of learning? The purpose of learning is heroic transformation, or what is known in Greek as apotheosis. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and accepted and perfect” (Romans 12:2). Paul was an educated man, studied in the classics, letters, and holy texts yet he continued to encourage transformation into the image of Christ. “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18). For myself, education has always been an occupation of a hero-raiser, but as a Christian heroic qualities must always be drawn from the image of Christ.

Jesus was a teacher and leader, mentor and encourager. He was a recognized as a rabbi by other teachers of the law, and was a member of the highly celebrated chasid caste (rabbis who were anointed by God and could channel the ruach, or Holy Spirit), revered even among Jewish leaders such as Gamaliel (Chilton, 2000). He was a pupil of John the Baptist, and continued his master’s legacy through the practice of John’s mishnah (words and actions that conveyed one’s teachings), while making the mishnah totally his own. Just as Christ transformed his own talmid (disciples) through mastering halakhah (a rabbi whose actions were equal to his words), so a teacher must focus on transformation, specifically oriented towards teaching and training pupils so that they do adopt the same methods and capacity to think critically in their own lives. The purpose of learning, therefore, is to become transformed into a new creature in the image of Christ.

2. What is the definition of learning? To learn is to fundamentally process information in such a way that the information is coded and chunked for interpretation, also known as synthesis. According to Waitzin (2007), learning is accomplished when a series of tasks take place, much like a long journey: 1)intelligent preparation, 2)cultivated resilience, 3)informational naturalization through incremental practice so that 4)when one carefully assimilates information for pattern recognition (known as chunking), 5)the focus becomes enlarged, simplistic, defined, and ready for utilization. Synthesis is classically seen as the solution to the struggle between thesis and antithesis, where common truths are reconciled between the proposition and reaction to said proposition. In learning, synthesis is the ability to hear an intellectual concept, intuit the boundaries, and classify what is common for categorization.

As an aspect of faith, learning as a journey is intimately attached to the act of listening, watching, and practice. As Paul says: “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me–practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:9). In many places in scripture, learning is equated with receiving the Holy Spirit, implying a humility that passes intellectual boundaries (Galatians 3:2), ending in a beautiful communion with the Creator of the universe.

3. What is the truth of adult learning? The truth of adult learning is that no matter how much one learns, learning can never be truly achieved without embracing enlightenment. For children, learning is a technique that allows them to pass through the expectations of society: test-skills, essay patterns, and reading abilities are important powers to achieve academic fluency. However for adults, learning must breathe on its own, just as Palmer states: “geologists are people who hear rocks speak, historians are people who hear the voices of the long dead, writers are people who hear the music of words” (p. 107, 1998). For children, the aspect of being learned is one’s educational status; for adults, the act of maturity in knowledge, where light is literally shone onto a dark space deepening insight through a delicate dance between spiritual truth and reason. In Palmer’s example, the act of listening to rocks doesn’t transform the geologist into a rock worshiper, the historian into a necromancer, or the writer into a mystic; rather, the enlightened adult is able to put the two disparate concepts in his mind, both the material and the immaterial and hear the knowledge within.

Learning, according to God, cannot be divided from the act of experience as experience is the best teacher. In the Old Testament, the word lamad is repeatedly used to describe the act of teaching (over 80 occurrences alone, with 16 references in the book of Deuteronomy, and 26 references in Psalms). However, lamad is also used interchangeably with the act of learning. When God tells the Israelites to learn something, He is telling them to teach it – when He tells them to teach something, He tells them to learn it. One cannot teach something without truly understanding the implications of what is taught. Lastly, lamad is also used to signify the word train, bridging the gap between the act of teaching and the act of learning through the process of incremental practice.

The adult learner

1. Why do adults learn? Adults learn because of the necessity of enculturation, the first aspect of pilgrimage (or hope). While education for children is mandatory in most countries, education for adults is optional, used as a catch-up enculturation mechanism to renew or introduce skills necessary for survival in a given context. Enculturation is the process to acquire value according to a set behavioral standard within a given culture through deliberate action, either on behalf of the student, the teacher, or both. Adult education takes many forms: universities, training programs, community colleges, Sunday school, even in-house corporate consultants and equipping classes.

As I teach graduate students in the school of engineering, my classes focus on equipping students with the ability to communicate in the English language their specialized fields and common lives, so that they can increase their prestige as professionals and improve their socialization skills. However, my students are primarily studying English to be acculturated out of their cultural worldview and into a non-Chinese worldview. Enculturation and acculturation are similar; while enculturation teaches relevant skills in the native context, acculturation is the method for teaching relevant skills in a foreign context. Both enculturation and acculturation are relevant reasons for adult education, although enculturation is by far a more necessary component of society.

While an important aspect of society, enculturation is an even more important aspect of the Kingdom of God. One of the two aspects of hope, enculturation (or lifestyle) is the process of preparation as adopted children of God (Romans 8:23) into the holy Kingdom, and is significantly anchored in the future rather than the present. As a teacher, I seek to communicate the lifestyle and hope (elpis) that is sanctified by God through my actions and my words, while at the same time helping my students prepare for the lifestyle that awaits for them on this Earth. Therefore, teaching values such as love and respect for the sacredness in life is important to my teaching, with the hope I can inculcate those values within myself and my students as well.

2. What methods do adults use to learn? The three methods adults use to learn in my model are the intellect (faith aspect), expertise (hope aspect), and discernment (love aspect). The intellect is the ability to utilize knowledge, expertise is the skill needed in order to create change within a society, and discernment is the method to increase one’s capacity to critically assess either personal behavior or the behavior of another (such as a person, an idea, or a thing).

The intellect is the action aspect of enlightenment, where the learner not only utilizes the knowledge they processed through the act of synthesis but also reflects on how the knowledge was used (expertise and discernment). Expertise is the action aspect of pilgrimage, applying intellect in discernment to accomplish tasks using knowledge learned through synthesis and enculturation. Discernment is the action aspect of virtue, when judgment on the rightness or wrongness of intellect and expertise truly supports the end goal of education (apotheosis) or design methodology (eudaimonia). The three methods are entwined with each other, necessary for transformation to occur.

Praxis is an important tool in methodology for adult education as it acts as a gauge for whether the intellect, expertise, or discernment was used properly. According to Vella (2002), praxis is both a deductive and inductive activity used to foster an increase in intellect, expertise, or discernment (what Vella calls knowledge, skills, and attitudes). The act of praxis involves a close analysis of content, the act of re-creation in a different context, and a re-analysis through participatory examination. Applying Vella’s praxis to my model would mean taking a lesson for my engineering students and identifying the key truths (the intellect), re-purposing those truths for my business students (expertise) and critically assessing the value of those truths outside of a classroom of engineers (discernment).

More importantly, though, are the lasting values represented in the methods. The intellect without God is related by Solomon as “striving after wind” (Ecclesiastes 2:26), because the purpose of obtaining intellect is vain rather than holy. Solomon also said that if skill is used in envy of one’s neighbor, the expertise obtained is “striving after wind” (Ecclesiastes 4:4:). The spirit of God (also known as God’s ruach) was the physical manifestation of God’s love for his people, the presence of God in the Temple, the power which anointed kings, and the aspect which saved through physical manipulation of the earthly elements. Even in the New Testament, the Greek word pneuma was used in the same capacity as ruach, although the pneuma rather than presiding as a covenant between God and His people inhabited the disciples and anointed each of them with the legacy of the chasid; a truer testament of God’s love could not be found. However the key truth about the Holy Spirit is the gift of discernment: when Jesus went into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil, he was led by the Holy Spirit and only after his experience did he truly begin his ministry as the answer to prophecy (Matthew 4:1-11), to bring the love of God to every person on the earth.

3. What is the importance of learning as an adult? The importance of learning for adults, according to my model, is to practice faith, hope, and love. In my model, faith, hope, and love are represented by the concepts of enlightenment, pilgrimage, and virtue. Paul compares the practice of faith, hope and love to the maturation from child to adult (1 Corinthians 13:11), and then draws a metaphor of a mirror to explain that in the practice of faith, hope, and love full knowledge of the self is realized. Therefore, the importance of learning for adults to for adults to learn about themselves and understand how to holistically practice the love of the pneuma.

Contemporary theories of education stress the importance of learning as a participatory activity helping society move from a more mechanistic worldview focused on materialism to a world focused on discovery, creation, integration, and peace-making. Vella (2002) stresses six quantum concepts regarding the current of learning: 1)relatedness, 2)holism, 3)duality, 4)energy, 5)uncertainty, and 6)participation. Her model is known as dialogue education and is empowered by quantum concepts, which like Palmer (1998), stresses the importance of learning as a community.

Paul in the book of Ephesians also stresses the importance of learning in community. “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:8). Paul goes beyond quantum thinking, saying that the body is one creature, each part necessary for every other part.

The teacher as learner

1. What is the role of the teacher in adult education? The role of the teacher in adult education is to convey virtue through both words and actions. According to Dungy (2010), teaching must be oriented towards building lives of significance, creating a legacy of lasting value, and traveling together (student and teacher) so that integrity, character, and faith is strengthened for all involved. Education is about empowerment, which makes the teacher the one who empowers.

I connected virtue together with love because love without virtue is savage and lustful but love with virtue is pure, honor-bound, and noble. As a teacher, my job is to love my students in the same way that God loves his people or that Christ loves us. Paul was compelled to classify virtue apart from knowledge, given the popular sentiment that virtue (arete) was in itself knowledge. Paul says faith must be supplemented with virtue, but virtue with knowledge, showing that the two are not the same (2 Peter 1:5). The result of teaching must always be measured with a yardstick of virtue: were the students’ lives enhanced, did they grow in excellence, were they empowered because of the example their teacher set?

2. Personal design methodologies. As I grow as a teacher, I recognize that learning is intimately connected with happiness. If students are happy, they are more open-minded and willing when learning but if unhappy about a subject, more close-minded and skeptical. In his inspirational book about teaching, Burns describes a student referring to his teacher: “You helped me to realize that learning is the key to a full and happy life” (2011). He explains that the best teaching comes from the heart, not from a book, that excellence is about making a class fun, inspirational, and applying teaching methods of self-empowerment where worth is equal to possibilities of the future.

In my own experience, the concept of eudaimonia (happiness) is the core value in my design methodologies. Developing activities and assignments which not only increase value but confidence, love, virtue, hope, and enlightenment are key aspects to my design methodology. While I have struggled over the last ten years of finding a happy medium between encouraging the professional capacities of my students in taking charge of their own education to defining exactly what is necessary to pass a course, I have consistently tried to develop materials which have lasting, eternal value.

In an environment of stunning negativity, I feel the necessity to design courses that not only empower but educate. Tom Wolff, an educator in a Chinese university, wrote a book detailing 18 different kinds of complaints, with a collated 412 submitted allegations over a two-year period, indicating the level of dissatisfaction existing for many foreign teachers in China (2009). Given that learner autonomy is not stressed in the Asian classroom (Ma & Zhang, 2009), curriculum that is based on students needing to do self-evaluation, self-direction, and personal engagement with course material must be tempered to fit the unique model of education present in China: teacher-centered, test-based, and attitude promotion (Gao & Watkins, 2002). Inserting happiness into the utilitarian model present in many Chinese classrooms is a necessity for invigorating learners beyond the walls of the classroom.

3. Personal teaching methodologies. I have described teaching and learning as the same through the Hebraic lamad, with a beautiful example of Jesus as both teacher and learner. Hope is the cornerstone of my teaching methodologies as it is the act of pilgrimage towards the Kingdom. Jesus established the Kingdom through the granting of the Holy Spirit upon all, including the Gentiles.

Just like Jesus’ example, in Chinese tradition the word jiaoxue xiangzhang literally means “teach-learn each other-grow up,” a common phrase among teachers to explain the importance of learning what you teach. Confucius said: “He who is able to acquire new ideas while reviewing old knowledge is worthy of being a teacher” (The Analects, Book II:11). Zhang made a connection between the affective learning of the student and the competence of the teacher in a given subject, showing a relationship between the teacher’s mastery and passion of the subject taught (2011). Therefore, the need for me to not only be a continual learner in my field but a teacher is absolute.

Besides his occupation as a talmid of John the Baptist, the book of Matthew describes Jesus as both learner and teacher: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29). Jesus would not have told others to emulate his example of gentleness and humbleness if He himself was also not on a journey of learning. As a student of John the Baptist, Jesus continually enhanced his kabbalah (spiritual technique), emphasizing the need for purity not from outward structures but from inside (Chilton, 2000).

Conclusion

Six years ago I began to teach Chinese students at the university level. Knowing what I know today and applying my philosophy back then, my teaching would have been dramatically different. Rather than delivering lectures to my students, personally investing in them for the purpose of apotheosis into the divine image of God. Rather than trying to change society through sweeping reform activities, focusing on mentorship. Rather than legitimizing myself as a scholar without peer, stooping beneath my students and deigning to believe that even they could teach me. Finally, seeking felt needs of my students first, rather than as a last resort. Applying these would have radically altered my teaching, and no doubt will radically alter my future as a teacher — no… a learner.

References

Bloom, B.S. (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives, Handbook 1: The cognitive domain. New York: David McKay Co Inc.

Burns, T. (2011). Thank you, teacher: An appreciation of a difficult job well done. London: Axis Publishing Limited.

Chilton, B. (2000). Rabbi Jesus: An intimate biography. New York: Doubleday.

Dungy, T. (2010). The mentor leader: Secrets to building people and teams that win consistently. Winter Park, FL: Tyndale.

Gao, L.B., & Watkins, D.A. (2002). Conceptions of teaching held by school science teachers in P.R. China: identification and cross-cultural comparisons. International Journal of Science Education, 24(1):61-79.

Meizrow, J. (1991). Transformative dimensions of adult learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Palmer, P.J. (1998). The courage to teach: exploring the inner landscape of a teacher’s life. San Francisco: John Wiley.

Vella, J. (2002). Learning to listen, learning to teach: the power of dialogue in educating adults. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Waitzin, J. (2007). The art of learning: An inner journey to optimal performance. New York: Free Press.

Wolff, T. (2009). Teaching EFL in China: What every foreign teacher should know before they go. New York: Nova.

Zhang, Q. (2011). Teacher immediacy, credibility, and clarify as predictors of student affective learning: a Chinese investigation. China Media Research, 7(2):95-103.