This I Believe

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Learning is What It Means to be Human

I believe that learning is what it means to be human. It is our great evolutionary adaption that has allowed us to not only physically thrive as a species, but to also create rich and complex cultures filled with music, art, and wonderful stories. Learning is what allowed us to build our skyscraping cities, dive the ocean depths, and even walk on the moon. My job as a teacher is to empower students to learn to the best of their abilities, so that they can live full and meaningful lives, in which they are able to not only pursue their own goals and aspirations, but to understand and contribute to the local—and global—community that we are all a part of.

It is my role as a teacher to provide all students with the best opportunity and means to succeed in learning. Humans are alone among species in requiring nearly twenty years of communal care—and love—in order to fully develop physically, emotionally, socially, and intellectually. Accordingly, the classroom must be a safe place defined by mutual respect. The learning environment must engender among students both a sense of belonging and responsibility towards.  This begins by establishing clear behavior rules and expectations and enforcing these rules consistently and—critically—justly.

If learning is what it means to be human, then receiving an education—or learning how to learn better—is a basic human right. Therefore I believe that all people, regardless of abilities or circumstances, are entitled to a quality education. All people deserve to learn how to think to the best of their abilities.  It is my role as a teacher to do my best to accommodate all students, regardless of background or special circumstances. I have a responsibility to learn about my students, their background, and any conditions they might have. I have a professional duty to keep myself abreast of the latest developments and solicit advice from those with expertise.  I must embrace a variety of teaching methods and projects; both to appeal to various learning styles, but also to maintain interest among all students.  As they say, variety is the spice of life, and education is no different. With some students this may even require individually tailoring my teaching or assessments, to ensure they have the best chance at success.

If—or, more likely, when—I fail, I have a duty to honestly access my actions and then continue to modify my teaching instruction until I find a way to succeed. Failure, honesty, and resilience are critical components of the process of learning how to think. Progress is more a story of trial and error, than one of planning and execution.

Learning “how to think” does not mean that students must think alike, or share my opinion. On the contrary, history has shown that societies that foster a diversity of opinions and worldviews generally thrive, while those that attempt impose a monolithic order may occasionally succeed in the short term but generally fail to adapt to changing circumstances.  Nature displays similar trends in the history of evolution.  Species that have employed a variety of physical forms and strategies proliferate. Today the dinosaurs still thrive, but as birds that soar above us, rather than lumbering lizard beasts of yesteryear.  Of course, such broad stroke general claims will have some notable exceptions.  For example, today the crocodile is essentially the same creature today that it was 60 million years ago.  But even these exceptions simply serve to prove the point: a diversity of views is extremely helpful in order to fully comprehend the world.

Through seeking out and investigating different views, we can begin to understand how the world works.  In the social sciences, it is absolutely critical to understand other’s perspectives, and how the context through which they came to hold those perspectives.  As a first step towards this, by simply embracing diversity in the classroom we can learn from the different views and experiences that already exist in our own classroom. This begins by cultivating an atmosphere that fosters curiosity and rewards participation. Through developing collaborative learning projects students can not only learn from one another, but complement one another with their respective skills and strengths to build a joint project that is equal to more than the sum of its parts.  Collaborative learning also serves to foster the camaraderie necessary to live and thrive in human society.

Diversity does not, however, mean that every opinion is inherently valid or correct. Although all people intrinsically deserve a respectful hearing, an educated student must be able to distinguish a well-reasoned thought—one which marshals evidence in a thoughtful and coherent manner—from a poorly reasoned or groundless view lacking in evidence.  That is what being educated means, being able to think critically and continually searching for the truth. But being educated also means that we recognize we have limits, and realize there is much we don’t know and being receptive to others who may know something we don’t know. That is how we keep developing—through learning from them.

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