Educational Philosophy: Getting back to the basics

Perhaps the most profound course I took at Columbia was an Educational Philosophy course with David Hansen. The busy schedules that we as Heads of School maintain does not always allow for a deep reflection of our own educational philosophy. We started this course with a lovely piece from Michel de Montaigne from the late sixteenth century. And of course no philosophy at Teachers College would be complete without significant attention to John Dewey who taught at Columbia for most of his career. The Montaigne piece had a profound effect on the leaders in the room, and it inspired me to replicate the discussion at Newman. Next week about a dozen of us will gather at my home to share our thoughts on Montaigne’s work, its relevance to our world today, and how it affects our own thinking about education. I am looking forward to this, and Dr. Melanie Krob who has a Ph.D. in European Cultural History, has volunteered to introduce Montaigne and provide some context to his work.

Here is an excerpt from a piece I wrote that integrates the thinking of Montaigne with my own educational philosophy:

The so-called 21st century skills of the current discourse are a good place to begin, but these concepts are hardly modern. In the late 16th century, Montaigne explains, “Let the tutor not merely require a verbal account of what the boy has been taught but the meaning and substance of it…Let him take what the boy has just learned and make him show him dozens of different aspects of it and then apply it to just as many subjects, in order to find out whether he has really grasped it and made it part of himself.” If we designed our schools to focus on this type of application, the cognitive demand would be significantly increased. And if we move beyond that to instill the love of challenge in our students, so they always seek out “sparring-partner(s) worth wrestling with,” we can perpetuate the excellence that challenge brings.


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