Philosophy of Education

I found this movie particularly capturing as it is based on a true story. This above picture is of Erin Gruwell and her class meeting the actors/ actresses who cast them in the movie.

The multimedia representation I have chosen to examine is the 2007 movie Freedom Writers portraying the extraordinary pedagogy of one teacher, Erin Gruwell. This movie is based on a true story and depicts a teacher’s battle with her schools flawed hierarchical system, institutional problems and repression of urban youths. Ms Gruwell’s underpinning beliefs, values and philosophies that guide her pedagogy are what sets the movie apart from others. Ms Gruwell is kind, caring, approachable and empathetic teacher who goes above and beyond for her students, taking into account their individual backgrounds and needs in order to prepare them for life after high school. Having studied the philosophy of education it is clear that Ms Gruwell represents the good of education in many aspects of her teaching. This reflective essay will pay particular attention to the theories and principles of Aristotle and Dewey as they are embedded in the practice of Ms Gruwell. Reference will be made to my developing understanding of the good of education and whether the practices of Ms Gruwell examined through a philosophical lens are in agreement with this.

Barnes (1982) suggests that Aristotle views education as having two main purposes, firstly to create an individual who contributes to the overall happiness of the world and secondly to prepare an individual for the what is achievable when their practical needs have been met. Ms Gruwell states that before entering the classroom she had considered a career in law and then she realised that by the time you’re defending someone in the court room it’s too late and the real fight for that individual begins in the classroom. In this statement Ms Gruwell suggests that she is in agreement with Aristotle’s aims of education to create an individual who will make the world an overall happier place. According to Aristotle (1975) ‘the good’ of education is defined by development of morals and Price (2007, p.326) further develops on this by stating that ‘Aristotle’s central point is that life is about development’.  Ms Gruwell represents Aristotle’s idea of ‘the good life’ through her pedagogy, beliefs and presence in the classroom. She has created a classroom community where her bond with her students is central to the students ability to gain a sense of morality. She has created an atmosphere with a high level of trust and respect between the students and teacher which is in turn developing the lives of her students towards overall happiness. Ms Gruwell aims to improve the quality of life of each of her students through education tailored to each of their needs. This philosophical approach of achieving the good life through education speaks to my teacher identity and agrees with my developing ideas of what it is to be an educator. As I begin my career in the Irish post-primary education system I too aim to enhance the lives of my students through displaying and encouraging good moral values and actions in my classrooms in order to lead to the ultimate ‘good life’ for all.

Another one of Aristotle’s principles which must be addressed when discussing the good of education is Phronesis. Phronesis is ‘practical wisdom, or knowledge of the proper ends of conduct and of the means of attaining them; distinguished by Aristotle from theoretical knowledge or science, and from technical skill.’ (Blake et al., 2003 p. 235). My understanding of phronesis is that it’s a type of practical wisdom which is acquired through life experience and habits. Phronimos is one who embodies this practical wisdom (Bunnin and Yu, 2004). It is my opinion that Ms Gruwell is a phronimos as she displays practical wisdom through her pedagogy and classroom ethics. When she first enters the schools she comes prepared with detailed lesson plans and exuded enthusiasm. From her interactions with the class she quickly realised that her lesson plans were unsuitable and that she would need to get to know her students in order adapt her teaching instructions. She looked for commonality’s or connections between the students’ lives and what she was trying to teach them. She decided to give her students a voice through a writing activity where they wrote about their own lives, this immediately allows the students to relate academic subjects to real-life experiences. This is a perfect example of how Ms Gruwell used her practical wisdom by assessing the class attempting to gain an insight into each of her students and then acted intelligently by adapting her lessons plans appropriately (Kinsella and Pitman, 2012). Thinking back to my own experience in post-primary school and my developing understanding of what it is to be an educator one particular teacher who was phronesis comes to mind as being similar to Ms Gruwell. I will strive to use practical wisdom throughout my career as a teacher as this is a virtue which is essential as part of a teachers identity in becoming a successful educator.

In conclusion, it is my opinion that Ms Gruwell represents the good of education through her everyday actions in the classroom as she aims to improve the lives of every student in her class and aims to give each student a sense of belonging by creating a welcoming classroom community. As a teacher I aspire to create such a classroom environment with an overall goal of improving every students life and I wish to achieve the good of education through displaying good morals and acting as a role model for my students. As my teacher identity evolves in the coming years it will be essential for me to remain a phronimos.

I found this video of the real Ms Gruwell discussing her journey as a teacher extremely motivational.

Word Count: 925

Reference List

Aristotle (1975). Nicomachean Ethics, trans. Harris Rackham. Harvard University Press.

Barnes, J. (1982) ‘Aristotle’, An lively and concise introduction to Aristotle’s work. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Birmingham, C. (2004) ‘Phronesis: a model for pedagogical reflection’, Journal of Teacher Education, 55(4), pp.313-324.

Blake, N., Smeyers, P., Smith, R. and Standish, P. (eds.) (2003) The Blackwell guide to the philosophy of education. London: John Wiley.

Bunnin, N. and Yu, J. (2004) The Blackwell Dictionary of Western Philosophy. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated.

Kinsella, E. A. and Pitman, A. (2012) ‘Phronesis As Professional Knowledge : Practical Wisdom in the Professions’, Sense Publishers.

Price, T. L. (2007) ‘Aristotle and the Good Business Life’, Business Ethics Quarterly, 17(2), pp. 325–340.

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