Philosophy of Education

From 58 seconds – Ms. Gruwell shows characteristics of praxis and Hannah Arendt’s ‘action’ as she ensures her student that she is not going to let him fail her class. This scene strongly depicts ‘the good’ in education.

Freedom Writers (8/9) MovieCLIP – You Are Not Failing (2007).
By: Movieclips.
Video source : YouTube.

The media representation of a teacher representing ‘the good’ of education I chose for this task is the film Freedom Writers (2007). This film is based on the real-life story of Ms. Gruwell, an idealist starting her new job as a secondary school English teacher in a racially divided school in LA. Ms. Gruwell is tasked with the challenge of teaching ‘at risk’ teenagers who are labelled as incapable of learning, without the support of her husband, father and peers of the school who all tell her she will not be capable to teach this group. Despite all this, Ms. Gruwell accepts the challenge and achieves in teaching the students the general academic and life skills while overcoming their social disadvantages as some students’ progress to college education. From my learning of philosophy during this module, I was able to make connections with Ms. Gruwell as an educator and how philosophies bring about ‘the good’ in education. I think ‘the good’ in education is best expressed in terms of praxis, one of Aristotle’s three basic activities. The general translation of praxis as ‘doing’, or ‘action’ can be greatly applied to teaching as an activity (Squires, 2003). Praxis can be further developed into self-reflection of one’s actions (Gadotti, 1996). It is this idea of praxis that highlights ‘the good’ of education in this assignment with reference to Freedom Writers (2007), as Ms. Gruwell goes beyond ‘poiesis’ or thinking and makes changes to the traditional schooling system in place at Woodrow Wilson Classical High School for the good of her students. Praxis can be seen as an element of many philosophers thinking’s to date and feel is core to the works of Freire and Arendt.  

I think the film links to elements of Paulo Freire’s ‘Pedagogy of the Oppressed’ as Ms. Gruwell aims to get to know her student’s backgrounds in society. Freire’s refers to traditional teacher-centred education as the unacceptable ‘banking concept of education’ (Freire, 2000), whereby students are asked to memorize and repeat ideas without understanding the use or meaning to them. To combat this idea of ‘banking concept of education’ Freire’s method of ‘conscientization’ or ‘critical consciousness’ aims at achieving an in-depth understanding of ‘the world’ (Freire, 2000). Although I think the concept of the ‘in-depth understanding of the world’ to be extreme in the case of teenage students, it carries importance when broken down to social situations of secondary students. Freire’s ‘cultural circles’ is the heart of his pedagogy, where somewhere between 12 and 25 students and their teacher are all involved in dialogical exchange whereby the oppressed use their own language and experiences to explain and surmount their oppression (Crittenden and Levine, 2018). Ms. Gruwell plays a game with the students known as the ‘Line Game’ (41 mins) where she poses a series of questions to the students in which they either stay on the line if it relates to them or step back from the line if it does not. This game opens both the students and teachers’ eyes as to ways in which they are oppressed in society. From wanting to understand her students more, she is able to tailor the activities of the class to better suit the needs of the students, which in turn, earned the respect of the students. I believe Freire’s philosophy brings about ‘the good’ in education as it allows for socially oppressed students, with the aid of their teacher to better understand their challenges and ways in which they can prevail. It is fair to say that Freire’s pedagogy is timeless in that teachers in today’s modern society are still encountering social oppression with students in their class. From what I have learned from this module, I think ‘the good’ in teaching can be achieved with the aid of Freire’s philosophy and praxis in aiding students to recognize their own oppression and their peer’s social situations and, as teachers, to aid students overcome these issues and to recognize ways to prevail oppression.

The bird sitting on a barbed fence represents students who prevail the social oppression they encounter. I think ‘the good’ in education should be aimed at teaching these students to ‘fly’ or to overcome the oppressions or ‘fence’ they face and to realize that there are ways to get over the fence that is trying to hold them back from achieving great things in life.

Bird on a wire mesh
Source: pixabay
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We see links to Hannah Arendt ‘The Human condition’ also in Freedom Writers. Arendt’s philosophy, which includes elements of praxis, is seen in her work ‘The Human Condition’. She believes there are three levels of practical activity: ‘With the term vita activa, I propose to designate three fundamental human activities: labour, work, and action’ (Arendt, 2013, p.7). Action is one of the fundamental categories of the human condition and constitutes the highest realization of the ‘vita activa’ (d’Entreves, 2019). Within ‘Action’ lies the two central features of freedom and plurality. We see the presence of both ‘freedom’ and ‘plurality’ in Freedom Writers as Ms. Gruwell is faced with challenges of school policies and the lack of cooperation from peers and family.

The freedom Arendt poses is the ability to begin something new, to disclose oneself and to do the unexpected, as opposed to the freedom of choice. The action of ‘freedom’ is seen in the film as Ms. Gruwell defies the school’s policies such as the ban on book lending to students and school trips. Ms. Gruwell does not agree with these policies and goes about her own way of he takes up two extra jobs to fund supplies such as books, diaries, school trips and guest speakers for the students. Arendt’s action of freedom which Ms. Gruwell is seen to possess, aids in the earning of respect and loyalty of her students who now realise what Ms. Gruwell has sacrificed for their education. It is with these actions and realisation from the students and peers, where plurality comes to life.

 Plurality comes about when the unexpected, as in the case of Ms. Gruwell’s action of freedom, as her students and father especially, realise the actions Ms, Gruwell has taken for the students. The action of freedom would not be considered freedom in itself if there was no acknowledgement from others. Therefore, an action would cease to be a meaningful activity without plurality (d’Entreves, 2019).  The action of ‘plurality’ presents itself in the film as Mr. Gruwell’s father, who once opposed her career choice, notices the efforts or action Ms. Gruwell is putting in to better the lives of her students.

I think the philosophy of praxis, in its general sense of ‘doing’ and self-reflecting on that action that has inspired the philosophies of both Arendt and Freire, which brings about ‘the good’ in education. I hope to draw inspiration from both Freire’s ‘conscientization’ and Arendt’s ‘action’ in the future to better develop my own pedagogy and to bring about ‘the good’ in education.

Reference List:

  • Arendt, H. (2013) The human condition. University of Chicago Press.
  • Crittenden, J. and Levine, P. (2018) Civic Education. In: The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Stanford, CA: Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University.
  • d’Entreves, M.P. (2019)  Hannah Arendt. In: The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Stanford, CA: Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University.
  • Freire, P. (2000) Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Continuum
  • Squires, G. (2003) ‘Praxis: a dissenting note’, Journal of Curriculum Studies, 35(1), pp. 1–7.
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