Personal Philosophy of Early Childhood Education

As today's young learners are undoubtedly challenged by an increasingly fast-paced and technologically-characterized environment, it has become the weighted responsibility of the early childhood educator to counter such obstacles through progressive, whole-child methods of teaching, thereby decreasing anxieties and increasing the likelihood of knowledge retention. The quintessential philosophy for the multicultural, democratic classroom, progressivism allows for young students to learn through hands-on experience and social interaction. By establishing the learning environment as founded upon both comfort and creativity, the early childhood educator can effectively facilitate pedagogically-appropriate learning.

Progressivism

Birthed from the ideals of John Dewey during the late nineteenth century, progressive education seeks to cater to the child's needs as a whole being, rather than simply a brain. In his text entitled American School Reform: Progressive, Equity, and Excellence Movements, author Maurice Berube asserts that "the buzz-words of progressive education were self-expression, creativity, and individualism. The aim was for schooling that could develop the child's total personality" (1994). By extension, the twentieth century has allowed progressive education to become increasingly definitive of school reform, allowing students to learn through hands-on experience rather than via traditional lecture and textbook methods.

Indeed, progressivism is a truly essential philosophy for the early childhood classroom, as it provides an invaluable opportunity for young learners to experience their world and develop crucial critical thinking skills at an early age. A true alternative to simple knowledge acquisition, progressive education allows students to discover the material, thus significantly increasing the ability to retain new information. By allowing creativity to permeate all subject areas, both inside and outside the realm of humanities, the early childhood educator can ensure that his or her students are truly receiving a comprehensive, pedagogically appropriate education.

Particularly in today's changeable political climate, educational progressivism is becoming increasingly, and indeed unfortunately, challenged. Author Mary Eberstadt writes in her journal article entitled "The Schools They Deserve" that "educational progressivism, in practice and in theory, is fast losing ground. For almost two decades, in fact, that particular set of ideas - grounded in Rousseau, transplanted in America by John Dewey and his followers... - has suffered what must only appear to the faithful as one ignominious setback after another" (1999). The most recent and formidable opposition to progressivism was undoubtedly the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), which acted to devastate the schooling experience for millions of young learners, and also the teaching experience for hundreds of thousands of public school educators, as true learning was forcibly replaced with superficial knowledge acquisition for the sole purpose of assessment testing.

Though the NCLB has been largely recognized for the failure that it was, progressive school reform has yet to take place in the twenty-first century. Thus, the role of the early childhood educator becomes weighted with the responsibility to instill the progressive philosophy into his or her classroom, providing students with the opportunity to learn as a whole being, rather than simply a statistic for federal fund allocation. However, as the American academic climate begins to shift, progressivism will undoubtedly begin to play a key role within most public classrooms, as the quintessential philosophy for multicultural and democratic education.

Multiculturalism

As the demographics of today's American classroom are becoming increasingly defined through not only varied ethnicities, but also varied religions, socioeconomic status, and learning styles, multicultural education can no longer be limited to the stereotype-perpetuating, tourist-style approach to diversity. In her article entitled "An Anti-Bias and Ecological Model for Education" author Francis Wardle writes that "Many people claim multicultural education is divisive, and that it creates ethnocentric curricula, segregation and alternative histories. ...The traditional model lends itself to these criticisms, and sometimes does create hostility among students from different cultural groups. Furthermore, it gives ammunition to those who believe the sole purpose of multicultural education is to devalue the majority culture" (1996). With this in consideration, teachers must embrace their students as individuals, creating a democratic classroom environment that values cultural and social compassion.

Indeed, the democratic classroom lends itself fully to the ecological model for multicultural education, in that students are encouraged to act as individuals, not simply products of their ethnic backgrounds (Kulynych 1998). In his article entitled "Rousseau Revisited", Mitchell Masters writes that "Many reformers call for schools to regain a sense of community in which citizenship, student government, and democracy are emphasized more so than competition among individuals for superiority. Set in a diverse society, schools have tended to ignore character education and value auditing. Distillation of all the ideas... produces the proverbial drop of human kindness" (1996). Thus, the role of the teacher has evolved to include the weighted responsibility of integrating multiculturalism into his or her classroom without unwittingly emphasizing diversity as a vehicle for competition or animosity.

Children's Learning

Pedagogical Development

Progressivism, particularly when instilled into the academic setting in conjunction with a dedication to multiculturalism, caters to the young student as essentially a hands-on learner. Indeed, the cognitive development of elementary-aged children lends itself almost fully to learning through sensory experience. Conversely, traditional lecture-and-drill methods actually act as obstacles for learning, as the majority of children are unable to acquire new information, much less retain new information, in this way.

Impact of Learning Environment

Similarly, just as all humans are essentially social creatures, progressive education emphasizes learning through interpersonal interaction. Thus, discussion and group work are key elements in the progressive classroom. Additionally, young learners, markedly more so than older students, are profoundly affected by their learning environment as it pertains to muted decor and steady, familiar rhythms.

Program Emphasis: The Early Childhood Classroom

Physical Structure

In order to effectively facilitate social interaction, the early childhood classroom, particularly in grades one through four, should be organized to ensure the ease of group work. By organizing student desks in small groups and allowing enough physical space between the groupings to maintain freedom of movement, the physical structure of the classroom becomes truly defined through progressivism. Additionally, this particular arrangement decreases the overall density of the classroom, presumably lowering student both student aggression as well as anxiety levels (Fisher 2003).

Though the traditional elementary classroom is decorated in harsh, primary colors, such decor is jarring to the eye and has been cited as increasing hyperactivity in young children (Oppenheimer 2006). Thus, the optimum classroom environment is defined through muted colors, and, if possible, muted lighting. Most teachers have long recognized that simply turning off the harsh fluorescent overheads calms students, assuming natural light is available through the presence of windows.

Daily Rhythms

Perhaps even more essential to creating a safe, familiar learning environment is the continuous assertion of regular rhythms. Particularly in young learners, the ongoing presence of unanticipated events has been proven to increase stress levels, which act to inhibit learning (Oppenheimer 2006). By posting a simple version of the schedule and keeping it regular in terms of which subjects will be taught when, early childhood educators can establish an optimum environment in which learning can take place, unobstructed by anxiety or stress.

Daily Activities

In addition to daily group work and hands-on experiments to facilitate learning of traditional subjects, the early childhood educator needs to ensure that a certain level of physical activity be allowed throughout the day. As recess has become largely and unfortunately a thing of the past in most public schools, another detrimental result of the NCLB, teachers may need to think creatively to allow physical activity within the confines of their classrooms. Simply by allowing students the opportunity to stand throughout their day or sit in a pre-designated floor space, teachers can hope to alleviate some of the excess anxiety that builds as a result of rigid desk-posture. Additionally, other daily experiences should include the opportunity to be creative whenever possible, conveying learning through pictures, journals, or performances as is appropriate and temporally feasible.

Summation

The modern, progressive role of the early childhood educator has been born out of the necessity to counteract the onslaught of environmental stressors on the young learner. Particularly as assessment testing continues to be a mainstay of public education, the early childhood educator must fervently act to both instill progressive strategies, such as group learning, as well as maintain a level of comfort within the classroom, defined as such through regular rhythms and an appropriately muted, open physical space. Indeed, the American, public elementary classroom is evolving to be increasingly defined through diversity and democracy, thus cementing progressive education as the quintessential philosophy for teaching the future citizens of our nation, so that they may grow to become creative, social, and independently thinking individuals.

References

Berube, M. R. (1994). American School Reform: Progressive, Equity, and Excellence Movements, 1883-1993. Westport, CT: Praeger. 6

Eberstadt, M. (1999). The Schools They Deserve: Howard Gardner and the Remaking of Elite Education. Heritage Foundation.

Kulynych, J. J. (1998). Crossing Disciplines: Postmodernism and Democratic Education. 144.

McLeod, J., Fisher, J., & Hoover, G. (2003). The Key Elements of Classroom Management: Managing Time and Space, Student Behavior, and Instructional Strategies. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. 5

Masters, M. M., & Holifield, M. (1996). Rousseau Revisited: Compassion as an Essential Element in Democratic Education. Education, 116(4), 559+. Oppenheimer, Sharifa (2006). Heaven on Earth. Massachusetts: Steiner Books.

Tauber, R. T. (1999). Classroom Management Sound Theory and Effective Practice (3rd ed.). Westport, CT: Bergin & Garvey.

Wardle, F. (1996). Proposal: An Anti-Bias and Ecological Model for Multicultural Education. Childhood Education, 72(3), 152+.

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