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The Fight For Individualized Education

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Gaining Experience: The Fight for Individualized Education

Many different philosophies of education have been presented over the years by many different people. Trying to impart these philosophies onto the schools, many educational reforms have been attempted, but few have succeeded. Many of these philosophies have opposing goals which are compared and contrasted. It is not possible, in my opinion, to be able to identify which theories are right and which are wrong as though the matter is black and white. Many reforms that have been attempted may have actually been beneficial to the students, but failed due to the factors and resistance put up against it. Which of these philosophies were the best? That question I cannot answer; but I can explain to you how I believe the educational system should operate within our society and the educational goals that come with it.

The school system should be one that supplies students with the people and resources that will allow them to pursue their interests and individual goals, as well as create their own and shared experiences within a structured system. As students enter elementary school, they should learn social skills, interact and share experiences with their peers and teachers, and learn the basic facts (alphabet, basic math, spelling, etc.) that may help them in their future. This is very much how elementary schools are run in our society today. As the students move on to middle school, they should be exposed to many different subjects and fields of study so that they can begin to find an area, or areas, of true interest to them. Once in high school students should have much more freedom in their choice if curriculum. If a student has an area of particular interest, they should be permitted to focus their studies in that area as well as take time out of their school day to go out into the workplace and gain experience in a job. How else can a student know if they will truly enjoy their job if they have been given the opportunity to experience it?

It is important then, in all levels of the student's schooling, that the teachers make an effort to connect with their students, get to know them and their interests, and encourage and support them in their pursuits. On this topic I very much agree with Paulo Freire in that "the students- no longer docile listeners- [should be] critical co-investigators in dialogue with the teacher" (Freire 68). The teacher and student should work together, on the same level, to help find the true interests of the student and to help the student learn how to reflect and deepen their understanding of a subject or many subjects. The teacher can help the student "to see the world not as a static reality, but as reality in process, in transformation" (Freire 71). By connecting with their students, the teachers can open the students' eyes to the many opportunities of the world.

Throughout all of the years I have spent in the classroom, I have only one teacher with whom I truly connected. I could talk to her about anything and not fear that she would judge me or that what I told her would effect in any way my grade or performance in her class. She is the one person I think of when asked how I know what I want to do with my life. She inspired and encouraged me in all aspects of my life; she shared herself with me as I did with her: we learned from one another. I knew that I wanted to pursue a career that would allow me the same opportunity that she had, to connect and inspire another person and ultimately I decided that I wanted to be just what she was, a high school Spanish teacher. I knew all of the work and studying would be worth it if I could inspire just one other person the way she had inspired me, not solely in the classroom and in my studies. Why should a teacher's influence upon a student be restricted to the subject matter of their class? Should teachers not challenge their students in other areas of their life which they are not directly responsible for? "Knowledge emerges only through invention and re-invention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry men pursue in the world, with one another, and with each other" (Freire 58). Should the teachers not be the ones to inspire this inquiry within their students?

The other aspect of my philosophy of education is the notion of gaining real-life experiences. To help support this argument I could look no farther than John Dewey. As the students grow and come to discover their interests in a subject or field, they should be able to explore this area in depth to see if they have a future in it. "Interests are the signs and symptoms of growing power" ("My Pedagogic Creed, 8). As the students come to discover their true interests, they may well be ready to pursue and experience them. "The quality of any experience has two aspects. There is an immediate aspect of agreeableness or disagreeableness, and there is its influence upon later experiences" (Experience and Education Ch. 2 Pg. 2). Once a student is given the opportunity to go out and experience a job in which they are interested in, they will know very quickly whether or not they actually enjoy it. This aspect of the experience helps the student to narrow down or expand their areas of interest and job pursuits based on their initial enjoyment of their experience on the job. Their like (or dislike) of this experience will also aid them in the future as they continue their study or completely change their focus. This single experience will give them a reference and a base of comparison for future experiences and job opportunities. As Dewey says, "every experience lives on in further experiences" (Experience and Education Ch. 2 Pg. 2), and based upon this, it is important that the student has the opportunities early on to get these experiences, so that they save time and effort in their pursuit of what may not have the outcome they had desired.

Over the summer I worked with a man who graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in accounting; currently he is working as a line cook in a restaurant at a golf club because he realized too late that accounting made him miserable. Had he been given the opportunity to experience the field of accounting in a real-life setting before he devoted many years of his life, a great deal of work, and hard-earned money to his pursuit of becoming an accountant, he may have realized earlier on that he did not enjoy it, and changed his area of study and career path. Why do we wait until it is too late to investigate the nature of our future pursuits? "Progress,"



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