I Learned Reflection: Week #1

Upon reading Alfred North Whitehead’s Essay “The Aims of Education (1929)” this past week, I found myself in hearty agreement with him on many points.  I think I was initially predisposed to him since he was trained as a mathematician.  Two of his observations are particularly resonant, namely:  his “two educational commandments”, and his plea to make instruction vibrant.  Let me briefly describe these points and explain why I find them especially relevant as I pursue endorsements in math and science.

Whitehead’s commandments to “not teach too many subjects” and within that limited set to “teach thoroughly”, fly in the face of current jam-packed and superficial lesson plans.  As I read this almost 80-year-old essay, I imagined that I was reading a contemporary newspaper article decrying the massive amount of information which today’s students must wade through with little creativity in the presentation.  I recalled some of my own favorite teachers, who were beloved precisely because they believed that “the child should experience the joy of discovery.”  I realized that the teacher I aspire to be is the one that Whitehead describes, taking time to present a few topics well.

In the latter half of his essay Whitehead elaborates on what he considers education that is living and not inert.  Well-presented topics allow the learner to utilize them in real life applications.  As a student of physics I recall the laboratory exercises with much more clarity than the lectures.  So I was very sympathetic to Whitehead’s description of teaching geometry by getting the learners to develop their own map of a field or section of the city.  I long to be a science teacher who utilizes hands-on exercises knowing that “the best education is to be found in gaining the utmost information from the simplest apparatus.”

Thus I feel I have newfound friend in Alfred North Whitehead, who in this essay crystallized some of my own thinking about teaching a few subjects and teaching them in a compelling way.

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