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Connecting a Philosophy of Education with K-12 Historical Events

Heather Joy

March 7, 2019


From the earliest days of general education in the United States to today, major events and political issues have influenced what is now 21st-century learning in K-12 education. The philosophies and historical and political events have been researched and built upon. Motives of various stakeholders, families, communities, local, state and federal government, teachers, unions, administrators, have sometimes clashed and sometimes worked in peace, advancing knowledge and education. The effective educational leader holds a personal philosophy for life and leadership that must be created, evaluated, and improved upon.

Historical Events and Political Issues That Have Influenced K-12 Education

There is a rich, deep, and vast history of trends and issues in American education’s history that have influenced K-12 education. According to Harrell, and Bynum (2018), students entering school today are digital natives. These are children who were born into a society fully immersed in technology as early as their toddler years. Technology now spans every generation, and nearly every industry. Students today enter their education career already connected to the internet. Here we take a glance at some of those major historical events and political issues that have brought education to its current place.

Since the late 1940’s, the grand scheme of education has moved from industrial age to digital age, from separate but equal to encouraging cultural diversity, and from separate to inclusive of multiple learning styles and abilities in a single room. The 1950’s brought about the beginning of the GI Bill, the creation of Future Farmers of America (FFA), and Brown vs. The Board of Education (1954). Sputnik caused the United States government to throw science, math, and foreign language into the spotlight with the creation of National Defense Education Act (NDEA). Today, a leader must be cognizant of building a welcoming educational institution and can do so with a lens of cultural understanding and Critical Race Theory (Delgado, Stefancic, and Harris, 2017).

Race, religion, and ability challenged in the courts, continued to create defining moments altering the facade of education. Following Brown vs. The Board of Education (1954), Ruby Bridges became the first child to desegregate a Louisiana school in 1960. The decade continued with a 1962 ruling against forced prayer in New York State schools and was followed closely by similar cases up through the reaffirmation of the U. S. Supreme Court case of Engel v. Vitale (1963) by ruling public schools could not require prayer or Bible verses to be read. The same year, the Learning Disabilities Association of America, is formed and bilingual education grew quickly in Florida as a result of the Cuban Revolution. Discrimination based on race, color, sex, religion or national origin were addressed in the the Civil Rights Act (1964). Title VII (1968) become law, was repealed, and then replaced by the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) (2001). The decade ended with Kohl's (1969) book, which emphasized student-centered learning.

The 1970’s conservative, back-to-the-basics movement again saw the courts continue to rule in favor of race, gender, and ability equality in education. Diana v. California State Board required primary language use for children referred for special education testing and free public education was granted to students with mental retardation through the Pennsylvania Association for Retarded Children (PARC) v. Pennsylvania (1971). Title IX (1972) was early in the quest for gender equality in education and the Marland Report (1972) created the definitions of Gifted Education still recognized today. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (1974) guaranteed rights for those with disabilities to have access to building and participate in programs and activities. Between Lau v. Nichols (1974) and the Equal Educational Opportunities Act (EEOP) (1974) the legislation made way for English Language Learners education of today. The Education of All Handicapped Children Act (1974) became the federal law instilling least restrictive educational setting for special education students. Slow progress was made in the courts and in 1975 Newsweek wrote a cover story "Why Johnny Can't Write," enraging the debate about literacy across the nation.

The 1980’s and 1990’s saw additions and amendments to previous legislation regarding race, religion, and abilities in addition to challenges to public schools via charter school and homeschool growth. IBM and Apple entered education with personal and school computing and the emergence of SMART Boards, yet some schools would fight technology integration into the 21st century. A Nation at Risk (1983) and The Holmes Group and Carnegie Forum on Education (1986), called for comprehensive reforms in public education and teacher training including the addition of computer science. Standardized/high-stakes testing began with The Massachusetts Education Reform Act (1993) and continues today.

Recent history illustrated the continued strides for equity in education with an increase in non-public school options and school safety. The increase of online education options has given further fuel to non-public alternatives. The air-raid drills of the 1950’s through 1990’s have been replaced with lockdown drills, lock-out drills, and even active shooter drills using fake ammunition. School violence from Columbine (1999) through today have created fear and anxiety for both educators and students which is yet to be highly researched but, that is a paper unto its own for another day. How do the vast realm of historic events add up to create an effective personal educational philosophy for leadership?

Current Trends and Their Effects on Leadership Strategies, Classroom Practices, and Student Outcomes

To create future-ready students, educational institutions are attaching themselves to several current trends including no homework, digital citizenship, gamification, genius hour, blended learning, growth mindset, and many others (Teach, 2018). While technology can no longer be considered a trend, the actions towards education within technological fields have created several trends. Personally, three specific trends stand out in the educational technology realm. They are personal learning, use of makerspaces/de-makerspaces, and project based learning.

Technology-based personal learning offers individual journeys along multiple pathways. Any individual learning plan may become overwhelming for a single teacher. According to Bingham (2017) the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has challenged teachers to replace lecture days with personal learning days encompassing personal technology pathways. The leader dilemma is how to support both the student who is now more and more responsible for their own education and supporting the teacher who may be moving from lecturer to a 1:1 coach for every individual student on their roster. The implementation of evidence-based practices in personalized learning is intriguing yet possible with well-integrated technologies. According to Zmuda and Luhtala (2017), personalized learning encourages self-learning, digital citizenship, and the power to create instead of just consume. The use of evolving technologies can be a liberating shift in the role of teachers. It allows teachers to create fewer presentations and long lectures in exchange for the creation of learning activities. Students participating in learning activities become active researchers and presenters, creating more depth of knowledge. Additionally, students grow more confident in creating, researching, and presenting. Student created presentations are no longer to the audience of 1 (the teacher) but created and shared with peers, families, and communities. Technology-based personalized learning infuses traditional three R’s with four C’s: critical thinking, creativity, communication, and collaboration. For students to reach their full potential, they need access to the constant evolution of technology which in turn increases problem-solving, decision making, collaboration, and innovation through creation.

Technology-integrated maker and de-makerspaces are a current trend in technology integration. Having 3D printers, robot pieces, cardboard and textiles, and Lego®️ materials, is seen as essential by those with a goal of giving students optimal creative outlet in makerspaces. De-makerspaces allow for understanding of how items are made via deconstruction. In addition, deconstructed pieces are studied and put together with improvements. However, the possession of a 3D printer or other maker materials does not constitute effective encouragement of creativity or a leadership strategy for technology-integrated maker and de-makerspaces. Soft skills, or as some now call these skills, ‘essential skills’ can be encouraged in makerspaces and de-makerspaces. These skills in behavior and attitude include the ability to work well with others, and work creatively. According to Fan, Wei and Zhang (2017) soft-skills are part of the problem in racial wage disparity. Leaders who give student the ability to work in makerspaces and de-makerspaces are encouraging equity by encouraging self-esteem and, to use a term coined by First Lego League, “gracious professionalism.”

Leader strategies include teacher collaboration and ability to create real world problems for students to work on. Leaders may use this trend to bring together science, engineering, mathematics, and the arts. Leaders must take care to encourage teachers and learners to keep the learning part of the project as the central focus. Encouraging focus on the investigation into learning about a topic is essential for positive outcomes. Technology-integrated, project-based learning allows the teacher to set goals and parameters and then assume the role of coach. Technology-integrated, project-based learning is collaborative, disciplined, interactive, and authentic (Creating, 2019). The use of project-based learning challenges learners to consume and create as well as have to According to Kotluk and Kocakaya (2017), creating a technology-integrated project-based lesson combining digital storytelling and physics increased engagement and gained knowledge.

Personal Education Philosophy

This personal educational leadership philosophy supports a diverse, student-centered, self-determination theory supported philosophy. Ryan and Deci’s (2017) Self-Determination Theory (SDT), is a psychological approach to understand how social factors assist or thwart humans’ ability to thrive. Specifically, there is self-determination in the need to educate each child by encouraging teachers and administrators to build relationships. These relationships, in turn, are the key to developing intrinsic motivations while integrating technology, not for the sake of technology but for the sake of productive, curriculum-based, and life skills-based education. School culture and climate should be one of inclusivity, humility, and humanity. The culture and climate of the school will be one of acceptance, patience, and a celebration of differences with a commitment to the virtues of character education. Beyond the realm of acceptance is respect for tough conversations. According to Pierce (2018), the ability to hold difficult, respectful discussions builds acceptance and creates a community. There need not be agreement of personal theories, but there must be respect. The school will have relentless love of students, ideas, and technology. Teachers will be encouraged for their role in passing their talents, knowledge, and strengths to their students. Dehmlow (2017) discussed the need for collaboration that allows the past to not be the focus. Remembering that the adage, we have always done it that way, can be poison to collaborative process. Collaboration and encouragement to take risks in evolving educational practices, lessons, and continued growth will set a precedent for students to become relentless learners who should follow their passions.

Philosophy and Stakeholders

Whether educational institutions use the term 21st-century learners, future-ready learners, or one of the other fad or trending terms, the bottom line is to encourage each student to find, expand, and share their unique gifts with their communities. Technology integration can educate each child, Nepo (2017) discussed the availability of education to students who are ‘different’ and the importance of the serving all children. The use of technology is able to improve the education of students across a wide spectrum from low functioning to advanced. The use of many current trends in technology can allow students, teachers, and administrators to gain global access and the opportunity to build professional learning networks where they can build relationships which are assistive in developing intrinsic motivations. To integrate technology not for the sake of technology but for the sake of productive, curriculum and life skill-based education and global inclusion. Technology brings students to the world and allows them to cross borders, division, and stereotypes. Encouraging teachers and administrators to build relationships which are assistive in developing intrinsic motivations and integrating technology not for the sake of technology but for the sake of productive, curriculum and life skill-based education are also essential aspects. Technology brings students to the world and allows them to cross borders, division, and stereotypes. Additionally, a personal education philosophy interjected with Deci and Ryan’s (2017) self-determination theory (SDT), a psychological approach to understanding how social factors assist or thwart humans’ ability to thrive. Specifically, there is self-determination in the need to educate each child by supporting and encouraging teachers and administrators to build relationships.

Historically, there has been a vein of support for student voice. In a globalized education, students are freer to find their place, that space where they are engaged, influenced, supported, and encouraged to grow and become more. Politics and policies have tried to favor what is best for the United States, sometimes succeeding, and sometimes with large areas left open for growth, reflection, and correction. Students today are encouraged to use their voices in speaking out, whether it is about school lunches or gun violence, they are supported to become leaders, developers, innovators, and thinkers. Together, diverse educators and leaders can work together to create advancements in personalized learning for the advancement of each student, uses of makerspaces and de-makerspaces to inform equity in education and, and project-based learning to grow resilience and problem-solving skills. Diverse perspectives and backgrounds can create visions and set strategic goals that are high and yet achievable for each student when provided with appropriate, effective learning opportunities. The use of these three trends opens the doors of schools to community involvement and educational opportunities including safe places to have difficult discussion about education, race, religion, equity, and diversity. The personal goals and trends can encourage teachers and administrators to build relationships which are assistive in developing intrinsic motivations. The integration of trends in technology are not for the sake of technology but for the sake of life skill-based education bringing out the best in each and every child, teacher, leader, and families.


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