Thoughts - The First Class

This is the first in a series of posts that stem from readings and classroom discussions in the course EDU S105 Philosophy of Education. I completed the course during the first semester of my master's programme. The course had 14 students leading to a seminar style classroom environment in which Professor Catherine Elgin encouraged us to grapple with ideas through questions and dialogue.

I have attempted to classify my thoughts under the interconnected themes of the blog - learning, teaching and education. The post is short and I encourage you to make connections between the points raised here and your past and current experiences.

For the first classroom session, there were no assigned readings/texts.


  • People in cultures with no written language have excellent memories. So, even something as powerful as literacy involves a trade-off of lesser memory power.
  • By talking with people who disagree with us, we extend our knowledge and viewpoints.
  • Today, what channels of information can you trust? New ways of learning bring new responsibilities.


  • In the process of teaching, we track kids through tests and other means. Is this system a vehicle that does injustice to some children? Are we tracking what we want to track or what is easy to track?
  • Does testing make children risk-averse? Do they become afraid of experimenting because they worry about how it might impact their test scores?
  • Boredom in the classroom - this arises either because the child knows the content and it is repetitive for him/her OR the child doesn't know the content and doesn't see a reason why he/she should know it.


  • Education tends to be indirectly coercive - we say we do things for the good of children but how can we be sure? Can we ever be sure?
  • Systems that began with a rationale might now just be a tradition - for example, the structure of the school year was actually decided by the harvest season. We should question things and not simply take them for granted.
  • It is possible to know what the right thing to do is but to still not do it. Here is where motivation comes in.
  • Education is not just preparation for life - it is a big chunk of one's life. Think of the many hours we have spent in school and college... Things should not always be thought of only in the long run.


  1. Great post trying to bring together the various aspects of what goes into making education actually useful for children, both in the short and long term.
    From the education/curriculum stand point, I would like to think that flexibility in the curriculum would play a role as well. For example, letting children themselves pick out a book each to read as part of their readings in a language subject or even something like history, would go a long way in increasing their motivation to learn the subject better.
    It also gives children more responsibility toward the subject and the idea of that will make it a better experience for them.

    1. Hi Kartik,

      From what you said, I think that you will like one of the later posts in the series where I talk about learning-teaching-education in the context of a piece titled 'The Child and the Curriculum' by John Dewey. In that post, I will be looking at the curriculum aspect more closely. :-)

      While flexibility is one way of looking at it, what I perceive as being truly empowering in the suggestion that you wrote ("letting children themselves pick out a book each to read as part of their readings") in the autonomy that the child gets from such an education. In a way, adults are acknowledging and respecting the child as an individual who must slowly begin to make decisions. And there have been research studies that show a strong correlation between student autonomy and motivation so I am happy that you brought that point up. Perhaps, it could go some way towards addressing the 'boredom' that I spoke about under the Learning heading.

  2. I completely agree with your point about the system making kids risk averse. I think we need to encourage/support failure a lot more in schools so that kids don't see it as an end. They need to learn how to learn from their failures and move forward. But our current systems don't encourage that kind of learning at all.

    1. Hi Sanya,

      Yeah, you make a good point about how failure should be viewed - as an end or as a means? Our current systems do seem to view failure in a highly negative light rather than seeing it as a possible means to learning and possible later success.

      Playing devil's advocate here - how can such failure be encouraged in a country like India with a rapidly growing population and cut-throat competition for college seats and jobs? Isn't it inevitable that children will feel like they are in a race in which they cannot afford to stumble?

  3. The thing that I absolutely liked while reading this post was how everything was served as a question. Really looking forward to all the posts in this series.

    1. Thank you. :-)

      Yes, in the domains of learning-teaching-education, I believe that we are always improving, experimenting and searching for answers and new ways to do things. I hope these posts continue to stimulate thought and I am looking forward to writing them as much as you are looking forward to reading them! After all, revisiting the notes that I took during the course exactly a year after I took the course is a very interesting experience for me. I read points that I made in October 2017 through a different lens in October 2018. :-)

  4. I personally think that kids become risk-averse when they're in a strict educational environment. When the teachers or the facilitators make the students believe that marks is all that they need to move on or to become successful. Whereas, if I talk about my experience in a TFI classroom it was different. I believe that the kind of environment that was built in the classrooms challenged me to do something with the knowledge I gained in my classroom.

    "we say we do things for the good of children but how can we be sure? Can we ever be sure?"
    This statement with the is an eye opener for me. It is because, until now educators assumed that what they do will be something the students will enjoy and which is good. But it wasn't true for all children. This question has made me question about the opportunities that I got were that came were good for me. However, the same opportunities were not for the good of the other children.

    This blog has challenged my thinking about few points.

    1. Yes, I think your point about a strict educational environment makes a lot of sense. I guess testing, if implemented to decide whether one child is better than another child, creates an education environment that is not suited to risk taking and learning. However, if testing is implemented with the goal of helping the child learn from mistakes, then it can be a potentially rich tool. I firmly believe that children and adults learn a ton more from something they got 'wrong' than from something they got 'right'. This is what I used to tell my students when they made a mistake - try to understand why you made the mistake and what did you learn from the mistake that you can apply later. :-)

      Regarding the point about doing things for the good of children, it opens another avenue for discussion on whether what we think is good for one child is equally good for another child. What we adults consider as 'opportunities' for children/students - do kids see them the same way?

      I'm glad to hear that the post challenged your thinking and I hope you enjoy the subsequent posts too!

  5. Hi.

    You say that testing makes people risk averse. Or possibly does that.

    Don’t (at least in India) the academically oriented take up higher studies? And research?

    If that is true isn’t it a bit ironic?

    1. Hi Kanal,

      What I gathered from your comment is that the academically oriented people in India were exposed to tests but still proceeded towards higher studies/research showing that they are taking risks. Is my interpretation right?

      If so, I see an implicit assumption in your comment: higher studies and research pathways are risky options. I am not so sure if that is true as obtaining a higher degree is seen as further securing one's career and reducing risks down the road of possible unemployment. So, are people who opt for higher degrees taking a risk? I guess we could have an entire discussion on this point itself! :-)

      Here is my take on the point. To quote the post, "Does testing make children risk-averse? Do they become afraid of experimenting because they worry about how it might impact their test scores?" I thought about my time as both a student in school and a teacher of primary and secondary grades. Personally, I cut down on extracurricular activities when I reached 9th as board exams was something that was suitably hyped up to the point of it being a VERY important thing. I will never actually know if I lost out on some possibly invaluable experiences but I sense that I did. I was more concerned about how my marks could go down if I involved myself with activities after school. As a teacher, I have seen my students stick to questions and problems from the text book as they know that that is what has to be tested on the exam. The idea of learning something new does not cross their mind as that 'something new' is not going to be asked in the exam; so, their mindset is, "how will this help me score better?" This habit of studying to the test with the goal of scoring maximum marks on the test discourages any sort of risk-taking and engagement in activities that are not tested.

      This is why the point resonated with me and I put it down in the post. :-) Also, take a look at Sanya's comment and my response to her comment by scrolling up a bit. It deals with the point about testing and becoming risk-averse.

  6. Systems that began with a rationale might now just be a tradition - unfortunately applies in so many places, teaching being one component where it surfaces in almost a regressive manner.

    1. Hi Pratyush,

      Could you please elaborate on the systems that " began with a rationale" but "might now just be a tradition" in the context of teaching? I am especially interested in your thoughts on how it surfaces in a regressive manner.

    2. Your later post dealing with Rousseau, already suggests about what I mean by "what began with a rationale..". The idea of not letting twelve year olds and younger deal with reason, a. Might have worked in that era and b. Might have originated from experience of teachers then. He formulated a theory out of that, translating it to some kind of a tradition, and that tradition has lost out on relevance.

      Maybe the system was insufficient even then. But I believe it's absolutely dysfunctional for today's world. Children are required to know more, analyse more and understand more. They learn faster, probably because evolution almost require them to. In such a situation the system called forth by Rousseau is probably regressive and unhealthy for students. I hope it makes more sense now.

    3. Yes, it does. Thanks for clarifying.


Post a Comment