My Philosophy of Learning

10 Oct

So, I was asked by my employer to write my philosophy of “education,” what is often termed one’s “Philosophy of Teaching.”  I don’t come from an education background.  I come from a fine art background (with a little multidisciplinary studies thrown in for balance) and really just fell into education out of necessity (and because I enjoy challenges).

My first teaching gig was at age nineteen, teaching Jr. High School art.  Since then, I’ve taught at everything from churches to universities, community organizations to museums.  From one-time gigs to full courses.  I have been learning about education the entire way, and am still learning daily.  I base everything on my own experiences, the experiences of others and research.

Anyhow, below is the way I organized it to make sense.  Feedback is appreciated.


Paulo Freire is one of my favorite icons of education




I come to the field of education as an artist who applies her knowledge and experience to the practice of education, not as an educator utilizing art to advance educational concepts.  My goals are to facilitate and cultivate innovative problem-solving, critical thinking skills and creativity in learners.

To fulfill these goals, I have synthesized a collection of  strategies in order to create a practice that is specific to the organization and audiences I serve.  Working at an institution that collects and exhibits art works, object-based learning logically forms the basis of my praxis.  Art museums are in the business of collecting human emotions, experiences and expressions in the form of objects, and are thus the ideal setting in which to transform the abstract into the concrete.  Object-based learning presents learners with a fresh point of view in a culture where virtual content or experiences are becoming more “real” than objects or relationships.  As students spend more time in the classroom focusing on facts and testing rather than examining and experiencing the world and situations outside of the classroom, they cultivate a “mind body disconnect” and lose the ability to access the senses and create a connection to concrete objects and experiences[i].

This “disconnect” creates a learning environment which can seem inapplicable or irrelevant to real life.  Students merely receive facts and rarely engage in converting thought into action or identifying concepts in real world situations.  They often learn separated from the world.  As an educator, I want to reconnect students to real life experiences, the situations in which they function, the history and future to which they belong.  A multidisciplinary approach, in which art is connected to literature, social studies, music or popular culture, facilitates this experience.

Paulo Freire refers to learners and educators who find their place “within the world” as “transformative” and “reconciliatory”[ii].  They locate their experience inside the content of quotidian existence and learn what words, symbols and places mean to them as participants.  They do not passively memorize ideas and definitions, but learn to apply those ideas to their everyday survival.  Words, theories and topics become more than just bland information, they become words to be used, theories to be tested and topics to be explored daily, to affect change.

I understand that this can be difficult for learners who do not come from a strong learning background or who are not familiar with the language of art and art making.  One cannot throw open the doors to creativity and critical thinking and expect students to immediately free themselves from the constraints of their current classroom environment.  I provide what Nina Simon defines as “institutional scaffolding,” or the safety net of a structured environment in which learners are free to participate at their own comfort level.  Only when learners are provided “supportive resources, tasks and guidance” can they “build their confidence and abilities” in creative participation[iii].

Participation and mutual respect are central to my approach to teaching.  As a life-long learner, I approach teaching knowing that I will be shaped by the experiences I share with my students in the same way that they are shaped by mine.  This leads to mutual responsibility in the educational setting and fosters a proactive role for everyone involved.

Visitors and museum staff should interact in the same manner.  The museum should be a setting in which visitors and staff members are equally responsible in creating a vibrant, relevant environment and shaping the direction of the institution.  Simon outlines the degrees of community/staff interaction that are necessary in order for an institution to become a center for collaboration between the staff and the community—finding the balance between those within and outside of the institution, ensuring the organization’s relevance now and always[iv].

I hope to be a key player in the formation of an organization that values the active contributions of visitors and staff, educators and students, alike.  As a child, I found myself in the role of museum visitor, absorbing the images and knowledge that the exhibitions had to offer.  I connected myself to the objects via my own interest in art and the artist’s life.  I was lucky.  I was introduced to museums at a young age and thus grew up in that context, seeing museums as my own and projecting my own desires upon the exhibits and objects.  I participated in creating art and music from a very young age and never felt restricted in my own relationship to cultural production and the means of interpreting it.  I became an artist and art educator.

My own education as an artist has helped me acquire the skills that are necessary to adeptly function within diverse environments.  I learn by doing. I hope to impart the creativity, critical thinking and innovative problem solving skills that have allowed me to view the world in a different way and make my way through it.  It is my goal to facilitate an environment where every visitor can experience art with feeling that they understand it, that it is relevant to them.  This setting can be achieved by listening to the needs of  art learners, creating a safe environment in which they can experience the work and then working with learners in placing the work in a context that is accessible to them and their peers.

[i] Lasky, Dorothea (2009).  Learning from Objects:  A Future for 21st Century Urban Arts Education.  Penn GSE Perspectives on Urban Education, Vol. 6, No. 6 (pp72-76).  University of Pennsylvania.

[ii] Freire, Paulo, Pedagogy of the Oppressed (New York: 2009), pp 72-76.

[iii] Simon, Nina, The Participatory Museum (Santa Cruz:  2010), p. 12

[iv] Simon, Nina, The Participatory Museum (Santa Cruz: 2010), pp 190-191.


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