My philosophy of education is comprised of three core beliefs which I call methods. These methods are as follows: Asia as Method, Identity as method, and Senses as method. It is a system framed by experiences as a youth worker in the non-profit sector as well as an instructor in post-secondary education. Volunteer experience with local, provincial, national, and international education associations also influence these beliefs.
My teaching philosophy is therefore grounded in an understanding of how we can use these methods to unpack and reimagine what education looks like and feels like. These methods also align themselves with what I believe to be the fundamental purpose of a humanities education: the development and cultivation of a closer relationship with our own humanity as well as with society. As such in these methods there exists an intersection of responsibilities and rights that the instructor has to the student and the student to the instructor.
ASIA AS METHOD
Asia as Method, coined by social and cultural scholar Chen Kuan-hsing seeks to decolonize and indigenize the way we understand Asia and the world by recentering our knowledge base in Asia and within our own positionality. While I use the term "Asia," this methodology has its merits in other regional and topical areas.
So much of the idea of Asia is brought about by Western scholarship prescribing what angles and dimensions we should examine and understand Asia. What happens when we look at Asia from within Asia? I challenge my students to use their own lived experiences as the angle of approach when we imagine Asia and what Asia can be.
IDENTITY AS METHOD
What makes humans human? What drives our perceptions of self and existence? These questions are in part formed as a result of our cultural upbringing and the humanities offer a gateway to explore, question, and unpack our identities and facets of the self. This is the target metacognition that I hope to instill in learners. I encourage students to actively reflect on course materials and consider how their lived experiences might be enriched, challenged, or even transformed as a result of learning.
SENSES AS METHOD
In the study of the humanities, we are constantly struck with the principled idea of cultivating a deeper relationship with our own humanity and with the larger community. In trying to better flesh out the human experience, I incorporate sensory materials such as auditory playlists, visual arts, as well as psychomotor experiences in order to help learners build that deeper connection with themselves and with others (in the past or in the class with them).
As a researcher of rave ideologies, I also incorporate "Peace, Love, Unity, and Respect" (PLUR) into the learning space code of conduct to create a space for learning and reflection.
PHILOSOPHY OF HUMANITIES EDUCATION
Humanities educators, as educational leaders, have a responsibility to advocate for education that is accessible to all students regardless of socioeconomic, geographic, ethnic, physical, or cognitive condition. Students have a right to access inclusive instruction free of the obstacles identified above.
A good humanities education is effective when the instructor embodies the material they are teaching and brings out the intrinsic value of learning about ourselves within history and culture. It is also about empowering students to make metacognitive decisions through critical analysis of narratives and ideas. It is advantageous to combine a focus on intrinsic values of a humanities education – critical analysis, communication, and expression - with an understanding that education is about enriching the “whole individual”. The humanities thus are a vehicle for cultivating extrinsic skills such as collaboration, leadership, community-building, sensory awareness, verbal expression, non-verbal communication, and multiple literacies.
Modern society values a combination of formal and experiential education. Education does not only exist in the classroom or the library. Educational experiences in the humanities include those that take shape in the context of current events, cultural upbringing, gender, sexuality, as well as historical trauma (not an exhaustive list). A robust education stands on a blending of formal and informal learning environments and the opportunity for students to explore the application of knowledge.
As it stands, our modern society values a combination of both formal and experiential learning. While it may be easy to assume that a humanities education only exists within the four walls of a classroom, we engage with our humanity daily. From consuming media and news from around the world, our own cultural upbringing, our understandings of our identities, and the societal constructs, we are constantly in a state of defining and redefining our humanity and “human-ness.” It is with this in mind that a humanities education serves as a nexus for understanding the self through discussion and interaction with the humanity of the past.
A humanities education can serve numerous purposes. Truly comprehensive instruction will engage curriculum to meet and augment the interests of students, preparing all who intend on pursuing the humanities as a career (academia) and those for whom the humanities will play a different role in adulthood (media consumer, business management, social work, the performing arts, day-to-day life). In neither context does rote memorization hold a place of significant value. We must actively reimagine what a humanities educators can be rather than just relying on memorization or repetition as a purpose for instruction and empirical success.
Rather than imagining the instructor as the one giving information to students whom we assume are “blank maps” and require us to give them content and context, I believe that as people, we all have a sense of humanity that helps us connect to each other. Students, especially at the post-secondary level come to classes not as “blank maps” but rather as individuals with complete ideas, thoughts, and opinions. It may be better to reimagine the relationship between instructor and student as one where the student has a partially completed map with their own personal beliefs, ideas, thoughts, and opinions acting as a street. At the time of entering the classroom, students may have these streets not connected and may be “lost in traffic” trying to find a way. Wayfinding is achieved through intersectionality and the crossroads of the attributes listed above. The instructor's job therefore is to help students name each street and find meaning at the intersections. It is up to us the instructors to observe how the “traffic” of communication and learning flows through the students’ intersections.
In applying these philosophical ideas, it is imperative that a humanities education can permeate any context in which instruction occurs. This philosophy, therefore, accommodates for principles of personalized learning, celebrating curriculum that affords educators opportunities to engage authentically and learning resources of increased relevance and importance to students. The accompanying imperative is that teachers must persistently generate contextual knowledge, about students, that informs practice.
PHILOSOPHY IN ACTION
In 4 years of teaching, I have sought to engage this philosophy and allow it to suffuse throughout my teaching practice. The philosophy detailed above remains a ‘living’ system of beliefs - an absolute necessity if I wish to remain effective, efficient, and empathic in my work with students. Translating these beliefs into an instructional precept has been encouraging and engaging for me as a professional educator. The process expects and celebrates the disposition that the professional educator exists simultaneously as a professional student. That is, a good instructor is forever also a student.
I commit to a practice of using the Asia, Identity, and the Senses as methods in my syllabus and course development. In one course design of HIST 390A taught in 2021 Winter Term 2 titled Engendering China: Sex, Gender and Sexuality in Modern Chinese Histories, I designed the course based on what students wanted to learn as well as what was most pertinent to their areas of study and lived experiences. In order to encourage students to consider how coursework interacts with life, identities, and lived experiences, I asked students to participate in the course through engaged learning journals where they detailed and discussed with other students about how the readings challenged, affirmed, or changed the way they understood their lived experiences and worldview. I also encouraged students to consider how terms and knowledge points from within Asia might be useful in helping them articulate things that they might not be able to articulate as well in English. Using a wide range of teaching resources, including films, music, poems, as well as field trips, I was able to also engage and have students embody the knowledge that they were consuming through the senses and connect with the humanity all around us.
I make it a point in every course and every lesson I teach to embody and explain why I teach something and how it is important to me. By modelling this behaviour, I acknowledge that the learning process must also involve the teacher becoming the student and that my vulnerability allows for students to feel comfortable and ready to learn as well. In essence, I believe that a teacher’s vulnerability and personability are a cornerstone of inclusive learning and generative of a safe space for students to experiment and explore the humanities as a way of engaging with the self.