Statement of Educational Philosophy | Marcia Y. Cantarella
Education has always been at the center of my life. I was raised on southern campuses where the educational attainment of African Americans was the emblem of status. My grandparents, parents, aunts and even my late husband’s parents were all college professors for some significant part of their working lives. As a child, I reveled in the library where my Aunt Eleanor was librarian and books are still among my best friends. My philosophy of education was formed by those who taught me. In high school, my American History teacher would make me stand to answer questions because, as he told me a great many years later, he knew I had good things to say but spoke too quietly to be heard. He gave me my voice. In college, my political theory professor embodied intellectual ebullience and his philosophy of participatory democracy was at the core of my doctoral dissertation.
I believe, therefore, that education—indeed lifelong learning—is essential to both personal fulfillment and as a tool for change. I often share with students the story of Pauli Murray, an African American woman born circa 1900, who had full and sequential careers as a teacher, social worker, lawyer and minister over her 80-year life span. Each career led to the next and demanded its own training. Similarly each of my careers has built on the one before, and I believe that it is important for students to understand that changing through knowledge is essential to self-fulfillment over one’s life span. Therefore, the process of education should be enlivening and enriching and even fun. It should be sought and not shunned.
I believe that through education each individual should be encouraged to find his or her own voice. Students should come to better understandings of themselves in multiple contexts. I have often said that every discipline is a different lens on our world and that each person needs to select those that allow them to understand the world better in the way that most plays to their own strengths. Then, bringing the perspectives of that person to the process of inquiry, he or she can add his/her body of understanding and awareness to our store of knowledge.
Education is a tool that in itself unlocks a toolbox. In the classroom, we can learn disciplines and methodologies that become relevant to most of the enterprises in which we will engage. Close reading and analysis, quantitative reasoning, scientific validation, critical thinking and lucid writing are “evergreen” tools. Education viewed in this way then becomes that which I believe is most important: empowering. It should foster participation in the classroom and in life. A popular political cartoon is one in which Osama bin Laden is offered the ultimatum “surrender or we will educate your women.” This speaks volumes about empowerment through education. In our own country’s history, there was a time when teaching Blacks to read was a criminal act. America’s economy is driven by information and to be deprived of access to knowledge is to be disenfranchised at every level. As educators, our job is to make learning accessible, desirable and doable, while at the same time moving students to their own highest levels of attainment.
Ideally, too, our educational institutions can help students to realize the relevance of education by giving it contextual application through real work. Well-structured and assessed internship experiences, the ability to draw on life and work experiences in the classroom, and an understanding of the application of theory to practice, are all increasingly important in an environment where education is perceived as an investment, as much for the expense as for an appreciation of the value of the learning itself. Learning through application has been understood as the key to good teaching, from Thoreau to Dewey and in the present day as Service Learning and other experiential models take hold. In this way, we make learning real and important for the length of a person’s life.