“When assumptions regarding self, identity and critical thinking

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Last updated: May 8, 2019

“When we become aware ofthe assumptions that are guiding our actions and ways of thinking, we begin tocheck out whether those assumptions are as accurate as we think they are,”(Brookfield, 2011). Throughout the course of this module, many of myassumptions regarding self, identity and critical thinking have beenchallenged, in Sociology, Philosophy and History and Policy of Education.Thephilosophy element of the module primarily focused on critical thinking witheducation and philosophy, how to analyse arguments and think critically,thinking with children and finally, philosophy with Socratic dialogue.  History and policy of education focused onEducation in Ireland today, the early years of Mary Immaculate College, theNational School System (1831) and the National School system into the twentiethcentury.

In sociology, we studied the uses of sociology forteachers, and different aspects of children’s lives including family, growingup in 21st century Ireland, cultural identity, social diversity and socialclass. My assumptions regarding self, identity and critical thinking, such asthe importance of critical thinking, appreciation of education today andawareness of racism and poverty were questioned in these modules.The oxford dictionarydescribes self as ‘a person’s essential being that distinguishes them fromothers, especially considered as the object of introspection or reflexiveaction’ (2017). Self is a vital aspect of philosophy, history and sociology, inwhich philosophers, historians and sociologists question, who are you? The answer may be found in studies, such as Plato’s,in which he describes self as “an immortal soul that transcends the physical”(Thagard, 2014). Many assumptions are made regarding self, which must bequestioned upon realisation that they are adjusting our thoughts and ouractions.Identity may be definedas ‘the fact of being who or what a person/thing is’. Philosophers andsociologists outline four identity theories, such as personal, role, social andcollective identity (Andriot and Owens, 2012). Personal identity is theuniqueness of an individual.

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Role identity concerns the roles individuals playand hold in social groups. Collective identity is a shared sense of identitydue to individual environment interaction. Lastly, social identity regards an individual’ssocial groups and its effects on his/her personality. Throughout this course,many of my assumptions regarding the four identity theories have beenchallenged.  Critical thinking can bedefined as “the art of analysing and evaluating thinking with a view toimproving it” (Paul and Elder, 2014).

The primary importance’s of criticalthinking include the ability to question and answer vital problems, communicateefficiently, become open-minded, etc. Paul and Elder proposed eight element ofthought, including point of view, purpose, question at issue, information,interpretation, concepts, assumptions and implications/consequences. Theyconcluded that these elements must be used in order to think and reflectcritically.

Upon completion of this course, I have learned what criticalthinking consists of, how to think and reflect critically and the importance ofcritical thinking.Philosophyof Education:Philosophy of educationis an educational theory which combines pedagogy, purposes of education,learning theories and the curriculum. Educational philosophy is usually held incolleges of education or departments of education. It refers to the applicationof philosophy to education. Philosophy of education is important to be studiedand understood, as it “constitutes a mode of inquiry and a discipline thatenriches the capacity for reflection and rational deliberation” (Snauwaert,2012). Throughout this course, many of my assumptions of self, identity andcritical thinking have been altered upon studying the different philosophies ofeducation.

In philosophy, we focused on Bell Hook’s (2007) critical thinkingand Plato’s allegory of the caveOne of the most beneficialaspects of this module was the development of an understanding of criticalthinking. We studied Bell Hooks (2007) ‘Teaching Critical Thinking.’ Hooksexpresses that “thinking is an action.” Children have a natural sense ofcuriosity and wonder early on in life (1999 Curriculum), however, thisunfortunately reduces due to fear. Hooks suggests that college studentsdreading thinking.

Critical thinkinginvolves many processes. One must begin with understanding the who, what, how,etc. of the subject. Next, an individual must classify these answers accordingto importance. Elder and Paul (2014) feel critical thinking should be “self-directed,self-disciplined, self-monitored and self-corrective.” In order to develop theability to think critically, Hooks suggests that one must value and embrace thepower of thinking. Both students and teachers must be involved in theinteractive process of critical thinking. Teachers must promote the higherorder thought processes in the classroom, for example using question words suchas evaluate, manipulation, interpret, etc.

Before completing thiscourse, many students will have the assumption of passive thinking. The LeavingCertificate in Irish secondary schools enables students to simply learn off amountain of work, in order to regurgitate it all in an exam. This course hasallowed me to understand critical thinking and apply it to everyday life. Ithas also shown me the importance of applying it to the classroom, in order toallow future generations to develop an early sense of critical thinking.

This element of themodule focused on Plato’s story titled, “The Cave”. Plato’s allegory of thecave was written 2,400 years ago and may be found in his 7th book ofthe republic. Plato examines justice, beauty and truth which together formedhis idea of the ‘ideal’ society. Plato describes his allegory as a philosophermaking an attempt to inform others of philosophical ideas. The story of Plato’s caveinvolves a group of prisoners tied in chains, who cannot move their bodies ortheir heads. When people pass by the fire, a shadow is represented in front ofthem.

This is all the prisoners have witnessed since birth, and therefore theybelieve them to be real. When one prisoner is freed, he is shocked upon witnessingthe real world. Finally, the freed prisoner returns to the cave to share hisdiscoveries, however, the other prisoners refuse to believe and do not want tobe freed. In Plato’s allegory ofthe cave, the shadows represent misconceptions people may have about certainthings. According to Gardner (2015),”things in the physical world are flawed reflections of ideal forms.” Theshadows represent what the prisoners had assumed to be true.

The shadows provethat the smallest realisation may change assumptions that one may have. AsBrookfield (2011) stated,assumptions can, and sometimes should, be questioned and changed. This allegorymade me realise that no matter how strongly one may feel about something, theymay still be incorrect.Furthermore, the denialof the other prisoners upon hearing about the outside world may representpeople who are stubborn in their opinions, ideas and values.

It is importantfor people, especially teachers, to have an open mind. One should allow the opportunityfor change for any assumptions or deep-seeded thoughts. Sociologyof Education:          SociologistAuguste Compte (1798) defined sociology as ‘the study of society’.

Thesociology of education studies the relationship between education and society.It studies institutions and the experiences of the students in said institution,and together with how they affect the student’s educational outcomes. Sociologyof education primarily studies public institutions, which in Ireland wouldconsist of primary schools, secondary schools and further education.

It isnecessary for teachers to study and comprehend sociology of education as itwill enable teachers to further understand the different factors that interferewith and affect a person’s education. Understanding the sociology of educationalso allows teachers to understand one’s reasons for pursuing education,whether that is primary, second-level or third-level education. The sociologycomponent certainly questioned and adjusted my assumptions of self, identityand critical thinking in education.

Throughout this component of the module, welearned about racism through Kim’s story (1999) and Devine’s (2004) researchproposal, and poverty in school childrenIn the sociology componentof this module, we focused on multicultural education, and a student teachernamed Kim. Kim views on social justice, religious beliefs and ethnicity werestudied by the researchers. Research was carried out on Kim and her teachingpractice behaviours.

Kim was a confident,outspoken student, with a strong background to teaching. It was necessary forKim to complete a series of school placements in order to succeed through hercourse. However, some negative characteristics of Kim’s personality wereevident in the text. For example, she refers to some of her students withfinancial or familial problems as ‘stupids’, suggesting a link between intelligenceand social class. She expresses that one of her students doesn’t need extrahelp outside of class, despite receiving it.

Similarly, she describes anotherstudent with financial issues as ‘an absolute nightmare’. Kim also refers toone of her pupils as ‘not really back’. She describes another child of ethnicminority parents as ‘very special people’, as they are lawyers and doctors. Kim expresses manymisconceptions regarding equality and ethnicity throughout the piece.

Herterminology and gossiping about students is completely inappropriate andunprofessional. Kim had no desire or intentions of working in an urban orculturally diverse school. Kim displays a severe lack of knowledge andunderstanding of equality and social justice. At the end of her training, shewas unable to identify a time that she was challenged, which allows theconclusion that Kim is unable to critically reflect on her experiences.

It is a shockingrealisation that Kim’s deep-rooted beliefs and assumptions were never calledout or questioned throughout the entirety of her degree. Her views of the’perfect child’ are clearly reflected in her unethical descriptions of herpupils. Most people will haveassumptions and hopes that teachers will be understanding, fair, trustworthy,professional, etc. However, Kim has defied and addressed these assumptions.However, it is hoped that most colleges of education will address the issuesthat Kim displays and permanently eliminate them.

Upon reading Kim’s story, andregarding her ignorance towards ethnicity, I am forced to reflect on my ownbias and assumptions of multicultural education. Racism and inequality must bedirectly addressed in schools.             Inconjunction with Kim’s story, we examined a research study conducted by Devineet al.

, (2004), which examined racism in primary schools and the children’sperspectives. Their desire was to observe children’s understanding of racismand witness racism or name-calling in schools. Coming from rural, majorityIrish, catholic both primary and secondary schools, I had developed assumptionsregarding the lack of racism in schools, as I never witnessed it first-hand.Although name-calling and other forms of bullying were evident in my schools, Ihad developed assumptions regarding self and identity that racism rarely tookplace, especially in primary schools.             Thestudied took place over eight months, with three different schools.

Thechildren were split up into friendship groups and informally interviewed. Theinterviewer asked questions such as ‘What sorts of names are used callingsomeone who is a different colour?’, ‘Why are traveller children picked on somuch?’ and ‘Did you ever hear of racism? Do you know what it means?’             Theresults from the different schools slightly varied. Some positives were noted,such as once a common bond was formed, ethnicity did not matter to thechildren. Some children also identified black Irish role models, for exampleSamantha Mumba. Moreover, the results concluded that teachers need toexplicitly identify and prohibit racism.

Some of the examples ofresponses in this extract have been shocking, particularly those in regard tothe Travelling Community. Upon reading this study, I have critically thoughtabout the research and my assumption has definitely been challenged andadjusted to understand that racism is an increasingly common factor in schools,even in young children.            Comingfrom a middle-class family, it is similarily easy to develop assumptionsregarding poverty, and be oblivious to the struggles and difficulties childrenin schools have when poverty stricken.

Poverty can be measured on differentscales; absolute poverty, relative income poverty, consistent poverty orpersistent poverty (Ryan, 2016). A child can be classified as in poverty whenlacking two or more of the basic household necessities, including, warmwaterproof coat, 2 pairs of shoes, ability to buy new clothes, replace worn outfurniture, etc.            Povertyin children prevents them from being able to participate in many activities,such as school trips, birthday parties, hobbies, etc.

  Ridge (2011) stated that poverty in school children was “having a corrosive anddamaging impact on their school careers.” Ridge also expresses how somechildren felt teachers discriminated against them at schools, where they were meantto be escaping poverty. Ridge states how poverty also threatens a child’ssocial integration security, which often appeared to be linked with anxiety andmistrust.             It isclear that poverty has numerous negative consequences on children in schools.It is necessary for teachers to adjust their assumptions on children’sfinancial situations, and express equality and understanding throughout theclassroom.

Historyand Policy of EducationHistory and policy ofeducation includes the near and distant past methods of education, along withtheir learning conditions, teaching strategies, rules and regulations, etc. Itis important to study the history and policy of education in order tounderstand the complexities of education and educational change, to thinkhistorically and to show how the past reflects onto the present regardingeducation (O’Sullivan, 2017). History and policy primarily studied thedifferences in Mary Immaculate College in the fifties and Edward Stanley’sletter as a basis for today’s education system. Each aspect studied in thiselement of the module addressed different assumptions I had composed regardingself, identity and critical thinking.  One of the primaryassumptions and misconceptions that students, including myself, may have is thelack of awareness of the differences in education and educational standards inpast and present Ireland.

We studied a piece written in 1955, describingattending college in Mary Immaculate College. The differences between teachingstandards and the regulations they had to adhere to are unanimous. Many of usassume that college life is draining and difficult, but upon reading this piece,I understand how much easier it is now.The piece was written byKitty Pyne, who graduated from Mary Immaculate College in 1957. The extractdescribes Kitty’s experiences, both positive and negative. Kitty describes thecollege to be similar to a boarding school, which is extremely different tocollege life today. All the students were female, and all the lecturers wereSisters of the Mercy Order.

Students spoke in Irish at all times and a uniformwas worn. Students could only leave college on Saturday afternoons, and wererequired to attend mass on Sunday’s. Each day was timetabled very specifically,and the exact same as the week previous, including bell call at 6.30am, firstlecture at 9.00am, dinner at 12.30pm, etc. Students were not allowed to make phonecalls home, unless it was an urgent or tragic matter.

Although Kitty mentionsmany aspects which are very different to college life today, some elementsremain the same. For example, lectures are still obligatory attendance, and thelecturers are still both ‘intelligent and eloquent’. Furthermore, Kittydescribes her experience of ‘teaching practice’, which is still practiced inthe college today. It was interesting tolearn the differences and similarities of the college through Kitty’s article.It certainly questioned my assumptions of the difficulties of college life, andmotivated me to critically reflect on my identity here in Mary ImmaculateCollege.We also studied theStanley Letter (1831) in the history and policy element of the module.

Theletter was written by Edward Stanley, former Chief Secretary, which outlinedhis ideas to establish a legal basis for Irish primary schools. This letterprovided a foundation for primary schools in Ireland. Stanley’s letter waswritten to the Duke of Leinster, in which his initiative was aimed to meet therequirements of the circumstances at that time in Ireland. Stanley’s letteroutlined that children of all religions should be taught together, with allocatedtime for the primary subjects (English, Irish, Maths), and for religiouseducation, which would be carried out by the particular denomination’s clergy.Stanley expressed his idea of the necessity of local funding for building andmaintenance of schools, provided there was no evidence of the attempt to changea child’s religious views. Stanley believed that primary education for allstudents should be free, and that the state would be in absolute control ofrules, regulations, expectations, decisions, etc. It is vital for teachersand students to note that Stanley’s letter, especially because it has not beenreplaced by any recent legislation and thus “remains today the legal basis of the National School system” (Suttle,2017).

To conclude, thismodule has definitely combined many different vital characteristics of ateacher, and it is true to say that my assumptions regarding self, identity andcritical thinking have changed upon completion of this course. Primarily, Ihave developed a greater understanding of these three elements in relation tophilosophy of education, sociology of education and history and policy ofeducation. My assumptions regarding racism have been utterly transformedthrough Kim’s story (1999) and Devine’s (2009) study.

I have developed agreater understanding of the problems associated with pupils in poverty.Philosophical studies, such as Bell Hooks (2007) critical thinking and Plato’sallegory of ‘The Cave’ have addressed my assumptions on critical thinking andthe importance of being open minded. I now understand the importance ofcritical thinking and how to implement it in the classroom. Finally, myassumptions of previous education conditions have changed upon completion ofthe history and policy element of this module, as I now understand thedifferences and benefits of today’s college. Similarly, I realise theimportance of the Stanley Letter as it is still a foundation for today’sNational Schools. Overall, I agree with Brookfield (2011), in which he says, “Whenwe become aware of the assumptions that are guiding our activities and ways ofthinking, we begin to check out whether those assumptions are as accurate as wethink they are.”

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