Revisit your personal philosophy of teaching. What learning strategies (discussed in chapter 7) that are influenced by your personal philosophy of teaching might you integrate into the curricula? Discuss how the learning strategies you described align with your personal philosophy of teaching.
Philosophical Foundations of the Curriculum
Theresa M. “Terry” Valiga, EdD, RN, CNE, ANEF, FAAN
Beautiful words. Admirable values. Published prominently on websites and in catalogues, student handbooks and accreditation reports. The philosophical statement of a school of nursing is accepted by faculty as a document that must be crafted to please external reviewers, but for many it remains little more than that. Far too often the school’s philosophy remains safely tucked inside a report but is rarely seen as a living document that guides the day-to-day workings of the school.
In reality, the philosophy of a school of nursing should be referenced and reflected upon often. It should be reviewed seriously with candidates for faculty positions and with those individuals who join the community as new members. It should be discussed in a deliberate way with potential students and with students as they progress throughout the program. And it should be a strong guiding force as the school revises or sharpens its goals, outlines action steps to implement its strategic plan, and makes decisions about the allocation of resources.
This chapter explores the significance of reflecting on, articulating, and being guided by a philosophy, examines the essential components of a philosophy for a school of nursing, and points out how philosophical statements guide the design and implementation of the curriculum and the evaluation of its effectiveness. The role of faculty, administrators, and students in crafting and “living” the philosophy is discussed, and the issues and debates surrounding the “doing of philosophy” ( Greene, 1973 ) are examined. Finally, suggestions are offered regarding how faculty might go about writing or revising the school’s philosophy.
What Is Philosophy?
The educational philosopher Maxine Greene (1973) challenged educators to “do philosophy.” By this she meant that we need to take the risk of thinking about what we do when we teach and what we mean when we talk of enabling others to learn. It also means we need to become progressively more conscious of the choices and commitments we make in our professional lives. Greene also challenged educators to look at our presuppositions, to examine critically the principles underlying what we think and what we say as educators, and to confront the individual within us. She acknowledged that we often have to ask and answer painful questions when we “do philosophy.”
In his seminal book, The Courage to Teach, Parker Palmer (2007) asserted that “though the academy claims to value multiple modes of knowing, it honors only one—an ‘objective’ way of knowing that takes us into the ‘real’ world by taking us ‘out of ourselves’” (p. 18). He encouraged educators to challenge this culture by bringing a more human, personal perspective to the teaching–learning experience. Like Greene, Palmer suggested that, to do this, educators must look inside so that we can understand that “we teach who we are” (p. xi) and so that we can appreciate that such insight is critical for “authentic teaching, learning, and living” (p. ix).
Philosophy, then, is a way of framing questions that have to do with what is presupposed, perceived, intuited, believed, and known. It is a way of contemplating, examining, or thinking about what is taken to be significant, valuable, or worthy of commitment. Additionally, it is a way of becoming self-aware and thinking of everyday experiences as opportunities to reflect, contemplate, and exercise our curiosity so that questions are posed about what we do and how we do it, usual practices are challenged and not merely accepted as “the way things are,” and positive change can occur. Indeed, 119each of us—as a fundamental practice of being—must go beyond the reality we confront, refuse to accept it as a given and, instead, view life as a reality to be created.
These perspectives on “doing philosophy” focus primarily on individuals—as human beings in general or as teachers in particular—reflecting seriously on their beliefs and values. There is no question that such reflection is critical and is to be valued and encouraged. However, “doing philosophy” must also be a group activity when one is involved in curriculum work. In crafting a statement of philosophy for a school of nursing, the beliefs and values of all faculty must be considered, addressed, and incorporated as much as possible. In fact, the very process of talking about one’s beliefs and values—while it may generate heated debates—leads to a deeper understanding of what a group truly accepts as guiding principles for all it does.
A philosophy is essentially a narrative statement of values or beliefs. It reflects broad principles or fundamental “isms” that guide actions and decision making, and it expresses the assumptions we make about people, situations, or goals. As noted by Bevis in her seminal work ( 1989, p. 35 ), the philosophy “provides the value system for ordering priorities and selecting from among various data.”
In writing a philosophical statement, we must raise questions, contemplate ideas, examine what it is we truly believe, become self-aware, and probe what might be—and what should be. It calls on us to think critically and deeply, forge ideas and ideals, and become highly conscious of the phenomena and events in the world.
We also must reflect on the mission, vision, and values of our parent institution and of our school itself, as well as on the values of our profession. Figure 7-1 illustrates how a school’s statement of philosophy is related to but differs from these other sources. A mission statement describes unique purposes for which an institution or nursing unit exists: to improve the health of the surrounding community, to advance scientific understanding or contribute to the development of nursing science, to prepare responsible citizens, or to graduate individuals who will influence public policy to ensure access to quality health care for all. A vision is an expression of what an institution or nursing unit wants to be: the institution of choice for highly qualified students wishing to make a positive difference in our world; the leader in integrating innovative technology in the preparation of nurses; or a center of synergy for teaching, research, professional practice, and public service. Institutions and schools of nursing often also articulate a set of values that guide their operation: honesty and transparency, serving the public good, excellence, innovation, or constantly being open to change and transformation.
Figure 7-1 Interrelation of curricular elements.
As stated, a philosophy statement is the narrative that reflects and integrates concepts expressed in the mission, vision, and values of the institution or profession; it serves to guide the actions and decisions of those involved in the organization. Educational philosophy is a matter of “doing philosophy” with respect to the educational enterprise as it engages the educator. It involves becoming critically conscious of what is involved in the complex teaching–learning relationship and what education truly means. The following statements about education, many by well-known individuals, provide examples of different philosophical perspectives:
The secret of Education lies in respecting the pupil.
—Ralph Waldo Emerson
If the student is to grow, the teacher must also grow.
I think [education] refines you. I think some of us have rough edges. Education is like sanding down a piece of wood and putting the varnish to it.
—Suzanne Gordon (1991, p. 131)
The whole art of teaching is only the art of awakening the natural curiosity of young minds for the purpose of satisfying it afterwards.
The teacher learns from the student just as the student learns from the teacher with their encounters as examples of mutual openness to each other’s needs.
—Nili Tabak, Livne Adi, and Mali Eherenfeld ( 2003, p. 251 )
Philosophy as It Relates to Nursing Education
As noted earlier, “doing philosophy” must move from individual work to group work when engaged in curriculum development, implementation, and evaluation. Faculty need to reflect on their own individual beliefs and values, share them with colleagues, affirm points of agreement, and discuss points of disagreement. Table 7-1 summarizes many of the philosophical perspectives expressed through the years, and faculty are encouraged to explore the meaning and implications of each as they engage in developing, reviewing, or refining the philosophical 121statement that guides their work. A discussion of three basic educational ideologies is presented here to point out how differences might arise if each person on a faculty were to approach education from her or his own belief system only.
Summary of Philosophical Perspectives
Education focuses on developing mental discipline, particularly through memorization, drill, and recitation. Because learning is systematic, sequential building on previous learning is important.
Because knowledge is key, the goal of education is to transmit and uphold the cultural heritage of the past.
The function of education is to help individuals explore reasons for existence. Personal choice and commitment are crucial.
Because individuals are self-interpreting beings, uniquely defined by personal beliefs, concerns, and experiences of life, education must attend to the meaning of experiences for learners.
Education must provide for learner autonomy and respect their dignity. It also must help individuals achieve self-actualization by developing their full potential.
Individuals desire to live in a perfect world of high ideals, beauty, and art, and they search for ultimate truth. Education assists in this search.
Education challenges convention, values a high tolerance for ambiguity, emphasizes diversity of culture and thought, and encourages innovation and change.
Truth is relative to an individual’s experience; therefore education must provide for “real-world” experiences.
The role of learners is to make choices about what is important, and the role of teachers is to facilitate their learning.
Education is designed to help learners understand the natural laws that regulate all of nature.
Education embraces the social ideal of a democratic life, and the school is viewed as the major vehicle for social change.
Adapted from Csokasy, J. (2009). Philosophical foundations of the curriculum. In D. M. Billings & J. A. Halstead, Teaching in nursing: A guide for faculty. St. Louis, MO: Saunders.
One basic educational ideology is that of romanticism ( Jarvis, 1995 ). This perspective, which emerged in the 1960s, is highly learner centered and asserts that what comes from within the learner is most important. Within this ideological perspective, one would construct an educational environment that is permissive and freeing; promotes creativity and discovery; allows each student’s inner abilities to unfold and grow; and stresses the unique, the novel, and the personal. Bradshaw asserted that “this ‘romantic’ educational philosophy underpins current nurse education” ( 1998, p. 104 ); however, those who acknowledge our current “content-laden curricula” in nursing ( Diekelmann, 2002 ; Diekelmann & Smythe, 2004 ; Giddens & Brady, 2007 ; Tanner, 2010 ) would disagree and posit that, although a “romantic” philosophy is embraced as an ideal, it is not always evident in our day-to-day practices.
A second educational ideology, that of cultural transmission ( Bernstein, 1975 ), is more society- or culture-centered. Here the emphasis is on transmitting bodies of information, rules, values, and the culturally given (i.e., the beliefs and practices that are central to our educational environments and our society in general). One would expect an educational environment that is framed within a cultural transmission perspective to be structured, rigid, and controlled, with an emphasis on the common and the already established.
The third major educational ideology has been called progressivism ( Dewey, 1944 ; Kohlberg & Mayer, 1972 ), where the focus is oriented toward the future and the goal of education is to nourish the learner’s natural interaction with the world. Here the educational environment is designed to present resolvable but genuine problems or conflicts that “force” learners to think so that they can be effective later in life. The total development of learners—not merely their cognitive or intellectual abilities—is emphasized and enhanced.
Increasingly, education experts agree that development must be an overarching paradigm of 122education, students must be central to the educational enterprise, and education must be designed to empower learners and help them fulfill their potentials. Beliefs and values such as these surely would influence expectations faculty express regarding students’ and their own performance, the relationships between students and teachers, how the curriculum is designed and implemented (see Figure 7-1 ), and the kind of “evidence” that is gathered to determine whether the curriculum has been successful and effective.
There is no doubt that a statement of philosophy for a school of nursing must address beliefs and values about education, teaching, and learning. However, it also must address other concepts that are critical to the practice of nursing, namely human beings, society and the environment, health, and the roles of nurses themselves. These major concepts have been referred to as the metaparadigm of nursing, a concept first introduced by Fawcett in 1984 .
Central Concepts in a School of Nursing’s Philosophy
Several central concepts are typically contained within a nursing school’s statement of philosophy about which faculty communicate their beliefs and values. These concepts include beliefs about human beings, the societal or environmental context in which humans live and act, health, and nursing. Faculty may also add additional concepts about phenomena they hold to be particularly meaningful to the learning environment they are creating within their programs.
In preparing or revising the school of nursing’s statement of philosophy, faculty must articulate their beliefs and values about human beings, including the individual patients for whom nurses care, patients’ families, the communities in which patients live and work, students, and fellow nurses and faculty. It is inconsistent to express a belief that patients and families want to be involved in making decisions that affect them and then never give students an opportunity to make decisions that will affect them. Likewise, it is admirable to talk about respecting others, treating others with dignity, and valuing differences among people, but when faculty then treat one another in disrespectful ways or insist that everyone teach in the same way and do exactly the same thing, the validity of those expressed values must be questioned. Consider the following statements about human beings that might be expressed in a school’s philosophy, keeping in mind that human beings refers to students, faculty, and administrators, as well as patients:
• Human beings are unique, complex, holistic individuals.
• Human beings have the inherent capacity for rational thinking, self-actualization, and growth throughout the life cycle.
• Human beings engage in deliberate action to achieve goals.
• Human beings want and have the right to be involved in making decisions that affect their lives.
• All human beings have strengths as well as weaknesses, and they often need support and guidance to capitalize on those strengths or to overcome or manage those weaknesses or limitations.
• All human beings are to be respected and valued.
Faculty also need to reflect on their beliefs and values related to society and environment, their effect on human beings, and the ways in which individuals and groups can influence their environments and society. The following statements may be ones to consider as faculty write or refine the philosophy of their school of nursing:
• Human beings interact in families, groups, and communities in an interdependent manner.
• Individuals, families, and communities reflect unique and diverse cultural, ethnic, experiential, and socioeconomic backgrounds.
• Human beings determine societal goals, values, and ethical systems.
• Society has responsibility for providing environments conducive to maximizing the health and well being of its members.
• Although human beings often must adapt to their environments, the environment also adapts to them in reciprocal ways.
Because the goal of nursing is to promote health and well being, faculty must consider the values and beliefs they hold about health. For example, the following statements express values and beliefs about health that a faculty might consider:
• Health connotes a sense of wholeness or integrity.
• Health is a goal to be attained.
• Health is the energy that sustains life, allows an individual to participate in a variety of human experiences, and supports one’s ability to set and meet life goals.
• Health is a dynamic, complex state of being that human beings use as a resource to achieve their life goals; it is therefore a means to an end rather than an end in itself.
• Health can be promoted, maintained, or regained.
• Health is a right more than a privilege.
• All human beings must have access to quality health care.
Finally, it is critical for faculty to discuss their beliefs about nurses and nursing because this is the essence of our programs. In doing so, it may be important to reflect on the current and evolving roles of the nurse, the purpose of nursing, the ways in which nurses practice in collaboration with other health care professionals, and how one’s identity as a nurse evolves. The following statements may stimulate thinking about beliefs and values related to nurses and nursing:
• Nursing is a human interactive process.
• The focus of nursing is to enhance human beings’ capacity to take deliberate action for themselves and their dependent others regarding goals for optimal wellness.
• Nursing is a practice discipline that requires the deliberate use of specialized techniques and a broad range of scientific knowledge to design, deliver, coordinate, and manage care for complex individuals, families, groups, communities, and populations.
• Nurses are scholars who practice with scientific competence, intellectual maturity, and humanistic concern for others.
• The formation of one’s identity as a nurse requires deep self-reflection, feedback from others, and a commitment to lifelong learning.
• Nurses must be educated at the university level.
• Nurses must be prepared to provide leadership within their practice settings and for the profession as a whole.
• Nurses collaborate with patients and other professionals as equal yet unique members of the health care team.
• Nurses are accountable for their own practice.
Box 7-1 provides examples of actual statements of philosophy regarding these components of the metaparadigm. These examples illustrate the beliefs of various groups of faculty, some of which may express vastly different perspectives and some of which express essentially the same idea but through different words.
Examples of Statements of Philosophy from Current Schools of Nursing
Clayton State University School of Nursing
We believe that nursing is a dynamic, challenging profession that requires a synthesis of critical thinking skills and theory based practice to provide care for individuals, families, and communities experiencing a variety of developmental and health–illness transitions. Caring, which is at the heart of the nursing profession, involves the development of a committed, nurturing relationship, characterized by attentiveness to others and respect for their dignity, values, and culture. We believe that nursing practice must reflect an understanding of and respect for each individual and for human diversity.
Transitions involve a process of movement and change in fundamental life patterns, which are manifested in all individuals. Transitions cause changes in identities, roles, relationships, abilities, and patterns of behavior. Outcomes of transitional experiences are influenced by environmental factors interacting with the individual’s perceptions, resources, and state of well-being. Negotiating successful transitions depends on the development of an effective relationship between the nurse and client. This relationship is a highly reciprocal process that affects both the client and nurse.
Clayton State University, School of Nursing, Morrow, GA. Retrieved from http://www.clayton.edu/health/Nursing/Philosophy
Villanova University College of Nursing
The Philosophy of the College of Nursing is in accord with the Philosophy of Villanova University as stated in its Mission Statement. While the Philosophy is rooted in the Catholic and Augustinian heritage of the university, the College of Nursing is welcoming and respectful of those from other faith traditions. We recognize human beings as unique and created by God. The faculty believes that human beings are physiological, psychological, social and spiritual beings, endowed with intellect, free will, and inherent dignity. Human beings have the potential to direct, integrate, and/or adapt to their total environment in order to meet their needs.
The faculty believes that education provides students with opportunities to develop habits of critical, constructive thought so that they can make discriminating judgments in their search for truth. This type of intellectual development can best be attained in a highly technologic teaching–learning environment that fosters sharing of knowledge, skills, and attitudes as well as scholarship toward the development of new knowledge. The faculty and students comprise a community of learners with the teacher as the facilitator and the students responsible for their own learning.
Villanova University College of Nursing, Villanova, PA. Retrieved from https://www1.villanova.edu/villanova/nursing/about/mission/college_philosophy.html
Duke University School of Nursing
Duke University School of Nursing is committed to achieving distinction in research, education, and patient care predicated on our beliefs regarding human beings, society and the environment, health and health care delivery, nursing, and teaching and learning.
Human Beings—We believe that the dignity of each human being is to be respected and nurtured, and embracing our diversity affirms, respects, and celebrates the uniqueness of each person. We believe that each human being is a unique expression of attributes, behaviors, and values which are influenced by his or her environment, social norms, cultural values, physical characteristics, experiences, religious beliefs, and practices. We also believe that human beings exist in relation to one another, including families, communities, and populations
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