“When we become aware of
the assumptions that are guiding our actions and ways of thinking, we begin to
check out whether those assumptions are as accurate as we think they are,”
(Brookfield, 2011). Throughout the course of this module, many of my
assumptions regarding self, identity and critical thinking have been
challenged, in Sociology, Philosophy and History and Policy of Education.
The
philosophy element of the module primarily focused on critical thinking with
education and philosophy, how to analyse arguments and think critically,
thinking with children and finally, philosophy with Socratic dialogue.  History and policy of education focused on
Education in Ireland today, the early years of Mary Immaculate College, the
National School System (1831) and the National School system into the twentieth
century. In sociology, we studied the uses of sociology for
teachers, and different aspects of children’s lives including family, growing
up in 21st century Ireland, cultural identity, social diversity and social
class. My assumptions regarding self, identity and critical thinking, such as
the importance of critical thinking, appreciation of education today and
awareness of racism and poverty were questioned in these modules.

The oxford dictionary
describes self as ‘a person’s essential being that distinguishes them from
others, especially considered as the object of introspection or reflexive
action’ (2017). Self is a vital aspect of philosophy, history and sociology, in
which 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 be
questioned upon realisation that they are adjusting our thoughts and our
actions.

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Identity may be defined
as ‘the fact of being who or what a person/thing is’. Philosophers and
sociologists outline four identity theories, such as personal, role, social and
collective identity (Andriot and Owens, 2012). Personal identity is the
uniqueness of an individual. Role identity concerns the roles individuals play
and hold in social groups. Collective identity is a shared sense of identity
due to individual environment interaction. Lastly, social identity regards an individual’s
social groups and its effects on his/her personality. Throughout this course,
many of my assumptions regarding the four identity theories have been
challenged.  

Critical thinking can be
defined as “the art of analysing and evaluating thinking with a view to
improving it” (Paul and Elder, 2014). The primary importance’s of critical
thinking include the ability to question and answer vital problems, communicate
efficiently, become open-minded, etc. Paul and Elder proposed eight element of
thought, including point of view, purpose, question at issue, information,
interpretation, concepts, assumptions and implications/consequences. They
concluded that these elements must be used in order to think and reflect
critically. Upon completion of this course, I have learned what critical
thinking consists of, how to think and reflect critically and the importance of
critical thinking.

Philosophy
of Education:

Philosophy of education
is an educational theory which combines pedagogy, purposes of education,
learning theories and the curriculum. Educational philosophy is usually held in
colleges of education or departments of education. It refers to the application
of philosophy to education. Philosophy of education is important to be studied
and understood, as it “constitutes a mode of inquiry and a discipline that
enriches the capacity for reflection and rational deliberation” (Snauwaert,
2012). Throughout this course, many of my assumptions of self, identity and
critical thinking have been altered upon studying the different philosophies of
education. In philosophy, we focused on Bell Hook’s (2007) critical thinking
and Plato’s allegory of the cave

One of the most beneficial
aspects of this module was the development of an understanding of critical
thinking. We studied Bell Hooks (2007) ‘Teaching Critical Thinking.’ Hooks
expresses that “thinking is an action.” Children have a natural sense of
curiosity and wonder early on in life (1999 Curriculum), however, this
unfortunately reduces due to fear. Hooks suggests that college students
dreading thinking.

Critical thinking
involves many processes. One must begin with understanding the who, what, how,
etc. of the subject. Next, an individual must classify these answers according
to importance. Elder and Paul (2014) feel critical thinking should be “self-directed,
self-disciplined, self-monitored and self-corrective.”

In order to develop the
ability to think critically, Hooks suggests that one must value and embrace the
power of thinking. Both students and teachers must be involved in the
interactive process of critical thinking. Teachers must promote the higher
order thought processes in the classroom, for example using question words such
as evaluate, manipulation, interpret, etc.

Before completing this
course, many students will have the assumption of passive thinking. The Leaving
Certificate in Irish secondary schools enables students to simply learn off a
mountain of work, in order to regurgitate it all in an exam. This course has
allowed me to understand critical thinking and apply it to everyday life. It
has also shown me the importance of applying it to the classroom, in order to
allow future generations to develop an early sense of critical thinking.

This element of the
module focused on Plato’s story titled, “The Cave”. Plato’s allegory of the
cave was written 2,400 years ago and may be found in his 7th book of
the republic. Plato examines justice, beauty and truth which together formed
his idea of the ‘ideal’ society. Plato describes his allegory as a philosopher
making an attempt to inform others of philosophical ideas.

The story of Plato’s cave
involves a group of prisoners tied in chains, who cannot move their bodies or
their heads. When people pass by the fire, a shadow is represented in front of
them. This is all the prisoners have witnessed since birth, and therefore they
believe them to be real. When one prisoner is freed, he is shocked upon witnessing
the real world. Finally, the freed prisoner returns to the cave to share his
discoveries, however, the other prisoners refuse to believe and do not want to
be freed.

In Plato’s allegory of
the cave, the shadows represent misconceptions people may have about certain
things. According to Gardner (2015),
“things in the physical world are flawed reflections of ideal forms.” The
shadows represent what the prisoners had assumed to be true. The shadows prove
that the smallest realisation may change assumptions that one may have. As
Brookfield (2011) stated,
assumptions can, and sometimes should, be questioned and changed. This allegory
made me realise that no matter how strongly one may feel about something, they
may still be incorrect.

Furthermore, the denial
of the other prisoners upon hearing about the outside world may represent
people who are stubborn in their opinions, ideas and values. It is important
for people, especially teachers, to have an open mind. One should allow the opportunity
for change for any assumptions or deep-seeded thoughts.

Sociology
of Education:

          Sociologist
Auguste Compte (1798) defined sociology as ‘the study of society’. The
sociology 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. Sociology
of education primarily studies public institutions, which in Ireland would
consist of primary schools, secondary schools and further education. It is
necessary for teachers to study and comprehend sociology of education as it
will enable teachers to further understand the different factors that interfere
with and affect a person’s education. Understanding the sociology of education
also allows teachers to understand one’s reasons for pursuing education,
whether that is primary, second-level or third-level education. The sociology
component certainly questioned and adjusted my assumptions of self, identity
and critical thinking in education. Throughout this component of the module, we
learned about racism through Kim’s story (1999) and Devine’s (2004) research
proposal, and poverty in school children

In the sociology component
of this module, we focused on multicultural education, and a student teacher
named Kim. Kim views on social justice, religious beliefs and ethnicity were
studied by the researchers. Research was carried out on Kim and her teaching
practice behaviours.

Kim was a confident,
outspoken student, with a strong background to teaching. It was necessary for
Kim to complete a series of school placements in order to succeed through her
course. However, some negative characteristics of Kim’s personality were
evident in the text. For example, she refers to some of her students with
financial or familial problems as ‘stupids’, suggesting a link between intelligence
and social class. She expresses that one of her students doesn’t need extra
help outside of class, despite receiving it. Similarly, she describes another
student with financial issues as ‘an absolute nightmare’. Kim also refers to
one of her pupils as ‘not really back’. She describes another child of ethnic
minority parents as ‘very special people’, as they are lawyers and doctors.

Kim expresses many
misconceptions regarding equality and ethnicity throughout the piece. Her
terminology and gossiping about students is completely inappropriate and
unprofessional. Kim had no desire or intentions of working in an urban or
culturally diverse school. Kim displays a severe lack of knowledge and
understanding of equality and social justice. At the end of her training, she
was unable to identify a time that she was challenged, which allows the
conclusion that Kim is unable to critically reflect on her experiences.

It is a shocking
realisation that Kim’s deep-rooted beliefs and assumptions were never called
out or questioned throughout the entirety of her degree. Her views of the
‘perfect child’ are clearly reflected in her unethical descriptions of her
pupils.

Most people will have
assumptions 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 issues
that Kim displays and permanently eliminate them. Upon reading Kim’s story, and
regarding her ignorance towards ethnicity, I am forced to reflect on my own
bias and assumptions of multicultural education. Racism and inequality must be
directly addressed in schools.

            In
conjunction with Kim’s story, we examined a research study conducted by Devine
et al., (2004), which examined racism in primary schools and the children’s
perspectives. Their desire was to observe children’s understanding of racism
and witness racism or name-calling in schools. Coming from rural, majority
Irish, catholic both primary and secondary schools, I had developed assumptions
regarding 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, I
had developed assumptions regarding self and identity that racism rarely took
place, especially in primary schools.

            The
studied took place over eight months, with three different schools. The
children were split up into friendship groups and informally interviewed. The
interviewer asked questions such as ‘What sorts of names are used calling
someone who is a different colour?’, ‘Why are traveller children picked on so
much?’ and ‘Did you ever hear of racism? Do you know what it means?’

            The
results from the different schools slightly varied. Some positives were noted,
such as once a common bond was formed, ethnicity did not matter to the
children. Some children also identified black Irish role models, for example
Samantha Mumba. Moreover, the results concluded that teachers need to
explicitly identify and prohibit racism.

Some of the examples of
responses in this extract have been shocking, particularly those in regard to
the Travelling Community. Upon reading this study, I have critically thought
about the research and my assumption has definitely been challenged and
adjusted to understand that racism is an increasingly common factor in schools,
even in young children.

            Coming
from a middle-class family, it is similarily easy to develop assumptions
regarding poverty, and be oblivious to the struggles and difficulties children
in schools have when poverty stricken. Poverty can be measured on different
scales; absolute poverty, relative income poverty, consistent poverty or
persistent poverty (Ryan, 2016). A child can be classified as in poverty when
lacking two or more of the basic household necessities, including, warm
waterproof coat, 2 pairs of shoes, ability to buy new clothes, replace worn out
furniture, etc.

            Poverty
in 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 and
damaging impact on their school careers.” Ridge also expresses how some
children felt teachers discriminated against them at schools, where they were meant
to be escaping poverty. Ridge states how poverty also threatens a child’s
social integration security, which often appeared to be linked with anxiety and
mistrust.

            It is
clear that poverty has numerous negative consequences on children in schools.
It is necessary for teachers to adjust their assumptions on children’s
financial situations, and express equality and understanding throughout the
classroom.

History
and Policy of Education

History and policy of
education includes the near and distant past methods of education, along with
their learning conditions, teaching strategies, rules and regulations, etc. It
is important to study the history and policy of education in order to
understand the complexities of education and educational change, to think
historically and to show how the past reflects onto the present regarding
education (O’Sullivan, 2017). History and policy primarily studied the
differences in Mary Immaculate College in the fifties and Edward Stanley’s
letter as a basis for today’s education system. Each aspect studied in this
element of the module addressed different assumptions I had composed regarding
self, identity and critical thinking. 

One of the primary
assumptions and misconceptions that students, including myself, may have is the
lack of awareness of the differences in education and educational standards in
past and present Ireland. We studied a piece written in 1955, describing
attending college in Mary Immaculate College. The differences between teaching
standards and the regulations they had to adhere to are unanimous. Many of us
assume that college life is draining and difficult, but upon reading this piece,
I understand how much easier it is now.

The piece was written by
Kitty Pyne, who graduated from Mary Immaculate College in 1957. The extract
describes Kitty’s experiences, both positive and negative. Kitty describes the
college to be similar to a boarding school, which is extremely different to
college life today. All the students were female, and all the lecturers were
Sisters of the Mercy Order. Students spoke in Irish at all times and a uniform
was worn. Students could only leave college on Saturday afternoons, and were
required 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, first
lecture at 9.00am, dinner at 12.30pm, etc. Students were not allowed to make phone
calls home, unless it was an urgent or tragic matter.

Although Kitty mentions
many aspects which are very different to college life today, some elements
remain the same. For example, lectures are still obligatory attendance, and the
lecturers are still both ‘intelligent and eloquent’. Furthermore, Kitty
describes her experience of ‘teaching practice’, which is still practiced in
the college today.

It was interesting to
learn the differences and similarities of the college through Kitty’s article.
It certainly questioned my assumptions of the difficulties of college life, and
motivated me to critically reflect on my identity here in Mary Immaculate
College.

We also studied the
Stanley Letter (1831) in the history and policy element of the module. The
letter was written by Edward Stanley, former Chief Secretary, which outlined
his ideas to establish a legal basis for Irish primary schools. This letter
provided a foundation for primary schools in Ireland. Stanley’s letter was
written to the Duke of Leinster, in which his initiative was aimed to meet the
requirements of the circumstances at that time in Ireland. Stanley’s letter
outlined that children of all religions should be taught together, with allocated
time for the primary subjects (English, Irish, Maths), and for religious
education, which would be carried out by the particular denomination’s clergy.
Stanley expressed his idea of the necessity of local funding for building and
maintenance of schools, provided there was no evidence of the attempt to change
a child’s religious views. Stanley believed that primary education for all
students should be free, and that the state would be in absolute control of
rules, regulations, expectations, decisions, etc.

It is vital for teachers
and students to note that Stanley’s letter, especially because it has not been
replaced by any recent legislation and thus “remains today the legal basis of the National School system” (Suttle,
2017).

To conclude, this
module has definitely combined many different vital characteristics of a
teacher, and it is true to say that my assumptions regarding self, identity and
critical thinking have changed upon completion of this course. Primarily, I
have developed a greater understanding of these three elements in relation to
philosophy of education, sociology of education and history and policy of
education. My assumptions regarding racism have been utterly transformed
through Kim’s story (1999) and Devine’s (2009) study. I have developed a
greater understanding of the problems associated with pupils in poverty.
Philosophical studies, such as Bell Hooks (2007) critical thinking and Plato’s
allegory of ‘The Cave’ have addressed my assumptions on critical thinking and
the importance of being open minded. I now understand the importance of
critical thinking and how to implement it in the classroom. Finally, my
assumptions of previous education conditions have changed upon completion of
the history and policy element of this module, as I now understand the
differences and benefits of today’s college. Similarly, I realise the
importance of the Stanley Letter as it is still a foundation for today’s
National Schools. Overall, I agree with Brookfield (2011), in which he says, “When
we become aware of the assumptions that are guiding our activities and ways of
thinking, we begin to check out whether those assumptions are as accurate as we
think they are.”