Saturday – Philanthropy and Community

In accordance with Stoic Week, each day I will be discussing how a different aspect of Stoicism relates to the practice of teaching. For Saturday, the theme outlined in this years Stoic Handbook focuses on Philanthropy.

Saturday’s theme of philanthropy, in my opinion, is best applied creating a sense of classroom and school community. Although I acknowledge that philanthropy in the Stoic sense involves many aspects, community seems to me the best area to focus on when talking about teaching.

Today’s post will not explicitly discuss Stoic thought on philanthropy, instead, I will discuss alternative learning communities and leave it to the reader to make connections between community and Stoic philanthropy. Being partially trained as a teacher in an alternative school environment gave me many opportunities to observe how community can play an essential role in the education of our youths.

Many traditional school environments are constructed with hierarchy in mind. The way a classroom is physically structured often times can speak volumes about the type of learning space a student is walking into. Is the teacher’s desk at the front facing the students, are the student’s desks individual or are their paired up, or better yet arranged in groups? Each of these things conveys a message to students even before a lesson begins.

Often, we are told as teachers that we should be aiming to create a classroom community that is open and accepting. One that students can feel comfortable learning within and beyond this we should all be striving to work towards creating a larger school community that shares the same virtues. Yet the physical space of the school can be anything but inclusive with a clear delineation between staff and student space.

Even interaction with students is closely regulated with social convention that strives to place teacher above student. Students may only refer to their instructors in the form of Sir, Mr., Ms., or Mrs. and their last name, while teachers have the right to be on a first name basis with their pupils. Teachers also control what is said and who says it, we have the explicit right to tell a student to quiet down so WE can speak and they are expected to listen.

This is the familiar system to which most of us are accustomed as we have all gone through it ourselves. However, within alternative school environments we find a more egalitarian approach that breaks down these social school norms and fosters, in my opinion, a much richer, healthier, and inclusive school community. Everyone within the community is on a first name basis and we find that everyone has a right to speak and share.

Instead of being the source of all knowledge, a teacher in this environment is looked at as a more experienced learner who has something valuable to share but is still learning him or herself. A teacher in this space is someone worthy of respect, but not complete subservience, not a dictator but a facilitator of learning.

Physically, alternative schools are arranged with no clear divide between staff and student space. Classrooms are arranged in a way that promotes group learning and will often consist of a couch or other types of furniture that allow students and teachers to relax within the space.

Such an environment fosters learning and communication in spaces outside of the classroom. Sometimes impromptu lessons are given in a corridor or lunchroom, which may be based off a discussion that starts amongst two individuals and is carried on by the larger community. Likewise, projects that begin in the classroom can sometimes spill over out into the larger community around the school. If a project can be designed that will have a positive impact on a space outside the school then alternative teachers and students are often more than willing to give it a go.

I think that such schools have inadvertently adopted quite a Stoic mentality when it comes to fostering and benefitting from a sense of community and although we may be limited to the physical space of a school or school policy in general, adopting some of these ideas may be beneficial to creating more positive learning experiences for our students.

“Keep reminding yourself of the way things are connected, of their relatedness. All things are implicated in one another and in sympathy with each other. This event is the consequence of some other one. Things push and pull on each other, and breathe together, and are one.” – Marcus Aurelius

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