• Destiny Yarbro

The Conservative Humanist Classroom

My educational philosophy, if forced to put a label on it, would be somewhat humanistic with strong social reconstructivist and progressivist leanings. Humanism, in its strictest sense, promotes the development of the whole student. Humanists believe students are inherently good and their behavior is a direct result of choice. Learning is centered around the generally passions, choice, and pace of the students. If students have a physically, emotionally, and mentally, safe environment, they will blossom into life-long, self-motivated learners.

Safe Learning Environment

Humanism speaks to me in part because it starts with a safe learning environment. I know that it is only when a student feels safe and their basic needs met, that their behavior can truly be a consequence of choice. (Otherwise, if a student feels unsafe and is in fight, flight or freeze mode, fatalist behavioralism makes more sense.) How can a student “become the best [they] can” and be “fulfilled” if they are unable to experience any stability and break down their defense barriers? (Western, 2020, para. 8). My definition of basic needs is more encompassing than the traditional humanist definition as I include, not just square meals, but also the emotional safety to try repeatedly without punishment and the mental safety of some structure in the classroom.

Life-Long Passion for Learning

I also relate to humanism in that it ends with the goal for students to finish their schooling as “students who want and know how to learn” (Anderson, n-d). As an educator, I want to do all in my power to nurture (and never extinguish) a student’s passion for learning. I truly believe that if a student sees the completion of their schooling as simply the beginning or continuation of a life of learning, they will eagerly hone the skills they need to succeed.

Student-Centered But Not Student-Centric Classrooms

I agree with humanism in that education should be student-centered. However, unlike pure humanism which promotes student-propelled education at the pace (or lack thereof) of the student’s choosing, my personal philosophy aligns in this way with John Dewey’s (and progressivism’s) avoidance of fully child-led learning (Mintz, 2017, para. 6). Not only do I strongly believe that a teacher’s role includes guiding students to learn outside of their ‘bubble’ of passions, but I also recognize the need to provide students with time-management learning opportunities (vital in today’s world) and basic structure in the classroom, especially in the cases of students with disabilities who depend on consistency and/or students without stable home environments (Sandstrom and Huerta, 2013, pp. 32-34).

Societal Betterment

I also resonate with humanism in that it promotes, though less overtly than social reconstructionism, the development of students who “strive for a better world” (Oregon State University, n-d). I more strongly resonate with the reconstructionism philosophy in this way as it is not simply a general hoping for a better society, but the actual addressing of “many noteworthy social problems that face our nation...including racism, pollution, homelessness, poverty, and violence” that creates the better world (Lynch, 2016, para. 7).

Recognition of Right and Wrong

Unlike existentialism, humanism promotes not just the idea of “personal freedom and choice”, but that a student “must be responsible” (Oregon State University, n-d). My personal philosophy includes in this responsibility, the recognition of basic right and wrong. A current trend, voiced in existentialism, is that “students search for their own meaning and direction in life as well as define what is true and what is false...and what is right or wrong” (Lynch, 2016, para. 14). However, I believe a teacher has the responsibility to help a student recognize that like gravity, or the wrongfulness of murder, there are fundamental right and wrong principles that are consistent regardless of whether one chooses to believe in them. This responsibility to those few overarching values does not mean that the student does not explore their own value system, but these concepts are the foundation to their explorations.

Intrapersonal Learning Just As Important as Interpersonal Learning

Hand-in-hand with this tenet is the humanist idea of student-evaluation. The emphasis on group learning in progressivist classrooms is worrisome to me. If a student’s education is focused on their development, a key step in this development is the ability to explore oneself. Because I strongly ascribe to the theory of multiple intelligences, I recognize that intrapersonal learning is just as valuable as interpersonal learning. When we swing the pendulum from independent, test-focused schooling to interdependent, project and democratic schooling, we miss out on qualities best developed on one’s own: self-motivation, self-discipline, self-compassion (often found when students are evaluating themselves).

Safe to be Risk-Takers

My philosophy of humanism with strong social reconstructivist and progressivist tendencies connects to the following practices in the classroom. In the development of what the IB Learner Profile (2013) calls “risk-takers” and the humanist principle of providing a safe learning environment, one of the practices in my classroom will be the following: My students will be encouraged to try repeatedly, without repercussion. If a student is quickly and overtly punished for failing in the classroom, where else can they safely learn? Thus if students want to try again on a presentation or a test or a written activity, they will have this option. (A principle practiced even at the university level by some at my alma mater, Brigham Young University.) It is only through trying again and again that the student is able to develop resilience and grit.

Safe to Accept Full Responsibility

Along the lines of a safe, non-threatening learning environment and my social reconstructionist leanings, my classroom will align with IB’s ideal of principled students who “take responsibility for their own actions” (IB Learner Profile, 2013). Unlike behavioralism which I feel can easily slip into a ‘que será, será ’ mentality (that behavior is solely the result of external forces), social reconstructivism views the school environment as the focal point of social change. Rather than viewing education as the learning of abstract ideas or the acquisition of knowledge mainly from what has been valued in the past (as emphasized in perennial and essentialist philosophies), my classroom will not be a training camp for dealing with the unchangeable reality of the ‘dog eat dog world’ but will focus on the betterment of society. Bullying, intense competition, and one-upping others in the classroom will not be viewed as ‘just how things are’ but ‘how things used to be and are no more’ as of today.

Intrinsic, Not Extrinsic, Motivation

Another practice in my classroom will help develop “reflective” students (another IB ideal) and will build on the humanist principle of intrinsic, not extrinsic, motivation (IB Learner Profile, 2013). In this way I lean away from more progressive theories as they focus too heavily on group-learning. Yes, we are social beings and, yes, learning can come through a social environment, but this can easily slide into a co-dependent learning environment in which students rely heavily on the approval from extrinsic sources (i.e. their peers); an especially potent problem in today’s social media society. I find it interesting that progressivists strongly emphasize democratic learning and yet say they want students to “become thoughtful, productive citizens” by reflecting “on their experiences,” skills I feel are best developed in quality time with self (Oregon State University, n-d). My classroom will not just promote interpersonal activities which are most appealing to extrovert and extrinsically-motivated students but also intrapersonal activities, most often outside the classroom and in nature, in which students can come to know themselves and explore their independent thoughts and values.


My educational philosophy and practices in the classroom are reminiscent of humanist, social reconstructivist, and progressivist philosophies. It is student-centered (but not solely student-led) and focused on the improvement of society as well as development of self. As a teacher, I will focus on providing a safe, inter- and intra- personal learning environment, with learning clearly defined as the effort to try again and again until a skill or quality is developed. My students will view learning as a life-long, meaningful, and exhilarating journey because their passions will be key to their education-motivation in their early years.


Anderson, M. (n.d.). Principles of Humanistic Education. Retrieved September 18, 2020, from https://web.cortland.edu/andersmd/HUMAN/PRINC.HTML

IB Learner Profile. (2013). Retrieved September 03, 2020, from https://www.ibo.org/contentassets/fd82f70643ef4086b7d3f292cc214962/learner-profile-en.pdf

Lynch, M. (2016, November 03). Philosophies of Education: 3 types of student-centered philosophies. Retrieved September 17, 2020, from http://www.theedadvocate.org/philosophies-education-3-types-student-centered-philosophies/

Mintz, A. I. (2017). What is the Purpose of Education? Dewey’s Challenge to His Contemporaries. In L. Waks & A. English (Eds.), John Dewey's Democracy and Education: A Centennial Handbook. New York: Cambridge University Press. Retrieved September 17, 2020, from https://www.academia.edu/23693775/What_is_the_Purpose_of_Education_Deweys_challenge_to_his_contemporaries

Oregon State University. Educational Philosophy Self-Assessment Scoring Guide. Retrieved September 17, 2020, from http://oregonstate.edu/instruct/ed416/scoringguide.html

Sandstrom, H., & Huerta, S. (2013, September). The Negative Effects of Instability on Child Development: A Research Synthesis. Retrieved September 18, 2020, from https://www.urban.org/sites/default/files/publication/32706/412899-The-Negative-Effects-of-Instability-on-Child-Development-A-Research-Synthesis.PDF

Western Governors University. (2020, July 21). What is humanistic learning theory in education? (2020, July 21). Retrieved September 17, 2020, from https://www.wgu.edu/blog/what-humanistic-learning-theory-education2007.html

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