This I Believe

Traditionally, we assign students to write a Philosophy of Early Childhood Education paper in the Introduction to ECE course and then again in the course I am currently teaching which most students take directly before they take the Practicum. In my course, the students are asked to revise their Philosophy papers based on the professional and academic experiences they have had since the first writing. Our goal is to support the process of ongoing reflection and lifelong learning. As students  revisit something they created in the past, we hope this gives them the experience of creating and maintaining a living document.

This semester, I am trying something new. Well, actually the assignment is the same, but the method of writing it is different. I have always been fascinated by the occasional “This I Believe” essay that I would hear on NPR. I find it interesting to listen to various pieces that obviously have a specific format and yet each essay is so individual and thought-provoking.  Check it out. Listen to a few essays and you will see what I mean. Each person has his or her own story. Because it is a short essay, each belief is boiled down to its essence and I think that is where the power of it comes in.

I’ve never been fully satisfied with the way I’ve taught the Philosophy paper to my students. I think the word philosophy can be intimidating to students and maybe it has been intimidating to me too. How does one develop one’s own philosophy? Where do we start? What do we draw from? Students typically regurgitate a few key phrases about being developmentally appropriate and loving children…that kind of thing, but generally the papers seemed to lack passion or personality. It occurred to me last semester when I was teaching the Practicum that students have been so drilled to never, ever under any circumstances use the word “I” in their writing that they really felt uncomfortable writing this type of piece in the first person narrative.

I also realize that I made the classic mistake of not giving them nearly enough examples of what I was looking for. I just didn’t have the repertoire of good papers to draw from.

This summer I must have listened to a lot of NPR because I kept hearing these essays and thinking about how I could make use of them for my classes. I thought they would be good listening exercises. I hadn’t really thought of assigning an essay like this in any of my classes, but when I explored the website I found that there are lesson plans and other guidelines for writing a This I Believe essay. With that support, I decided to go for it and assign it to my students. I hope to do audio recordings of their essays as a final stage. I’ll keep you posted on the progress of this assignment. It really is out of my comfort zone a little bit but I’m excited to try it and to see what the students do with the opportunity.

Some of my favorite essays:

Temple Grandon, “Seeing in Beautiful Pictures”

Eboo Patel, “We are Each Other’s Business”

Jackie Lantry, “The Power of Love to Transform and to Heal”

Stephanie Disney, “Seeing with the Heart”

Seven-year-old: Tarak McLain, “Thirty Things I Believe”.

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