The Examined Life

Driving home from a visit to my Mom, I had the good fortune to hear the radio program 'On Point Radio', and a discussion of the documentary film "The Examined Life". The film is directed by Astra Taylor, and in it she brings philosophers out into the world, asking them questions and getting their thoughts on everyday sites and sounds in New York city. The host of the radio program, Tom Ashbrook, was asking the questions "Do you live the examined life? Do we need our philosophers to climb down with us, into the streets? Is it time for Philosophers to come out of the ivory tower and come outside and give their views in public?"
As I was driving and turning the radio from stations in Harrisonburg, VA to one from Charlottesville as the signal faded in and out, I was struck by those questions and what they mean for teachers who are influenced by the Reggio Emilia approach.

One of the things that most inspires me every day is living with philosophy, actually putting the ideas of philosophers into practice in my classroom. Whether they are ideas about democracy, equality and social justice embodied in the 'image of the child' as discussed by Loris Malaguzzi or Carla Rinaldi, or Dewey's ideas about authentic education, or Vygotsky's views about intersubjectivity and social constructivism in learning, I  love trying to make these ideas come to life. It feels to me as if the philosophers have climbed out of history and into my classroom, helping me discover new things every day.

I believe that engaging in a reflective teaching practice IS a way of living an examined life. Just reading the online writing of those of you who comment on this blog show me how deeply we think about everyday things in our classrooms and the relationships we teachers have with children and families. My co-workers live with me in this place of reflection and collaboration, and I am so thankful for the dialog we have together.
I wish that more people in the world understood the power of the ideas we grapple with. Here's hoping that this new decade will be the one where our work changes all of education!

for more about the movie;
for more about On Point Radio;


  1. I've been thinking about this post for a couple days now.

    I don't think it's possible to teach without the kind of reflection you're talking about. We are professional relationship builders and that, by definition, requires constant examination, especially since we're forging those connections with young children who may not have the words or experience to express or understand their own part in the interaction.

    Thank you for the examination you do both here and through your art.

  2. I wonder about reflective practice and the challenges outside of Reggio. There is a wonderful network, research library and mentorship all available to the teachers. . .it is so difficult to find the time, the support and the mentorship in many classrooms in north america. Important...central...but so difficult. I have been thinking more and more about how mentorship for reflective-practice teachers is needed.

  3. I am starting to think that a true reflective practice needs a vision of children as human beings worthy of the same rights as everyone else (I am struggling with how to say this these days).
    When I teach pre-service teachers or go into classrooms with student teachers, I can see that some teachers do not want to be reflective in the way I do. Rather, they like to maintain control over the classroom. While these classrooms sometimes have good things going on in them, I find a lack of dialog and wonder if the learning is less valuable. My working hypothesis is that the root of this different attitude toward teaching is the way the teacher sees (and hears) the students, but I don't know if that is it or not.

  4. Thanks for this post, it is so well put. The community of teachers and artists who believe in a life examined, do not differentiate the school day from their personal life. The questions and explorations are part of the fabric of who we are. It is a blessing and a pleasure to be connected.

  5. Marla, I couldn't agree more. Perhaps all who are writing here can work on this idea of mentoring through blogging. Anybody want to do a presentation about it at the next NAEYC conference?

  6. I wish I could articulate my appreciation for your wisdom and is a true honor to work with you Anna-you are a master who proves to all of us that you can, do and must continue to learn right along side the children. Thank you!

  7. Shucks, Kara. Mostly, I just have a really, really good time!


Post a Comment

Please do comment!