Foundations and Assessment of Education/Edition 1/Foundations Table of Contents/Chapter 2/2.2.1

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The Importance of Education Philosophy

Learning Target

Students will be able to distinguish the difference between Essentialism, Perennialism, Progressivism,and Existentialism, as well as understand the basic concepts behind each educational theory.


Educational theories have been used by teachers throughout time. These theories are derived from a combination of similar philosophical theories, but developed for in the classroom.


The following is a definition of Essentialism found online: "a doctrine that certain traditional concepts, ideals, and skills are essential to society and should be taught methodically to all students, regardless of individual ability, need, etc."(Essentialism, N.D.) In other words this theory focuses on the basics; teaching the most crucial parts of the subjects.

In Apps "Toward a Working Philosophy of Adult Education" essentialism is said to have developed from both idealism and realism. The idealism part containing subjects such as history, foreign language, and classics; the realism part containing subjects like math and science.(Apps, J. 1973)


It was early in the twenty first century when perennialism began to form, rooted in ancient teachings such as those of Plato and Aristotle.(History of Education Journal 1951) An online encyclopedia conveys some very key points of Perennialism: "Perennialists believe that one should teach the things that one deems to be of everlasting importance to all people everywhere. They believe that the most important topics develop a person. Since details of fact change constantly, these cannot be the most important. Therefore, one should teach principles, not facts. Since people are human, one should teach first about humans, not machines or techniques."(Perennialism, n.d.) So in an ever changing world where each day scientific findings disprove one another and new, more efficient formulas for math emerge, it is the main beliefs or philosophies of these subjects that need to be taught in order for the students to fully grasp the concepts.

One of my professors at Hampden-Sydney College, Dr. Robbins, practiced perennialism. She was a great instructor and I always found the class to be interesting, making it easy for me to attend.

"The focus of learning in Perennialism lies in activities designed to discipline the mind. Subject matter of a disciplinary and spiritual nature such as the content of mathematics, language, logic, great books, doctrines must me studied whether used as such or not."(Johnson J. 1969)


Progressive education is "A set of reformist educational philosophies and methods that emphasize individual instruction, informality in the classroom, and the use of group discussions and laboratories as instructional techniques."(Progressive Education, n.d.) This theory uses personal experiences as a means of education.(Apps, J. 1973) There is no absolute knowledge, like we have discussed in class, things are constantly changing just as the definition of learning. Take our ECI 301 class as an example, we are putting progressivism into action; when we write these wikibook articles and share personal experiences we are using this theory.


"Existentialism is a philosophy concerned with finding self and the meaning of life through free will, choice, and personal responsibility. The belief is that people are searching to find out who and what they are throughout life as they make choices based on their experiences, beliefs, and outlook. And personal choices become unique without the necessity of an objective form of truth. An existentialist believes that a person should be forced to choose and be responsible without the help of laws, ethnic rules, or traditions." (Existentialism: A Philosophy, n.d.) In relation to education, self-fulfillment should be the students inspiration to do well and in turn the teacher's job to help them develop such a mentality.(Apps, J. 1973)

"To begin, it rules out three conventional notions: that education is primarily an agency of society, set up to perpetuate a cultural heritage; that it is a pipeline of perennial truths; and that it is a means for adjusting to the young to life in a democratic community. In place of these, let education exist for the individual. Let it teach him to live as his own nature bids him, spontaneously and authentically." (Kneller, G. 1961) What Kneller is saying here is that education should not be looked at as a task, but instead as an opportunity.


It is important to have a theory when it comes to education because it will help to develop lesson plans and provide a basis for one's rubric; in turn the students will know how they are going to be assessed. Each one of the foretold theories has its strengths and possible weaknesses.


Apps, J. (1973). Toward a Working Philosophy of Adult Education. Publications in Continuing Education, Syracuse University, Syracuse, N.Y.

Essentialism. (n.d.) Retrieved October 5, 2008, from

Existentialism: A Philosophy. (n.d.) All About Philosophy. Retrieved October 5, 2008, from

History of Education Journal, Vol. 2, No. 3 (Spring, 1951), pp. 80–85

Johnson J. (1969). Introduction to the Foundations of American Education. Allyn and Bacon, Boston.

Kneller G. (1961). Education, Knowledge, and the Problem of Existence. Harvard Educational Review, XXXI.

Perennialism. (n.d.) Retrieved October 5, 2008, from


1. What theory includes the belief of no absolute knowledge?

  • a)Essentialism
  • b)Existentialism
  • c)Perennialism
  • d)Progressivism

2. A combination of idealism and realism.

  • a)Essentialism
  • b)Existentialism
  • c)Perennialism
  • d)Progressivism

3. Someone tells you, "You should want to learn this." What theory are they suggesting?

  • a)Essentialism
  • b)Existentialism
  • c)Perennialism
  • d)Progressivism

4. A teacher asks you to write a paper comparing the war in Iraq to Homer's "The Odyssey", what theory is she using?

  • a)Essentialism
  • b)Existentialism
  • c)Perennialism
  • d)Progressivism


  • 1.c
  • 2.a
  • 3.d
  • 4.b