Social and Cultural Foundations of American Education/Philosophy and Ethics/Educational Philosophies
Would you consider yourself a philosopher? It is inevitable that you are, we all are. We philosophize every day. Any time a person expresses an opinion or evaluates a topic or subject, he or she is philosophizing. Feeling more intelligent yet? Good! If you are considering teaching as a profession, you are responsible for teaching the thought process. The way a student gathers information and applies the knowledge to benefit their life stems from teachers. As complex as that may sound, there is more. The way a teacher instills knowledge also begins from a philosophy of education. Every teacher abides by one or a few consolidated together. The philosophies are as follows: Essentialism, Progressivism, Perennialism, and Existentialism. Why is it important to abide by a teaching philosophy? Well, there are many reasons. But mainly, consistency is important in a classroom. Consistency establishes trust between the student and teacher solidifying expectations. Also, having a teaching philosophy will allow students to be aware of different biases. Teachers want students to form opinions for themselves, not form opinions for them. So in order to be a successful teacher, one must become familiar with the philosophies of education.
“Essentialism asserts that certain basic ideas skills and bodies of knowledge are essential to human culture and civilization” (Gutek, 263). Essentialists believe it is more beneficial for students to learn from established fundamentals of education. In other words, they abide by the “back to basics” phrase. Teachers rely on traditional structure to gear their components of the curriculum. If the word Essentialism was dissected, we would find the word “essence”. The word essence “refers to what is necessary to and indispensable about something. Essence relates to the intrinsic or fundamental character or nature of something rather than its accidental or incidental features” (Gutek, 263). Dr. Allen states within his online lectures, “Essentialists say that the child is a learner to be shaped and developed. Essentialists say that the mind is the essential element of reality (that's called idealism). Whereas the mind learns from the physical world and the contact with the physical world is called realism. So, realism and idealism by some definition are both branches of Essentialism.” This particular teaching philosophy is known as Basic Education and tends to focus on the specifics. Essentialism is extremely orderly, academically systematic, and emphasizes discipline. A disadvantage of Essentialism is that it is “undemocratic in its overemphasis on the place of adults and the need for conservation of the culture” (Howick, 53). Since it mainly follows routines and has no emphasis on the student’s interest, it may also cause a cultural delay between the student and society.
|“||Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.||”|
Think of the word “progress” and what it means. Progress “proclaims the possibility of improving something. Progression means to move forward by a series of related steps, a series of end-in-view rather than utopian leaps into the future” (Gutek, 294). Progressivism’s main source of philosophy is John Dewey’s Pragmatic Experimentalism. “The central concept of John Dewey's view of education was that greater emphasis should be placed on the broadening of intellect and development of problem solving and critical thinking skills, rather than simply on the memorization of lessons”. Progressivism proposes human beings learn from past experiences that are physical and/or mental. We are a part of nature and nature is ever changing; therefore, we must be accustom to the principles of change that parallel the nature of human experience. Reflection can help provide action for the future. Progressivists relate this way of instruction with society, politics, the economy, and education considering ways of improvement along the way. Improvement may resonate reform, in a nonviolent way. Reforms envisioned by Progressivists begin with where we are right now and arise from existing conditions. Dr. Allen affirms in his lecture, “Progressivists say we learn from problem solving and that we put ourselves in a context of problem solving, which is what makes the world go around. We learn how to learn.” Instead of education instigated by the teacher, education is initiated by the student. In the classroom, the teacher acts as a guide. “He/she is never obtrusive, always very democratic, and ever respecting the natural rights of all. He/she employs the psychological approach to the organization of subject matter, remembering that the task of providing motivation is more important than the dispensing of information” (Howick, 39). The children’s self expression is strongly encouraged while recognizing the significance of their individual needs. Critics may argue that “experience” is the key to Progressivism and Pragmatism which does not establish an ultimate reality. “Truth can be made by anyone and proven simply by observing the consequences” (Howick, 41). According to pragmatism, all ideas are relative and nothing is ever permanent, which might also include pragmatism itself. What if those principles are called to question for validity, what might the answer be?
“Perennialism can be defined as an educational theory that proclaims that people possess and share a common nature that defines them as human beings” (Gutek, 279). Unlike, Progressivism, nature is constant and unwavering. The great works written by founders of Western philosophy convey wisdom based on universal truths, and these truths are reoccurring throughout time. These philosophers would include Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas and they concerned themselves with metaphysical questions, what is real? Dr. Allen suggests, “The perennialist will say that it is intellect that distinguishes man from beast, that our ability to think is what gives us consciousness ("I think therefore I am," a position asserted by Renee Descartes), and that our intellect discovers truth which is constant and changeless. Human nature is out there constant and changeless. Mother Nature is out there constant and changeless. And our ability to think and our intellect are there to discover this constant and changeless truth.” As intellectual human beings, we should be able to absorb these truths and live by their values. We can learn rational human nature by possessing all the generations of past, present, and future. “Perennialists look to metaphysics, especially to human nature, so they see the purpose of education, the role of school, and the organization of the curriculum as coming from humanity’s enduring and universal characteristics” (Gutek, 281). The instructors rely on what has been “tried and true” throughout educations history, not on the student’s interests and experiences. Individuals relating to progressivism, the other end of the spectrum, would argue against Perennialism because of the constant instability of reality.
Existentialism gained more awareness after World War II, during a time when people were searching inward and not willing to accept the classification of the institutions of mass society. “In terms of the philosophy of Existentialism, to exist means that a person is actually present in the world and living at a given time in a particular place” (Gutek, 86). Self definition is the result from choices an individual makes being conscious of the world he/she lives in. There are so many possibilities that cannot derive from just pre-existing metaphysical methods. “For Existentialists, the purpose of education is to cultivate in students awareness that they are free agents, responsible for creating their own selves and purposes” (Gutek, 92). Teachers expose the students to various paths to be chosen, but the student must find the answers from within, not strictly from outside sources. The main focus is freedom. A few other Existentialism concepts are as follows: “Human personality, subjective and individual, is the only proper foundation for education. The goals of education must be expressed in terms of awareness, acceptance, personal responsibility, eventual commitment, and affirmation” (Howick, 111). The Existentialist instructor as an initiator must teach the fundamentals but promote the acceptance of freedom to participate in individual activities. The student assumes the position as the selector. He/she makes a decision of what and how much they will learn. If successful, the student will be a free standing personality in society as oppose to a follower or imitator of teachers. “The weaknesses of Existentialism arise from its position of subjectivity, as well as its strengths. For any number of men to agree to one answer would be to create a postulate and reduce every man’s subjectivity” (Howick, 117).
Commitment towards a teaching philosophy is not as easy as it seems. One reason, perhaps the most important reason, being it must be a valuable approach to engage the students. Choosing a philosophy framework to organize a classroom cannot have predispositions to the teacher’s personal opinions. Keep in mind the motive for education is to teach students how to think for themselves. A teacher’s responsibility is contributing various techniques the student can use to find a solution to a situation. There is no end result to education, only a foundation strong enough to support an individual in the real world.
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- Allen, Dwight. (1997-2007). "Philosophy." Retrieved from https://www.blackboard.odu.edu/webapps/portal/frameset.jsp?tab=courses&url=/bin/common/course.pl?course_id=_123288_1.
- Gutek, Gerlad L. Philosophical and Ideological Voices in Education. Boston: Pearson Education, Inc., 2004.
- Howick, William H. Philosophies of Western Education. Danville: The Interstate Printers & Publishers, Inc., 1971.
- Kidd, Jennifer. "Philosophical Foundations." Class Lecture. ECI 301. Old Dominion University, Norfolk, 3 September 2007.
- Phenix, Philip H. Philosophies of Education. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1961.
- "John Dewey." (September 2, 2007). Wikipedia. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Dewey