Philosophy of education
The Philosophy of education examines the aims, forms, methods, and results of acquiring knowledge as both a process and a field of study. As a field of applied philosophy, it is influenced both by developments within philosophy proper, especially questions of ethics and epistemology, and by concerns arising from instructional practice.
Philosophical treatments of education date at least as far back as Socrates, but the field of inquiry only began to be recognized as a formal subdiscipline in the nineteenth century. As an academic subject, it is often taught within a department or college of education, rather than within a philosophy department. Though the field often seems to lack the cohesion of other areas of philosophy, it is generally, and perhaps therefore, more open to new approaches.
- 1 Educational philosophies
- 2 Movements
- 3 Philosophers of education
- 3.1 Socrates (c. 469 BC – 399 BC)
- 3.2 Plato (424/423 BC - 348/347 BC)
- 3.3 Aristotle (384 BC - 322 BC)
- 3.4 Avicenna (980 - 1037)
- 3.5 Ibn Tufail (c. 1105 - 1185)
- 3.6 John Locke (1632-1704)
- 3.7 Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778)
- 3.8 Étienne Bonnot de Condillac (1715 – 1780)
- 3.9 Johann Friedrich Herbart (1776 – 1841)
- 3.10 Charlotte Mason (1842-1923)
- 3.11 John Dewey (1859-1952)
- 3.12 Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925)
- 3.13 Maria Montessori(1870-1952)
- 3.14 William Heard Kilpatrick (1871-1965)
- 3.15 A. S. Neill (1883-1973)
- 3.16 Martin Heidegger (1889-1976)
- 3.17 Jean Piaget (1896-1980)
- 3.18 Jerome Bruner (1915- )
- 3.19 Paulo Freire (1921-1997)
- 3.20 Nel Noddings (1929– )
- 3.21 John Holt (1923-1985)
- 4 See also
- 5 References
- 6 Further reading
- 7 External links
Educational philosophies are informed by philosophical perspectives on subjects such as ethics, epistemology, the human condition, and by psychological perspectives on human learning and development. Major philosophies of education in the United States that inform what to teach include essentialism, perennialism, progressivism, and existentialism. Major philosophies of education in the United States that inform who to teach and how to teach are behaviorism, cognitivism, humanism (including, the ideas of social reconstructionism and critical theory), and constructivism.
The Classical education movement advocates a form of education based in the traditions of Western culture, with a particular focus on education as understood and taught in the Middle Ages. The term "classical education" has been used in English for several centuries, with each era modifying the definition and adding its own selection of topics. By the end of the 18th century, in addition to the trivium and quadrivium of the Middle Ages, the definition of a classical education embraced the study of literature, poetry, drama, philosophy, history, art, and languages. In the 20th and 21st centuries it is used to refer to a broad-based study of the liberal arts and sciences, as opposed to a practical or pre-professional program.
Humanistic education emphasizes issues of moral autonomy, personal freedom, and tolerance. Its long history can be traced through several phases: Classical humanism, with roots going back to the Paideia of classical Athens; Romantic humanism, as presented in the works of Rousseau, Goethe, and Pestalozzi; Existentialist humanism, emphasizing issues of freedom and identity and questioning modernism's focus on the primacy of rational thinking; and Radical humanism, or critical pedagogy, emphasizing social and political engagement, as represented by educators such as Freire, Giroux, and Kozol.
Contemplative education focuses on bringing spiritual awareness into the pedagogical process. Contemplative approaches may be used in the classroom, especially in tertiary or (often in modified form) in secondary education.Contemplative methods may also be used by teachers in their preparation. In this case, inspiration for enriching the content, format, or teaching methods may be sought through various practices, such as consciously reviewing the previous day's activities; actively holding the students in consciousness; and contemplating inspiring pedagogical texts. Waldorf education was one of the pioneers of this approach. Zigler suggested that only through focusing on their own spiritual development could teachers positively impact the spiritual development of students. The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society's Association for Contemplative Mind in Higher Education was set up to foster the use of contemplative methods in education. Parker Palmer is a recent pioneer in contemplative methods.
Critical pedagogy is an "educational movement, guided by passion and principle, to help students develop consciousness of freedom, recognize authoritarian tendencies, and connect knowledge to power and the ability to take constructive action." Based in Marxist theory, critical pedagogy draws on radical democracy, anarchism, feminism, and other movements for social justice.
Democratic education is a theory of learning and school governance in which students and staff participate freely and equally in a school democracy. In a democratic school, there is typically shared decision-making among students and staff on matters concerning living, working, and learning together.
Social reconstructionism focuses on achieving social change (with the goal of achieving social justice and equity) by altering social systems. Key points are: 1. social systems that marginalize and oppress others need to be changed and 2. achieving this change requires both creating a system that serves as a change agent while being open to changing its own purposes and structures as the social contexts in which it exists naturally evolve. Educational reconstruction purposefully and explicitly requires that schools function as change agents, empowering students to question systems in which they live and work,and to create a society that is more equitable and just. As an “educational social movement” guided by critical pedagogy, social reconstructionism rests upon the idea that schools need to actively assist students in changing the world that they are a part of; it directly prompts the recognition that human beings tend to adopt authoritarian systems which can become controlling, manipulative, and which perpetuate the status quo and thus lie in opposition to ideas of free will.
Unschooling is a range of educational practices centered on allowing children to learn through their natural life experiences, including child directed play, game play, household responsibilities, work experience, and social interaction, rather than through a more traditional school curriculum. Unschooling encourages exploration of activities led by the children themselves, facilitated by the adults. Unschooling differs from conventional schooling principally in the thesis that standard curricula and conventional grading methods, as well as other features of traditional schooling, are counterproductive to the goal of maximizing the education of each child.
Philosophers of education
Socrates (c. 469 BC – 399 BC)
Socrates' important contribution to Western thought is his dialectic method of inquiry, known as the Socratic method or method of "elenchus", first described by Plato in the Socratic Dialogues. To solve a problem, it would be broken down into a series of questions, the answers to which gradually distill the answer a person would seek. The influence of this approach is most strongly felt today in the use of the scientific method, in which hypothesis is the first stage. The development and practice of this method is one of Socrates' most enduring contributions.
Plato (424/423 BC - 348/347 BC)
Plato's educational philosophy was grounded in his vision of the ideal Republic, wherein the individual was best served by being subordinated to a just society. He advocated removing children from their mothers' care and raising them as wards of the state, with great care being taken to differentiate children suitable to the various castes, the highest receiving the most education, so that they could act as guardians of the city and care for the less able. Education would be holistic, including facts, skills, physical discipline, and music and art, which he considered the highest form of endeavor.
Plato believed that talent was distributed non-genetically and thus must be found in children born in any social class. He builds on this by insisting that those suitably gifted are to be trained by the state so that they may be qualified to assume the role of a ruling class. What this establishes is essentially a system of selective public education premised on the assumption that an educated minority of the population are, by virtue of their education (and inborn educability), sufficient for healthy governance.
Plato's writings contain some of the following ideas: Elementary education would be confined to the guardian class till the age of 18, followed by two years of compulsory military training and then by higher education for those who qualified. While elementary education made the soul responsive to the environment, higher education helped the soul to search for truth which illuminated it. Both boys and girls receive the same kind of education. Elementary education consisted of music and gymnastics, designed to train and blend gentle and fierce qualities in the individual and create a harmonious person.
At the age of 20, a selection was made. The best students would take an advanced course in mathematics, geometry, astronomy and harmonics. The first course in the scheme of higher education would last for ten years. It would be for those who had a flair for science. At the age of 30 there would be another selection; those who qualified would study dialectics and metaphysics, logic and philosophy for the next five years. After accepting junior positions in the army for 15 years, a man would have completed his theoretical and practical education by the age of 50.
Aristotle (384 BC - 322 BC)
Only fragments of Aristotle's treatise On Education are still in existence. We thus know of his philosophy of education primarily through brief passages in other works. Aristotle considered human nature, habit and reason to be equally important forces to be cultivated in education. Thus, for example, he considered repetition to be a key tool to develop good habits. The teacher was to lead the student systematically; this differs, for example, from Socrates' emphasis on questioning his listeners to bring out their own ideas (though the comparison is perhaps incongruous since Socrates was dealing with adults).
Aristotle placed great emphasis on balancing the theoretical and practical aspects of subjects taught. Subjects he explicitly mentions as being important included reading, writing and mathematics; music; physical education; literature and history; and a wide range of sciences. He also mentioned the importance of play.
One of education's primary missions for Aristotle, perhaps its most important, was to produce good and virtuous citizens for the polis. All who have meditated on the art of governing mankind have been convinced that the fate of empires depends on the education of youth. 
Avicenna (980 - 1037)
In the medieval Islamic world, an elementary school was known as a maktab, which dates back to at least the 10th century. Like madrasahs (which referred to higher education), a maktab was often attached to a mosque. In the 11th century, Ibn Sina (known as Avicenna in the West), wrote a chapter dealing with the maktab entitled "The Role of the Teacher in the Training and Upbringing of Children", as a guide to teachers working at maktab schools. He wrote that children can learn better if taught in classes instead of individual tuition from private tutors, and he gave a number of reasons for why this is the case, citing the value of competition and emulation among pupils as well as the usefulness of group discussions and debates. Ibn Sina described the curriculum of a maktab school in some detail, describing the curricula for two stages of education in a maktab school.
Ibn Sina wrote that children should be sent to a maktab school from the age of 6 and be taught primary education until they reach the age of 14. During which time, he wrote that they should be taught the Qur'an, Islamic metaphysics, language, literature, Islamic ethics, and manual skills (which could refer to a variety of practical skills).
Ibn Sina refers to the secondary education stage of maktab schooling as the period of specialization, when pupils should begin to acquire manual skills, regardless of their social status. He writes that children after the age of 14 should be given a choice to choose and specialize in subjects they have an interest in, whether it was reading, manual skills, literature, preaching, medicine, geometry, trade and commerce, craftsmanship, or any other subject or profession they would be interested in pursuing for a future career. He wrote that this was a transitional stage and that there needs to be flexibility regarding the age in which pupils graduate, as the student's emotional development and chosen subjects need to be taken into account.
The empiricist theory of 'tabula rasa' was also developed by Ibn Sina. He argued that the "human intellect at birth is rather like a tabula rasa, a pure potentiality that is actualized through education and comes to know" and that knowledge is attained through "empirical familiarity with objects in this world from which one abstracts universal concepts" which is developed through a "syllogistic method of reasoning; observations lead to prepositional statements, which when compounded lead to further abstract concepts." He further argued that the intellect itself "possesses levels of development from the material intellect (al-‘aql al-hayulani), that potentiality that can acquire knowledge to the active intellect (al-‘aql al-fa‘il), the state of the human intellect in conjunction with the perfect source of knowledge."
Ibn Tufail (c. 1105 - 1185)
In the 12th century, the Andalusian-Arabian philosopher and novelist Ibn Tufail (known as "Abubacer" or "Ebn Tophail" in the West) demonstrated the empiricist theory of 'tabula rasa' as a thought experiment through his Arabic philosophical novel, Hayy ibn Yaqzan, in which he depicted the development of the mind of a feral child "from a tabula rasa to that of an adult, in complete isolation from society" on a desert island, through experience alone. The Latin translation of his philosophical novel, Philosophus Autodidactus, published by Edward Pococke the Younger in 1671, had an influence on John Locke's formulation of tabula rasa in "An Essay Concerning Human Understanding".
John Locke (1632-1704)
Locke's Some Thoughts Concerning Education is an outline on how to educate the mind: he expresses the belief that education maketh the man, or, more fundamentally, that the mind is an "empty cabinet", with the statement, "I think I may say that of all the men we meet with, nine parts of ten are what they are, good or evil, useful or not, by their education."
Locke also wrote that "the little and almost insensible impressions on our tender infancies have very important and lasting consequences." He argued that the "associations of ideas" that one makes when young are more important than those made later because they are the foundation of the self: they are, put differently, what first mark the tabula rasa. In his Essay, in which is introduced both of these concepts, Locke warns against, for example, letting "a foolish maid" convince a child that "goblins and sprites" are associated with the night for "darkness shall ever afterwards bring with it those frightful ideas, and they shall be so joined, that he can no more bear the one than the other."
"Associationism", as this theory would come to be called, exerted a powerful influence over eighteenth-century thought, particularly educational theory, as nearly every educational writer warned parents not to allow their children to develop negative associations. It also led to the development of psychology and other new disciplines with David Hartley's attempt to discover a biological mechanism for associationism in his Observations on Man (1749).
Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778)
Rousseau, though he paid his respects to Plato's philosophy, rejected it as impractical due to the decayed state of society. Rousseau also had a different theory of human development; where Plato held that people are born with skills appropriate to different castes (though he did not regard these skills as being inherited), Rousseau held that there was one developmental process common to all humans. This was an intrinsic, natural process, of which the primary behavioral manifestation was curiosity. This differed from Locke's 'tabula rasa' in that it was an active process deriving from the child's nature, which drove the child to learn and adapt to its surroundings.
Rousseau wrote in his book Emile that all children are perfectly designed organisms, ready to learn from their surroundings so as to grow into virtuous adults, but due to the malign influence of corrupt society, they often fail to do so. Rousseau advocated an educational method which consisted of removing the child from society—for example, to a country home—and alternately conditioning him through changes to his environment and setting traps and puzzles for him to solve or overcome.
Rousseau was unusual in that he recognized and addressed the potential of a problem of legitimation for teaching. He advocated that adults always be truthful with children, and in particular that they never hide the fact that the basis for their authority in teaching was purely one of physical coercion: "I'm bigger than you." Once children reached the age of reason, at about 12, they would be engaged as free individuals in the ongoing process of their own.
He once said that a child should grow up without adult interference and that the child must be guided to suffer from the experience of the natural consequences of his own acts or behaviour. When he experiences the consequences of his own acts, he advises himself.
"Rousseau divides development into five stages (a book is devoted to each). Education in the first two stages seeks to the senses: only when Émile is about 12 does the tutor begin to work to develop his mind. Later, in Book 5, Rousseau examines the education of Sophie (whom Émile is to marry). Here he sets out what he sees as the essential differences that flow from sex. 'The man should be strong and active; the woman should be weak and passive' (Everyman edn: 322). From this difference comes a contrasting education. They are not to be brought up in ignorance and kept to housework: Nature means them to think, to will, to love to cultivate their minds as well as their persons; she puts these weapons in their hands to make up for their lack of strength and to enable them to direct the strength of men. They should learn many things, but only such things as suitable' (Everyman edn.: 327)." Émile
Étienne Bonnot de Condillac (1715 – 1780)
Étienne Bonnot de Condillac was a French philosopher and epistemologist who studied in such areas as psychology and the philosophy of the mind. Condillac's collected works were published in 1798 (23 vols.) and two or three times subsequently; the last edition (1822) has an introductory dissertation by A. F. Théry. The Encyclopédie méthodique has a very long article on Condillac by Naigeon. Biographical details and criticism of the Traité des systèmes in J. P. Damiron's Mémoires pour servir a l'histoire de to philosophie au dixhuitieme siècle, tome iii.; a full criticism in V Cousin's Cours de l'histoire de la philosophie moderne, ser. i. tome iii. Consult also F Rethoré, Condillac ou l'empirisme et le rationalisme (1864); L Dewaule, Condillac et la psychologie anglaise contemporaine (1891); histories of philosophy.
Johann Friedrich Herbart (1776 – 1841)
Considered the founder of pedagogy as an academic discipline, Herbart established a system of pedagogy built on the preparation and then presentation of engaging material (for example, using genuine works of literature rather than school readers), analysis with the class, review of the material, and drawing conclusions relevant to larger contexts. He strongly influenced the development of pedagogy throughout Europe and beyond, an influence which is still felt to this day.
Charlotte Mason (1842-1923)
Mason was a British educator who invested her life in improving the quality of children's education. Her ideas led to a method used by some homeschoolers. Mason's philosophy of education is probably best summarized by the principles given at the beginning of each of her books. Two key mottos taken from those principles are "Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life" and "Education is the science of relations." She believed that children were born persons and should be respected as such; they should also be taught the Way of the Will and the Way of Reason. Her motto for students was "I am, I can, I ought, I will." Charlotte Mason believed that children should be introduced to subjects through living books, not through the use of "compendiums, abstracts, or selections." She used abridged books only when the content was deemed inappropriate for children. She preferred that parents or teachers read aloud those texts (such as Plutarch and the Old Testament), making omissions only where necessary.
John Dewey (1859-1952)
In Democracy and Education: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Education, Dewey stated that education, in its broadest sense, is the means of the "social continuity of life" given the "primary ineluctable facts of the birth and death of each one of the constituent members in a social group". Education is therefore a necessity, for "the life of the group goes on." Dewey was a proponent of Educational Progressivism and was a relentless campaigner for reform of education, pointing out that the authoritarian, strict, pre-ordained knowledge approach of modern traditional education was too concerned with delivering knowledge, and not enough with understanding students' actual experiences.
Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925)
Steiner founded a holistic educational impulse on the basis of his spiritual philosophy (anthroposophy). Now known as Steiner or Waldorf education, his pedagogy emphasizes a balanced development of cognitive, affective/artistic, and practical skills (head, heart, and hands). Steiner's theory of child development divides education into three discrete developmental stages predating but with close similarities to the stages of development described by Piaget. Early childhood education occurs through imitation; teachers provide practical activities and a healthy environment. Steiner believed that young children should meet only goodness. Elementary education is strongly arts-based, centered on the teacher's creative authority; the elementary school-age child should meet beauty. Secondary education seeks to develop the judgment, intellect, and practical idealism; the adolescent should meet truth. In all stages of schooling, learning is interdisciplinary, integrating practical, artistic, and cognitive elements and emphasizing the role of the imagination in learning. Schools and teachers are given considerable freedom to define curricula and instructional methods within collegial structures.
The Montessori method arose from Dr. Maria Montessori's discovery of what she referred to as "the child's true normal nature" in 1907, which happened in the process of her experimental observation of young children given freedom in an environment prepared with materials designed for their self-directed learning activity. The method itself aims to duplicate this experimental observation of children to bring about, sustain and support their true natural way of being.
William Heard Kilpatrick (1871-1965)
William Heard Kilpatrick was a US American philosopher of education and a colleague and a successor of John Dewey. He was a major figure in the progressive education movement of the early 20th century. Kilpatrick developed the Project Method for early childhood education, which was a form of Progressive Education organized curriculum and classroom activities around a subject's central theme. He believed that the role of a teacher should be that of a "guide" as opposed to an authoritarian figure. Kilpatrick believed that children should direct their own learning according to their interests and should be allowed to explore their environment, experiencing their learning through the natural senses. Proponents of Progressive Education and the Project Method reject traditional schooling that focuses on memorization, rote learning, strictly organized classrooms (desks in rows; students always seated), and typical forms of assessment.
A. S. Neill (1883-1973)
Neill founded the Summerhill School, the oldest existing democratic school in Suffolk, England in 1921. He wrote a number of books that now define much of contemporary democratic education philosophy. Neill believed that the happiness of the child should be the paramount consideration in decisions about the child's upbringing, and that this happiness grew from a sense of personal freedom. He felt that deprivation of this sense of freedom during childhood, and the consequent unhappiness experienced by the repressed child, was responsible for many of the psychological disorders of adulthood.
Martin Heidegger (1889-1976)
Heidegger's philosophizing about education was primarily related to higher education. He believed that teaching and research in the university should be unified and aim towards testing and interrogating the "ontological assumptions and presuppositions which implicitly guide research in each domain of knowledge."
Jean Piaget (1896-1980)
Jean Piaget was a Swiss developmental psychologist known for his studies of how children progressively develop knowledge of the world, studies that eventually described the genesis of an exceptionally wide spectrum of human understanding. His theory of cognitive development, called genetic epistemology, productively linked the philosophical study of knowledge formation and the psychological study of child development. He described himself as an epistemologist interested in the qualitative development of knowledge.
Piaget placed great importance on the education of children. As Director of the International Bureau of Education, he declared in 1934 that "only education is capable of saving our societies from possible collapse, whether violent, or gradual." Piaget created the International Centre for Genetic Epistemology in Geneva in 1955 and directed it until 1980. According to Ernst von Glasersfeld, Jean Piaget is "the great pioneer of the constructivist theory of knowing."
Jerome Bruner (1915- )
Bruner's The Process of Education and Toward a Theory of Instruction are landmarks in conceptualizing learning and curriculum development. A major contributor to the inquiry method in education, Bruner argued that any subject can be taught in some intellectually honest form to any child at any stage of development. This notion underpinned his concept of the spiral curriculum, positing that a curriculum should revisit basic ideas, building on them until the student had grasped the full formal concept. He emphasized intuition as a neglected but essential feature of productive thinking. He felt that interest in the material being learned was the best stimulus for learning, rather than external motivations such as grades. Bruner developed the concept of discovery learning which promoted learning as a process of constructing new ideas based on current or past knowledge; students are encouraged to discover facts and relationships and continually build on what they already know.
Paulo Freire (1921-1997)
A Brazilian committed to the cause of educating the impoverished peasants of his nation and collaborating with them in the pursuit of their liberation from what he regarded as "oppression," Freire is best known for his attack on what he called the "banking concept of education," in which the student was viewed as an empty account to be filled by the teacher. Freire also suggests that a deep reciprocity be inserted into our notions of teacher and student; he comes close to suggesting that the teacher-student dichotomy be completely abolished, instead promoting the roles of the participants in the classroom as the teacher-student (a teacher who learns) and the student-teacher (a learner who teaches). In its early, strong form this kind of classroom has sometimes been criticized[by whom?] on the grounds that it can mask rather than overcome the teacher's authority.
Aspects of the Freirian philosophy have been highly influential in academic debates over "participatory development" and development more generally. Freire's emphasis on what he describes as "emancipation" through interactive participation has been used as a rationale for the participatory focus of development, as it is held that 'participation' in any form can lead to empowerment of poor or marginalised groups. Freire was a proponent of critical pedagogy. "He participated in the import of European doctrines and ideas into Brazil, assimilated them to the needs of a specific socio-economic situation, and thus expanded and refocused them in a thought-provoking way"
Nel Noddings (1929– )
Noddings' first sole-authored book Caring: A Feminine Approach to Ethics and Moral Education (1984) followed close on the 1982 publication of Carol Gilligan’s ground-breaking work in the ethics of care In a Different Voice. While her work on ethics continued, with the publication of Women and Evil (1989) and later works on moral education, most of her later publications have been on the philosophy of education and educational theory. Her most significant works in these areas have been Educating for Intelligent Belief or Unbelief (1993) and Philosophy of Education (1995).
John Holt (1923-1985)
In 1964 Holt published his first book, How Children Fail, asserting that the academic failure of schoolchildren was not despite the efforts of the schools, but actually because of the schools. Not surprisingly, How Children Fail ignited a firestorm of controversy. Holt was catapulted into the American national consciousness to the extent that he made appearances on major TV talk shows, wrote book reviews for Life magazine, and was a guest on the To Tell The Truth TV game show. In his follow-up work, How Children Learn, published in 1967, Holt tried to elucidate the learning process of children and why he believed school short circuits that process.
- Behaviorism (philosophy of education)
- Cognitivism (philosophy of education)
- Humanism (philosophy of education)
- Constructivism (philosophy of education)
- Education policy
- Educational theory
- Learning theory (education)
- Instructional theory
- Thales of Miletus
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