What is a philosophy of education, and why should it be important to you? Behind every school and every teacher is a set of related beliefs—a philosophy of education—that influences what and how students are taught. A philosophy of education answers questions about the purpose of schooling, a teacher's role, what should be taught and by what methods.
How do teacher-centered philosophies of education differ from student-centered philosophies of education? Teacher-centered philosophies, like essentialism and perennialisim, are more conservative, emphasizing the values and knowledge that have survived through time. Student-centered philosophies focus on individual needs, contemporary relevance, and a future orientation. Progressivism, social reconstructionism, and existentialism place the learner at the center of the educational process.
What are some major philosophies of education in the United States today? Essentialists urge that schools return to the basics through a strong core curriculum and high academic standards. Perennialists value the Great Books and the philosophical concepts that underlie human knowledge. The curriculum of a progressivist school is built around the personal experiences, interests, and needs of the students. Social reconstructionists more directly confront societal ills. Existentialism is derived from a powerful belief in human free will, and the need for individuals to shape their own futures.
How are these philosophies reflected in school practices? Essentialism and perennialism give teachers the power to choose the curriculum, organize the school day, and construct classroom activities. The curriculum reinforces a predominantly Western heritage. Progressivism, social reconstructionism, and existentialism focus on contemporary society, student interests and needs, while teachers serve as guides and facilitators.
What are some of the psychological and cultural factors influencing education? Constructivist teachers gauge a student's prior knowledge, then carefully orchestrate cues, classroom activities, and penetrating questions to push students to higher levels of understanding. According to Skinner, behavior can be modified through an extrinsic reward system that motivates students even if they do not fully understand the value of what they are learning. The practices and beliefs of peoples in other parts of the world, such as informal and oral education, offer useful insights for enhancing our own educational practices, but they are insights too rarely considered, much less implemented.
What were the contributions of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle to Western philosophy, and how are their legacies reflected in education today? Socrates is hailed today as the personification of wisdom and the philosophical life. He used persistent questions to help students clarify their thoughts, a process now called the Socratic method. Plato, Socrates' pupil, crafted eloquent dialogues that present different philosophical positions on a number of profound questions. Aristotle, Plato's pupil, provided a synthesis of Plato's belief in the universal, spiritual forms and a scientist's belief in the physical world. He taught that the virtuous life consists of controlling desires by reason and by choosing the moderate path between extremes.
How do metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, political philosophy, aesthetics, and logic factor into a philosophy of education? Metaphysics deals with the nature of reality, its origin and its structure, and poses curricular choices: Should we study the natural world, or focus on spiritual or ideal forms? Epistemology examines the nature and origin of human knowledge, and influences teaching methods. "How we know" is closely related to how we learn and therefore, how we should teach. Ethics is the study of what is "good" or "bad" in human behavior, thoughts, and feelings. Political philosophy proposes ways to create better societies in the future, and asks: How will a classroom be organized, and what will that say about who wields power? Aesthetics is concerned with the nature of beauty, and raises the issue: What works are deemed of value to be studied or emulated?