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 represents answers to questions about the purpose of schooling,
a teacher's role, and 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 tend to be more authoritarian and conservative,
and emphasize the values and knowledge that have survived through time. The
major teacher-centered philosophies of education are essentialism and perennialism. Student-centered philosophies are more focused on individual needs, contemporary
relevance, and preparing students for a changing future. School is seen as an
institution that works with youth to improve society or help students realize
their individuality. Progressivism, social reconstructionism, and existentialism
place the learner at the center of the educational process: Students and teachers
work together on determining what should be learned and how best to learn it. What are some major philosophies of education in the United States today?Essentialism focuses on teaching the essential elements of academic and moral
knowledge. Essentialists urge that schools get back to the basics; they believe
in a strong core curriculum and high academic standards. Perennialism focuses on the universal truths that have withstood the test of
time. Perennialists urge that students read the Great Books and develop their
understanding of the philosophical concepts that underlie human knowledge. Progressivism is based largely on the belief that lessons must be relevant to
the students in order for them to learn. The curriculum of a progressivist school
is built around the personal experiences, interests, and needs of the students. Social reconstructionists separated from progressivism because they desired
more direct and immediate attention to societal ills. They are interested in
combining study and social action, and believe that education can and should
go hand in hand with ameliorating social problems. Existentialism is derived from a powerful belief in human free will, and the
need for individuals to shape their own futures. Students in existentialist
classrooms control their own education. Students are encouraged to understand
and appreciate their uniqueness and to assume responsibility for their actions.
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 while viewing the students as vessels
to be filled and disciplined in the proven strategies of the past. Essentialists
focus on cultural literacy, while perennialists work from the Great Books. Progressivism, social reconstructionism, and existentialism view the learner
as the central focus of classroom activities. Working with student interests
and needs, teachers serve as guides and facilitators in assisting students to
reach their goals. The emphasis is on the future, and on preparing students
to be independent-thinking adults. Progressivists strive for relevant, hands-on
learning. Social reconstructionists want students to actively work to improve
society. Existentialists give students complete freedom, and complete responsibility,
with regard to their education.
What are some of the psychological and cultural factors influencing education?Constructivism has its roots in cognitive psychology, and is based on the idea
that people construct their understanding of the world. 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. B. F. Skinner advocated behaviorism as an effective teaching strategy. According
to Skinner, rewards motivate students to learn material even if they do not
fully understand why it will have value in their futures. Behavior modification
is a system of gradually lessening extrinsic rewards. 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, Plato, and Aristotle are the three most legendary ancient Greek philosophers.
Socrates is hailed today as the personification of wisdom and the philosophical
life. He gave rise to what is now called the Socratic method, in which the teacher
repeatedly questions students to help them clarify their own deepest thoughts. Plato, Socrates's pupil, crafted eloquent dialogues that present different philosophical
positions on a number of profound questions. Plato believed that a realm of
externally existing"ideas," or"forms," underlies the physical
world. Aristotle, Plato's pupil, was remarkable for the breadth as well as the depth
of his knowledge. He provided a synthesis of Plato's belief in the universal,
spiritual forms and a scientist's belief in the physical world we observe through
our senses. 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.
Metaphysical beliefs are reflected in curricular choices: Should we study the
natural world, or focus on spiritual or ideal forms? Epistemology examines the nature and origin of human knowledge. Epistemological
beliefs influence 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. What should we teach about"good"
and"bad," and should we teach that directly, or by modeling? Political philosophy analyzes how past and present societies are arranged and
governed and proposes ways to create better societies in the future. How will
a classroom be organized, and what will that say about who wields power? How
will social institutions and national governments be analyzed? Aesthetics is concerned with the nature of beauty. What is of worth? What works
are deemed of value to be studied or emulated?