Perennialism was a strong educational movement in the early part of the 20th century. It pushed a call to return to older ways of learning and instruction in order to strengthen the man in preparation for life. In this post, we will look briefly at the history, philosophy, and how a teacher with a perennialist perspective may approach their classroom.
Perennialism came about as a strong reaction against progressivism. The emotional focus of the child-centered approach of progressivism was seen as anti-intellectual by perennialists. In place of child- center focus was a call for return to long establish truth and time honored classics.
Supporters of perennialism wanted a liberal education, which implies an education rich with the classical works of man. The purpose of education was the development of the mind rather than the learning of a specific job skill. This position has often been seen as elitist and has clashed with what the working class need for the education of their children to be in a more practical manner.
A major influencer of perennialism is neo-scholasticism, which is also a supporter of classical studies and was based on idealism. Perennialism was originally focused higher education and high school but by the 1980’s its influence had spread to elementary education. Prominent supporters of this style include Motimer Adler and Maynard Hutchins.
Perennialism believes that people are rational rather than primarily emotional beings. This is the opposite of progressivism which is always worried about feelings. Furthermore, human nature is steady and predictable which allows for everyone to have the same education. Thus, the individual is lost in a strong perennial classroom.
The focus of the classroom is not on the student but rather on the subject matter. The classroom is preparation for life and not design for real-life situations as in progressivism. The mind needs to be developed properly before taking action. Through the study of the greats it is assumed this will help the student become great.
Perennialism and Education
A perennialist teacher would have a classroom in which all the students are treated the same way. Material is taught and delivered to the students whether they like it or not. This is because material is taught that is good for them rather than what they like.
This material would include ancient time tested ideas because that is where truth is and exposure to this great minds would make great mind. The learning experiences would be mostly theoretical in nature because training in this manner allows for intellectual development.
The classroom might actually be a little cold by the progressivist’standard that focuses on group work and interaction. This is because of the rational focus of perennialism. When the assumption is everyone is rational and only needed exposure to the content with or without an emotional experience.
Reacting is not always the best way to push for change. Yet this is exactly what brought perennialism into existence. Seeing the lost of absolute truth and long held traditions, perennialism strove to protect these pillars of education. There are some problems. For example, their emphasis on the rational nature of man seems strange as the average person is lacking in the ability to reason and control their emotions. In addition, the one-size fits all when it comes to education is obviously not true as we need people who have a classic education but also people who can build a house or fix a car. In other words, we need vocational training as well in order to have a balanced society.
Another problem is the fallacy of the appeal to tradition. Just because something is a classic does not make it truth or worthy of study. This simply allow the traditions of the past to rule the present. If all people do is look at the past how will they develop relevant ideas for the present or future?
The main benefit of these different schools of thought is that through these conflicts of opinion a balanced approach to learning can take place for students.