Tag Archives: educational philosophy

Essentialist Teacher

Essentialism was an educational philosophy that was reacting to the superficiality of instruction that was associated with progressivism and the aristocratic air that was linked with perennialism. Essentialism was a call to teach the basics. This position of providing a no frill basic education for employment is the primary position of most educational positions in the world.

1Background

Starting in the 1930’s, essentialism is based on the philosophies of idealism and realism. Essentialism supporters have stressed the need to return to a more subject centered approach vs child centered position. Transmission of knowledge is more important than transforming society.

There were two major moments in American history that propelled essentialism to the forefront of education. The first, happened in 1957 when the Russians launch the Sputnik satellite. Critics of progressivism stated that all this child-centered teaching had crippled an entire generation who lacked basic skills in math and science to compete with the Russians. This was a major blow to progressivism as schools refocused on teaching math and science and having a subject centered curriculum.

In essentialism was not already triumphant it certainly was by the 1980’s when the article “A Nation at Risk” was published. This article stated that American education was mediocre and lead to schools needing to focus on the five basics. By the 1990’s such ideas as “core knowledge” or “common core” was being pushed. Such ideas demonstrate how there are basic truths and ideas that supposedly all students need to have.

Philosophy

School is a place where students master basic skills in preparation for working in society. This includes the three R’s (reading, writing, arithmetic) and some of the humanities. The subject matter cannot always be interesting or even immediately relevant for students.

The mind needs to be trained and some memorization is required. However, there is  less of a focus on raw intellectualism such as is found in perennialism. The center of learning is the teacher and the students are there to follow the teacher.

Essentialism has similarities to perennialism. However, there are differences such as the idea that Essentialism does not have a problem with adapting ideas from progressivism for their on own purposes.   There is also a general indifference to time honor classics  in the humanities for the training of the mind.

In Education

An essentialist teacher is going to focus on developing skills and competency rather the learning knowledge for the sake of knowledge. There will be a focus on the basics of education and the classroom will be subject centered. There will not be much tolerance for meeting needs or understanding differences among students.

Focus on job skills and training towards employment would also be stressed. The focus of the education is in training people to be equipped for the workplace and not for personal fulfillment. If students enjoy what they learn this is an added bonus but not necessarily critical for the learning experience.

Conclusion

Essentialism was in many ways a working-class version of perennialism. Stripped of the humanities and focused on developing job skills, essentialism is the engine of education in many parts of American education. As long as the economy and employment are most important to people we will continue to see a continued support for essentialism.

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Perennialist Teacher

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.
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Background

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.

Philosophical Position

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.

Conclusion

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.

Progressive Teacher

Progressivsim is an educational philosophy that in many ways is the foundation of educational theory in the United States. In this post, we will look at the background of progressivism as well as the beliefs and how it may be practiced by a teacher.
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Background

Progressivsim is yet another reaction to traditional teacher. The era in which this philosophy was developed was the late 19th to early 20th century. This was a time of rapid change and the development of the philosophy called pragmatism, which had a strong influence on progressivism.

Pragmatism had such beliefs as that there was no fixed truth and that whatever works is true. Progressivism adapted and expended on this idea in the context of education. Another major source of influence on progressivism was the work of Freud who encourage self-expression in his writings.

The primary movers in propagating progressivism includes William Kilpatrick, George Counts, John Dewey, and others. This movement dominated educational theory in America from the 1920’s to the 1950’s until the launching of the Sputnik satellite by Russian moved Americans away from child centered self expressive education to an education focused on the essentials in order to compete in a global competition.

Philosophical Position

In the classroom progressivism does not support a teacher-centered approach, nor a heavy focus on textbooks or memorization. there is even concerns with the classroom environment in that the use of fear or physical punishment is discouraged.

The child is the centered of learning rather than the subject. This means that the interest of the child should be taken into consideration when developing learning experiences. Of course, there is a limit to the child’s input as the teacher has a certain responsibility for the learning. However, to even consider the child’s opinion on learning was somewhat revolutionary at the time.

Students need to be active rather than passive. This  means that lectures are unusually because the student not active when listening. Learning by doing is a primary assumption of progressivism. The teacher and the student interact and learn from action rather than from listening.

In order to establish active learning, problem solving is one of the primary tools for teaching. Problem-solving leads to a whole lot of thinking in a systematic manner in ways that are tied to reality rather than to theory.

Lastly, progressivism supports the idea of a democratic classroom. This means that everyone is a learner, including the teacher, and the learning environment encourages discussion and debate. The motive behind this is preparing students to participate in a democratic world.

Progressivism in the Classroom

There is little here to add that was not already mentioned. A progressive teacher is going to support a warm and engaging classroom. The teacher will see themselves as a facilitator of knowledge rather than as a dictator of it. Students will work in groups or alone depending on interest and the content learned  will have input from them. There will be few lectures and more hands on learning activities with a focus on the thought process rather than the product of the  learning.

Conclusion

Progressivism is yet another philosophical system that claimed to have the answer for learning only to eventually lead t people’s disappointment. It was hard to assess learning during the progressives era due to the open nature of problem solving. In addition, when the Russians beat the Americans into space. Focusing on the child simply became impractical due to the perceived threat of Russia. In many ways, progressivism was successful because when it was no longer practical it was abandon and this is something that progressivism teaches.

Postmodern Teacher

During the last half of the 20th century the philosophical school of post-modernism arose. Just as with existentialism, post-modernism is a school of thought that is anti-definition and anti-organized. As such, it is hard to pinned down exactly what post-modernist believe and stand for in a way that this could be done for older philosophies. In many, ways, as we get closer to the present era the ideas and tenets of the current philosophies become almost invisible  perhaps because we are living directly under their effect rather than looking at their influence in the past.
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Background

Post-modernism, like almost all philosophies it seems, is a reaction  to modernism.  Modernism primary tenet was to understand the world through the use of reason. Modernist believed that the world had fixed laws that could be observed and understood. Science was the way to understand reality and attain truth. There was also this sense of continuous progress, which is something that is still repeated in the media today.

However, modernism did not solve all problems and lead to a Utopian existence. Instead, throughout the late 19th and 20th century there were consequences of scientific and social progress from pollution, to atomic destruction, wars, famine, disease, etc. It seemed as if every time science solved one problem it eventually led to more problems that were not anticipated.

The foundation for post-modernism was laid by Friedrich Nietzsche who claimed that truth and God are dead. This shifted knowledge from something that was absolute to something that was human generated.

Pragmatism and existentialism further laid the groundwork for post-modernism with pragmatism’s position that knowledge was provisional and constantly changing. Existentialism simply reinforces Nietzsche’s position that knowledge is constructed rather than discovered.

Perhaps one of the strongest influences on post-modernism is Marxism. Karl Marx was focused on class struggles from an economic perspective. Within Postmodernism this was extended to other aspects of society including feminism, racism, sexism, LGBT,  weightism, or generally any minority group who is crying out against the perceived “privilege” of the majority.

Philosophical Implications

Postmodernists essential question everything and it almost seems as if they tear down everything with no real replace for what they are tearing down. It is permissible to have opinions about anything but there is no truth except for the truth that there is no truth because they say so.

An example of questioning reality itself  is in the work of Jacques Derrida and his work on deconstructionism. According to Derrida, language has blocked us from understanding reality because we are using words to describe this reality. This means that whenever we read or examine text we have to unpack or deconstruct the assumptions that the author of the text had in terms of their word choices and context. This is critical because the dominant group writes in a way that excludes the minorities and those without power. Of course, you would need to support Derrida’s words even though they may not be representative of reality either

Other postmodern philosophers suggest that reality is socially constructed by those who have power. Those in power shape reality to benefit themselves. There are examples of this in history, as people in power normally portray the powerless negatively. This has even happened in the world of science where views on bloodletting and even the consumption of cocaine.

After identifying these injustices, the postmodernist is not content to identify problems but to push change. The marginal groups need to rise up from the shackles of their oppressors. Pragmatism push change slightly but postmodernism can almost be revolutionary in its language for transformation. Everything is viewed with an eye towards suspicions that begets change except for the idea of viewing everything with skepticism that leads to change.

When everything is viewed as oppression eventually everything is overturned. Whoever gains power will then be viewed as oppressive until they too are overthrown. Eventually, there is nothing left. The problem with postmodernism is not that it identifies problems but that they have no solution beyond tearing everything down over and over again.

In Education

A postmodern teacher is going to be skeptical of absolute truth. They will stress the idea of doubting the text and trying to identify the inconsistencies in an author’s argument. There will be a focus on minority groups and how they are oppressed by those who are privileged.

With deconstructionism, students are trained to be sensitive to language and its use. This is perhaps one reason why such terms as politically correct are used today. People have been trained to be sensitive to language that does not fit the narrative and to identify hurtful language as almost dangerous.

All opinions are expected to be embraced and appreciated no matter how much they lack in validity and credibility unless they are defined as insensitive. Students will never be called upon to store and share the knowledge of the past. Rather, students are change agents who are called to overthrow the social injustice of the planet. This is not revolution as Marx saw it but rather reconstruction of what was deconstructed.

The curriculum is a process and not based on content. The teacher is also a social justice warrior. What is needed is people who challenge the status quo rather than work within it. Therefore, postmodernist thought is much more people in the softer sciences rather than in STEM fields. STEM requires stability in order to expand technology and make discoveries and money. Unfortunately, social stability is not required as much for a sociology or liberal arts major.  The idealistic nature of postmodernism denies the reality that life has never been fair ever in the entire history of humanity.

Pragmatic Teacher

In this post, we will take a look at pragmatism. This philosophy has played a critical role in shaping ideas about education for a long time. In particular, we will look at the characteristics of pragmatism, its philosophical implications, and how it may manifest it’s self in the classroom.

Background

Pragmatism is a uniquely American 19th century contribution to philosophy with some of the primary influences in this school being such people Charles Perce, William James, and John Dewey. The era in which pragmatism was developed was the industrial revolution and an era of great change. Science was gravitating towards the idea of evolution, which at the time was astounding and even the religious world was in turmoil with people speaking of the end of the world. This environment of rapid change was deeply influencing the thoughts of many people.

With all the chaos swirling throughout the world pragmatism came to the point that there were no ideals or principles to look for. Rather, the focus was on what works and benefits the most than on conforming to an external standard.  This position has had a profound impact on education through the work of the progressives as we shall see.

Philosophical Implications

There are no absolutes with a pragmatist. If there is some form of ultimate reality there is no way to know it here. In other words, while Plato bemoaned the cave and Socrates stated that the cave is all there is, a pragmatist may say that the world of forms is possible but since all we know for sure is the cave we should try to make it as nice as comfortable as possible.

One of the sources of argument that pragmatist make about the constant state of change implying a total lack of absolute truth is changes in science. Examples include, moving from a geocentric worldview to a heliocentric one, or moving from a creationist account of life to an evolutionary one. Since these ideas have changed there must not be any absolute truths to hold on to even though the realm of science is notorious for constant changed.

With all the chaos of the world, pragmatist has decided that truth is what works. Knowledge is based on experience. Through trial and error people learn how to deal with various problems. It is this active process of constructing knowledge through experience that knowledge is constructed. Knowledge is not external or outside the person, instead it is created through interaction with the world. This is a major shift in thinking from pass viewpoint and requires that the individual be an active rather than passive learner because they must interact with the world.

There is a separation in the mind of the pragmatist between knowledge and belief. Beliefs are private while knowledge is publicly available., which means it can be observed and verified by others. True knowledge or truth is relative because of the unstable and changing world that we live in.

Since truth is relative morals and values are relative as well. Local societies decide for themselves what is right and wrong and not an external standard. However, this does not mean anything goes. Stealing is disdained in most societies because it does not work as it tends to encourage crime and chaos. The same for murder. This does not mean to the pragmatist that there are universal moral laws, instead it is simply an indication that different groups of people have had similar experiences with stealing and murder and have made the same conclusion that this does not work.

Pragmatism and Education

A unique belief of pragmatism about students is that they need to be active learners. Students need to experience the world around them through learning activities. School is not preparation but is rather part of life it’s self. Therefore, life long learning is to be expected and not just a temporary period of life in which it is needed for studying.

The  teacher is an expert guide who helps the students. They  are a guide because the world changes too quickly to just dictate material to students. This means that the teacher is learning as well with the advantage of more experience living in a world of flux. Since truth is changing, there is no fix curriculum from yesteryear. Instead, the student’s interests are the center of how  the curriculum is built.

With the focus on the environment, the pragmatic teacher is focused heavily on having students impact the world. This means that an emphasis on social action is a part of the pragmatist classroom. In some classroom social change and attaining social goals (ie social justice warrior) is the entire purpose of education. Other philosophies were trying to maintain the status quo but pragmatism is trying to overturn it if it works.

Conclusion

Pragmatism, like most new movements of their time, is simply a reaction to what came before in response to the challenges of the current context. Pragmatist reject absolute truth except for the absolute truth that there is no absolute truth. The world was truly changing quickly when this school of thought was born. However, unlike Plato, who was also experiencing rapid change and decide to search for absolutes in order to find comfort, the pragmatist reject absolute truth for the comfort of constant change. Instead of trying to preserve knowledge it was better to go with the flow as long as it worked.

Existentialist Teacher

This post will examine the mysterious position of existentialism,  which is basic a school of thought that denies that it is a school of thought.  We will look at the origins of existentialism, the characteristics, and its role in education.

Background

Existentialism is all about the individual. In an interesting paradox, existentialism is so individualistic that they do not see themselves as a group with set of beliefs as other philosophies do. There is a rejection of any unified body of beliefs, thoughts, or system.

Early proponents of existentialism include Soren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche. These two 19th century philosophers were reacting to the nature of Christianity during their time. Kierkegaard focused on emphasizing the responsibility of the individual believer and their choices within religion. Nietzsche went in a different direction and became convince that there was no God and that man was responsible for his actions alone. This conclusion  eventually drove Nietzsche crazy in a literal manner.

Between the extremes of Kierkegaard and  Nietzsche is where most beliefs of existentialism are. Primarily, existentialism is trying to regain the lost of the individual. This sense of lost may have come from more and more people living in cities to work for others along with the growth of the  government in providing services. The existentialist longed for the day when people were independent and could do what they wanted in returned for the responsibility for their actions.

Philosophical Implications

According to existentialism,  a person must define who they are. Defining who you are is not left to an Absolute Self or Natural Law but to the person who existence. Reality is found within the individual person. This is a major shift from idealism view that reality is beyond this world and realism’s belief that reality is in the physical world.

Truth is based on a person’s choice. People believe what they want because  they want to. This seems confusing but it is laying the foundation for post-modernism min the near future with its view of relative truth. Now, the individual is the source of authority and not any other code.

With a lack of external authority existentialism has to determine right and wrong with no source of authority. This source of freedom has been called a slavery to freedom by some. Slavery is bad but paradoxically too much freedom can be burdensome as well since there is no guidance in terms of how to act. Most people want some freedom but perhaps nobody wants complete freedom as this would be injurious to themselves and others if they could truly do whatever they wanted.

Existentialism and Education

A teacher with an existentialist perspective would be surprised at how students are taught. They would see it as oppressive and even with tendency towards being a form of propaganda. Students would need much more choice and responsibility for their own actions since the current form of teaching destroys individualism.

The existentialist teacher is not the center of the instruction but rather a facilitator. The goal is to help students better understand who they are as individuals. This also means that the student should have a choice in what they learn and that the curriculum needs to be somewhat flexible. The goal is the development of the individual and not the society as the society does not care for the ultimate development of the individual.

Conclusion

Existentialism is a system of thought that claims not to be a system because everyone within the system wants total freedom.  This is contradictory yet considered consistent among existentialist. The reaction they have towards the growing power of large society gives this philosophy a romantic longing for almost a wild pre-industrialization world. However, though many people may not agree with some of the tenets of this group many do wish that they could have at least a little more personal freedom and individuality.

Neo-scholastic Teacher

Scholasticism and Neo-Scholasticism is a philosophy that has had a stronger influence in Christian education rather than in secular circles. This post will explore the characteristics of these philosophies as well as their role in education.

Background

Neo-Scholasticism began as simply scholasticism and was simultaneously a movement and a philosophy that sprang up during the medieval time period in Europe somewhere between 1050 and 1350 originating in the early universities. This was primarily a movement within the Catholic church as they controlled higher education at this time in Europe. The scholars of this movement were not as concern about discovery new truth as it was with proving and establishing the validity of existing truth. In other words, Neo-Scholasticism was primarily reactionary in nature.

The reason for the reactionary nature of Neo-Scholasticism was the rediscovery of the writings of Aristotle. These writings had been lost for centuries but had been preserved in the Islamic nations. Through interactions with the Muslim world through trade and war Aristotle’s writings were translated from Arabic into Latin. Aristotle’s realistic views were a challenge to the Platonic/idealistic views of the Christian church.

Scholars, for whatever reason, were convinced that church teachings had to be harmonized with the writings of Aristotle. Why religious teachings and beliefs had to bow to the influence of one Greek philosopher is subject of debate but perhaps the status of Aristotle compelled the church to merge his ideas with their own in order to maintain intellectual leadership of Europe.

The leader of this merger of faith and reason was Thomas Aquinas. He proposed that people should learn as much as they can through human reason and have faith in matters that cannot be reasoned about. Therefore, at the heart of scholasticism was human reason which in many ways had displaced faith.

Neo-Scholasticism is the modern equivalent of Scholasticism.  The primary difference is that Neo-Scholasticism has religious and secular branch whereas Scholasticism had only one main branch or school of thought.

Philosophical Implications

Scholasticism focus was on accommodating the philosophy of Aristotle with christian thought. Therefore, many of Aristotle’s beliefs are reinterpreted as much as possible to be consistent with Christianity. For example, Aristotle spoke of the Unmoved Mover, which he stated was the first cause of all other causes in the universe. Aquinas equated the Unmoved Mover with God.

Reality had a dualistic nature to it for the scholastic. The natural world was understood through reasoning while the supernatural world was available through revelation and intuition. Truth could be self-evident such as “2+2 = 4” or it can depend on observed experience such as “The average life expectancy is 72 years.” The greatest truth are the unchanging self-evident such as those found in mathematics rather than observed experiential truth.

Morality is governed by reason. There is an assumption that people are rational at their core. The more rational the higher moral quality a person should have.

Neo-Scholasticism and Education

The teacher’s role from a Neo-Scholastic perspective is to help rational students develop their reasoning, will power, and memory. The teacher is the center of the education process and works with students to transfer information. The subject matter takes precedent over the students’ interest.

With  its religious roots, Neo-Scholasticism see the teacher as a spiritual leader. This involves discipleship and even discipline at times. Only through this process can the student acquiring understanding of the unalterable truths of the world.

The curriculum of Neo-Scholasticism would include the humanities, math, and foreign languages (primarily Greek and Latin). The humanities allow students to understand the logic and thinking of great minds, math demonstrates unchanging truths, and foreign languages provides rigors training for the mind. The mind is a muscle that must be strengthened through examining the works of other men.

Conclusion

Neo-Scholasticism has not had the impact on education that idealism or realism has. The emphasis on teacher-centered instruction and memorizing is a major departure from modern forms of teaching. A good memory is not the same as a critical thinker. As with all schools of thought, Neo-Scholasticism suffers from a lack of balance. What is really needed is a flexible position that varies depending on the context.

Metaphysics & Education

Metaphysics is the study of reality and the nature or character of it. This branch  of philosophy deals primarily with what is real. This may seem like an obvious question with an obvious answer. However, different people answer this question in different ways based on what they believe about the nature of reality and how we come to know it.

There are at least four sub-branches of metaphysics  that attempt to address the question of the nature of reality. These four branches are…

  • Cosmology
  • Ontology
  • Anthropology
  • Theology

We will look at each of these and then try to examine how metaphysics manifest itself in education.

Cosmology

Cosmology deals with the origins of the universe. The main views of the origins of the universe can be seen as a continuum from the universe was created or design by God or the other extreme that everything about the universe has happened by accident as is commonly viewed by evolution.  A middle ground along this continuum would be theistic evolution, which states that a divine being used evolution to create the world.

The beliefs an  individual has about cosmology affects other aspects of their life, education, and how they interpret what they experience. For example, an atheist scientist see nature and is awed by the random movement of natural selection to create such beauty. However, a theist would see the same evidence in nature and be led to the conclusion that God has created a beautiful climate. When these two sides meet they cannot agree because they have different assumptions or beliefs about origins and interpret what they see based on these beliefs.

Ontology

Ontology is the study of existence. This is probably one of the harder positions to understand. However, ontology deals with such ideas as whether reality is physical or spiritual, or a combination of the two. In addition, Ontology addresses whether reality is orderly and stable.

People’s beliefs about being can impact how the approach life. If there is nothing there is no reason to care or do anything. However, if there is something beyond this life and life was created with purpose this will alter a person’s behavior as they consider how they may be held accountable for their actions.

Anthropology

Anthropology is the study of man. Some questions that anthropology focuses on in particular is the relationship between the mind and the body. Is it the mind or the body the primary agent of behavior. Other questions include examining whether people or good or evil or morally neutral. Lastly, anthropology addresses the question of the freedom people have. Do people have choice or is their behavior determined by their environment?

The nature vs nurture argument is an old argument about the condition of man. The ultimate question is who is responsible for the actions that people take. The answer to this question evolves around views of the will.

Theology

Theology is the study of the nature of God and plays a profound role at least indirectly in all philosophy. Atheist strongly believe there is no God. As such, the support primarily science as a way of understanding reality. Theists believe there is a God or gods and this natural affects how they view realty.

Even among theists there is disagreement over how many gods there are. Polytheists believe in many gods while monotheists believe in one God. Pantheists believe god(s) is in everything and that they are gods. The position a person has on God can change how they view the world. Monotheists often believe in having a relationship with  one God in order to prepare for the reality of death in this life and the promise of living forever. Polytheists tend to have a contractual quid pro quo relationship with many different gods in order to do better in this world now and smooth the transition to living another life via some form of reincarnation.

Metaphysics and Education

Metaphysics manifest itself in many ways in education. In terms of cosmology and theology, most schools support the idea that the world came about by chance and that life evolved from almost nothing billions of years ago. This is related to theology in that most schools doubt the existence of God being openly atheistic in nature or may at most be agnostic in nature.   In a non-Western context, gods or polytheism is acknowledged and accepted in everyday life but traditional science and atheistic origins of the universe are generally taught in school. This can lead to a dual world view at times.

In terms of ontology and anthropology, the views on ontology vary by culture in education. In the West, the spiritual aspect of man is not acknowledged in education due in part to the focus on science. However, this is beginning to change with the emphasis on mindfulness and meditation in public education. In the East, there is a more open view towards the spiritual nature of man.

In terms of education, students are generally taught that man is inherently good but  may be corrupted by his environment and culture. In the East, education teaches that man is good by nature but may make mistakes. Culture is rarely criticized in eastern education.

Conclusion

Metaphysics is a difficult concept to try to address and understand. The important thing to remember is that metaphysics deals with the question of what is reality and that different people answer this question i different ways. How people answer these questions depends in part on their beliefs about cosmology, ontology, anthropology, and theology.

Realistic Teacher

Realism is another philosophy that has had a tremendous impact on education and the world in general. The modern world seems to be almost exclusively realist in terms of its worldview thanks in part to the scientific position that most individuals take on matters.

In this post, we will look briefly at the characteristics of realism. In addition, we will also examine how a teacher who believes in realism may approach teaching and realism’s impact on the broader educational process.

Background

Just as Plato was reacting to the change that was surrounding him when he developed his views on idealism, his pupil Aristotle react to idealism by proposing realism. Realism states that objects we perceive with our senses are independent of our mind. In other words, what see exist independently of us and our mind.

However, realism is not a rejection of idealism but in many ways an extension of it. Aristotle thought that everything was made of a combination of form and matter. Form was similar to the ideals of Plato’s idealism and matter was the new contribution that Aristotle was making which is a focus on the material aspect of an object. Form or ideas can exist without matter, such as the ideal or form democracy. Yet matter cannot exist with a form, such as a physical chair with the idea or form of a chair.

Aristotle further proposed that studying the world or matter would lead to a better understanding of universal ideas. This concept has had a strong impact on research in the development of inductive methodology also known as the scientific method.

Philosophical Implications

Reality as seen through idealism is the physical world. The world is similar to a giant machine in which humans are both passively acted upon and actively influencing as well. There are also natural laws that govern the physical world that can be discovered through observation.

Knowledge is gained only through the senses. Something is true because  it was observed. The natural law is within the reality of the natural world and the realist is looking for this through specific examples. This inductive process helps the realist to understand the world around him. In many ways, the Natural Law of the realist is the Absolute Self of the idealist. The difference is in how each is discovered. The idealist thinks about the Absolute Self and knows through intuition that there is an external standard. The realist observes the Natural Law with is senses which confirms the Natural Law’s reality.

Natural Law also extends into the realm of ethics. It is through observing nature and the world that what is right and wrong, beautiful and ugly can be determined according realism. In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson  alludes to realism when he speaks of “inalienable rights.” In other words, Jefferson was proposing that some of the rights of man are obvious if one examines the world in which they live.

Realism and Education

A realistic teacher stresses that students learn through their senses. This involves teaching methodologies that have students doing and experiencing things rather than just listening. This can include such activities as field trips, group work, projects etc.

On a darker side, a realist teacher may believe that students are a product of their environment. This has been interpreted as meaning that students do not truly have choice as they are simple responding to the stimuli in their environment. This has lead to a push in education for a focus on behaviorism and even classical conditioning. Furthermore, most learning objectives are behaviorist in nature because a teacher can “see” a behavior which is evidence that the student can do something.  Off course, this has clash with cognitivism (idealism in the 20th century) which focuses on the mind rather than the behavior.

The teacher’s role is to provide sound information about the reality of the physical world and the Natural Law. This is further supported by a focus on math and science, which today is viewed as a focus on STEM majors. One thing all STEM majors have in common is a focus on what can be seen and a disinterest in the realm of ideas and the highly theoretical. Critical thinking is focus almost exclusively on  problem solving and never for the development of an opinion. What really matters are facts and not so much what people think about them.

With the focus on the senses, one thing the teacher and the students will notice is that the world is in a constant state of change. This has led to a rejection of a permanent Natural Law due to the ephemeral quality of reality.

Conclusion

Realism is the primary worldview of education  today. Seeing is believing as the saying goes. Almost nothing is taken seriously unless there is clear observable evidence to support it. Of course, many people believe that feelings and personal experience counts as evidence. This is because feelings and personal experience have actual occurred in the individual person’s life.

Idealistic Teacher

Idealism is an ancient philosophy that had a strong influence on education through the 20th century. Recently, this position has been overshadowed by realism, however, the influence of idealism can still be felt in education to this day. In this post, we will describe idealism, explain the implications, and examined how an idealistic teacher views education.

Description

Idealism is focus on reality as consisting of ideas, the mind and self. In other words, the mind makes the material world rather than the other way around as found in realism. Plato is the primary author of this philosophy.

The context of Plato’s life was one of change. This was during the time of the Persian Wars in which Greece, Athens in particular, did remarkable well. War naturally brings new ideas to both countries which was leading to changes. In addition, there was a push for individualism from a group of philosophers known as the sophists which was straining the communal culture of Athens.

Some have stated that Plato’s idealism was a reaction against this threat of change. Truth for Plato was permanent and unchanging. Since the world was changing, there could be no truth in this world. Truth must be found somewhere else. The real truth was found in the world of ideas a place that was beyond the senses used in this world.

Plato has rather negative views towards the senses. In his “Allegory of the Cave”, Plato essentially asserts that people who go by their senses are chain and trapped inside a cave of ignorance where they are bound to watch shadows of reality. Those who break free from these chains are those who have gone beyond their senses and use their intellect to reach the world of ideas. Naturally, only an elite handful of chosen ones or philosopher kings are able to do this.

Philosophical Implications

For idealist, the source of knowledge comes from intuition (knowing without conscious thought), revelation (knowing through supernatural encounters), and rationalism (knowing through conscious thought). What is important here is what is missing, which is empiricism (knowledge through the senses). Idealist do not require empirical verification of what is true. In the world today, this is almost laughable but was a core component of education for centuries.

Ethically, idealism emphasis a belief in an external ethical standard to man. Man cannot be the one to decide what is right or wrong. Instead, morals are determined by the world of ideas through the intellect. There is something called the Absolute self that the individual self is trying to imitate. This Absolute Self is considered by many to be God as seen from a christian perspective. Again this is something that would not be considered seriously by many educators.

There is an eternal consistency to truth for idealist.  Something is true when it fits with the harmony of the universe. Even art must make sense and must be used in a way that is consistent the perfect form of the world of ideas. This explains the sonority of early forms of music that have been lost gradually over time.

Idealism and Education

An idealistic teacher is going to focus on the development of the students mind. There is a constant striving for perfection in study of various subjects. Speaking of subjects, the curriculum consist primarily of the humanities and math. History and literature help students to see what is ideal for humans and the study of math is powerful because of its universal nature along with it being a self-evidently true. Generally, any subject that brings students into contact with ideas rather than things should be considered for the curriculum

The teacher’s responsibility is to pass their knowledge of the ultimate reality to the student as the teacher has more experience in this and the Absolute Self. Therefore, the teacher is an example for the student. Knowledge is seen as something that is transferred from the teacher to the student either verbally or writing. This implies that lecturing and direct instruction are key methodologies.

One of the more shocking positions of the idealistic teacher is that the school is not an agent of change. The idealistic teacher and the idealistic school do not train and educate “change agents”. Rather, since absolute truth is unchanging the school should natural reflect an unchanging nature and support the status quo. Anyone familiar with education in universities today would find this difficult to accept.

Conclusion

With focus on an other worldly perfect standard,  idealism is strongly out of place in a world that is governed or perhaps controlled by what they see and experience. Whenever people try to appeal to some sort of unqualified standard it is looked upon almost with ridicule. The exception seems to be when people share an emotional objection to something. Feelings have replaced some form of ethereally standard because emotions are experienced and felt rather than thought about.

The overemphasis on ideals is perhaps the weakness of idealism. Plato thought that people who only rely on their senses were trapped in a cave and unaware of true reality. However, the same can be said of a person who is trapped in the world of ideas. The person who is truly free is the one who can move between the senses and the mind or who can move between the reality of t ideas and physical world. Moving between these positions provides a flexible that neither has by itself.

Learner-Centered Instruction

Learner-centered instruction is a term that has been used in education for several decades now. One of the challenges of extremely popular terms in a field such as learner-centered instruction is that the term loses its meaning as people throw it into a discussion without knowing exactly what the term means.

The purpose of this post is to try and explain some of the characteristics of learner-centered instruction without being exhaustive.  In addition, we will look at the challenges to this philosophy as well as ways to make it happen in the classroom.

Focus on the Students

Learner-centered instruction is focused on the students. What this means is that the teacher takes into account the learning goals and objectives of the students in establishing what to teach. This requires the teacher to conduct at least an informal needs assessment to figure out what the students want to learn.

Consultation with the students allows for the students to have some control over their learning which is empowering as viewed by those who ascribe to critical theory. Consultation also allows students to be creative and innovative. This sounds like a perfect learning situation but to be  this centered  on the learner can be difficult

Challenge of Learner-Centered Instruction

Since the learning experience is determined by the students, the teacher does not have any presupposed plan in place prior to consulting with the students. As such, not having a plan in place beforehand is extremely challenging for new teachers and difficult even for experienced ones. The teacher doesn’t know what to expect in terms of the needs of the students.

In theory, almost no class follows such a stringent approach to learner-centered instruction. Most schools have to meet government requirements, prepare students for the workplace, and or show improvements in testing. This limits the freedom of the teacher to be learner-centered in many ways. External factors cannot be ignored to adhere to the philosophy of learner-centered instruction.

Finding a Compromise

One way to be learner-centered while still having some sort of a plan prior to teaching is to rethink the level at which the students have a voice in the curriculum. For example, if it is not possible to change the objectives of a course, the teacher can have the students develop the assignments they want to do to achieve an objective.

The teacher could also allow the students to pick from several different assignments that all help to achieve the same objective(s). This gives the students some control over their learning while allowing the teacher to adhere to external requirements. It also allows the teacher to be prepared in some way prior to the teaching.

Conclusion

The average educator does not have the autonomy to give to students to allow for the full implementation of learner-centered instruction. However, there are several ways to adjust one’s approach to teaching that will allow students to have a sense of control over their learning.

Approach, Method, Procedure, and Techniques In Language Learning

In language teaching,  in the general area of teaching methodology, people talk about approaches, methods, procedures, and techniques. This post will help to clarify the meaning of these interrelated terms and provide examples of each.

Approaches

An approach is a theory about language learning or even a philosophy of how people learn in general. They can be psychologically focused such as behaviorism or cognitivism. They can also be based on older philosophies such as idealism or realism.

Approaches are fuzzy and hard to define because they are broad in nature. An example of an approach that leads to a method would be the philosophies of scholasticism, faculty of psychology, or even perennialism. Each of these philosophies encouraged the development of the mind in the way of a muscle. Train the brain and a person would be able to do many different things. These philosophies have impacted some methods of language teaching as we will see below.

Method

A method is an application of an approach in the context of language teaching. An example of a method is the grammar-translation method. This method employs the memorization of various grammar rules and the translation of second language material to the student’s native language. Students were able to develop the intellectual capacity to understand the new language through a deductive process of acquiring the rules of the language.The purpose is not to critique this method but to show how it was derived from the approach that the mind needs to be trained through intellectual exercises to be able to accomplish something.

Procedures

Procedures are the step-by-step measures to execute a method. These step-by-step measures are called techniques and will be discussed next. Common procedures for the grammar-translation method includes the following…

The ESL / ELL Teacher’s Survival Guide

  1. The class reads a text written in the second language.
  2. Student translates the passage from the second language to their mother tongue.
  3. Student translates new words from the second language to their mother tongue.
  4. Student is given a grammar rule and derived from the example they apply the rule by using the new words.
  5. Student memorizes the vocabulary of the second language.
  6. Student memorizes grammar rules.
  7. Errors made by the student are corrected by providing the right answers.

This is the process (with variation) that is used when employing the grammar-translation method.

Techniques

A technique is a single activity that comes from a procedure. Anyone of the steps of the procedure list above qualifies as a technique. Naturally, various methods employ various techniques.

Conclusion

Language teaching involves approaches that lead to methods, methods that are broken down into procedures, and procedures that are a collection of techniques. Understanding how these concepts interrelate can help a teacher know the reasons behind their choices in how they choose to teach.

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Essentialism & Curriculum

Essentialism is another prominent educational philosophy. This philosophy is grounded in idealism and realism of the ancient Greeks. The heart of essentialism is the the “essentials” which includes the 3Rs.

A major difference between essentialism and perennialism is essentialism is focused on what is necessary foundational knowledge that students currently need. Perennialism’s curriculum tends to be unchanging since it is focused on absolute truth.

The arts are not a major component of existentialism since art is not deemed necessary. Instead, there is an emphasis on mastering skills and presenting a subject-centered curriculum to students who are not consulted about what they want to learn. The teacher is the center of the learning and the student is to respect the authority of the teacher.

More on essentialism and the role of the teacher can be found here

Perennialism and Curriculum

Perennialism is a specific educational philosophy and is derived from ancient Greek philosophies such as idealism and realism. One of the major tenets of perennialism is that knowledge that has withstood the test of time is what is needed to be taught. The goals of education have been the same throughout time. Human nature is constant and mankind has the ability to understand the truths of nature.

Common characteristics of a perennialist curriculum is a subject centered lessons, organized body of knowledge, and a focuses on developing the thinking skills of students. Lecture, question, and answer are common instructional methods. There is no difference among students and everyone learns the same thing at the same speed.  The “three Rs” are one form of this type of curriculum.

A more recent view of perennialism and the teacher is available here