Tag Archives: educational philosophy

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.

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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.

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