Successfully reported this slideshow.
We use your LinkedIn profile and activity data to personalize ads and to show you more relevant ads. You can change your ad preferences anytime.



Published on

Published in: Spiritual, Education
  • Be the first to comment


  1. 1. Philosophical Perspectives in EducationWilliam Allan Kritsonis, PhDQuestions for Consideration1. How can philosophical inquiry aid the educational leader in examiningproblems and decisions facing education in general, and a district or acampus in particular?2. How is it possible for educational leaders to create educational theoriesand even policies from examining and extrapolating from the variousphilosophical systems?3. How can the study of philosophy, viewed from an educational focus,stimulate teachers and administrators to think about education in generalterms and for the general good of students; and how will these studieshelp to avert empty promises of panaceas, or the lure of subscribing topropagandistic slogans which mean little to the goals of education?4. The eleven educational philosophies/theories discussed in this chaptercan be clustered into two major groups. The philosophies within thesegroups have strong parallels and the general comparisons can simplifythe process of identifying them. Make a “t-chart” with a “traditional”heading on one side and “non-traditional” on the other. Place each of thephilosophies on one side or the other as you read.
  2. 2. This chapter is a summary of the major philosophical perspectives ineducation. The purpose of this chapter is to assist the reader in relearning,classifying, comparing, contrasting, and analyzing these philosophicalperspectives. Ultimately, self-analysis and self-evaluation of our ownphilosophies of leadership and teaching will result in more deliberate,purposeful decision making in relation to our visions and goals. The chapteris divided into the following sections: 1) Potential questions to consider forpreparation for the Comprehensive exams. Our final exam for thePhilosophical Perspectives class had six excellent question, of which I haveincluded three that have the most likely application to our daily practice aseducators; 2) key terms and definitions; 3) an introduction on why educatorsshould study philosophy; 4) Idealism; 5) Realism; 6) Naturalism; 7)Pragmatism; 8) Progressivism; 9) Existentialism; 10) Essentialism; 11)Perennialism; 12) Social Reconstructionism; 13) Critical Theory; 14)suggested follow-up activities for application to your personal experiences;and 15) internet links to relevant sites for each of the philosophies.Introduction: Why Study Philosophy?The great philosophers have struggled with the dualistic dilemma ofmind and body for thousands of years. Educators, too, have a dualisticdilemma between theory and practice: The classroom theories of
  3. 3. professional training and thought, to the classroom practice of professionalaction. Gerald Gutek, in Philosophical and Ideological Perspectives onEducation, writes that “theory without practice is insufficient; practiceunguided by theory is aimless” (1). The purpose of studying philosophicalperspectives in education is, ideally, to give aim to the myriad of “practices”that are being proposed in our current era of educational reform.When we talk about “philosophy” we are talking about how one viewsthe world. Every philosophy has an ontology (a view of what reality is), anepistemology (a view of how we know about that reality), and an axiology(those concepts that are valued within this reality). How one view’s reality(ontology) shapes his/her beliefs about knowledge (epistemology). Aparticular perspective of reality assumes, or is based on, specific conceptionsof human nature. This chapter’s summary of philosophical perspectives ineducation will focus on Idealism, Realism, Thomism, Naturalism,Pragmatism, Progressivism, Existentialism, Essentialism, Perennialism,Social Reconstructivism, and Critical Theory.“Education” refers to the process of enculturation of a society’s younginto the cultural life of the community. This enculturation happensinformally in the society through the family, church, media, government,and peers. It also occurs more formally in the school setting. Therefore,
  4. 4. philosophers have long recognized the importance of the interaction betweenhuman beings and society. Education, then, is the transmission of values.The powerful philosophies that have transcended time have also shaped ourview of the world and our view of human nature, and, therefore, our view ofeducation. The perspective of a philosophy in education must be discussedin terms other than ontology, epistemology, and axiology. It mustinvestigate how reality is taught, how truth is taught, why schools exist,what should be taught (the curriculum), the role of the teacher, the role ofthe student, and the school’s attitude toward change.Two and a half years ago, Cohort VIII presented in depth self-analyses of leadership style and teaching style in terms of the majorphilosophical “isms” mentioned above. To a person, we were amazed athow our “personal philosophies” were actually a combination of many, ifnot all, of the “isms” in one way or another. An analysis of one class periodwould likely reveal many of the “isms” being implemented, oftencontradictory ones. How does this ‘meritage’ of philosophical ideas survivein our supposedly rational minds? The study of philosophical perspectivesas systems of thought require us to use the scientific method of analysis topull apart the numerous world-views that have been proposed in order tounderstand the individual parts more clearly. It is like an inquisitive
  5. 5. youngster who takes apart the lawnmower to understand how it works. Inone pile of parts he/she investigates the workings of the ignition system.Another pile contains parts that deal with the rotation of the blade. A studyof the individual parts allows for a deeper understanding of how the entirelawnmower interacts as a system when it is put back together again.Similarly, in this chapter, we will pull out the different philosophicalperspectives in education with the hope of having a better understanding ofourselves when they are reassembled. It is this reflective process that createsconsciousness of the theories that underpin our practices. With thisawareness we can evaluate our practices as teachers and administratorswithin the context of the educational missions of our district, state, andnation. In this way, philosophy of education can help us avoid “promises ofpanaceas or … propagandistic slogans…” and “encourage teachers toexamine and to formulate the broad personal and professional goals thatshould guide educational practice” (Gutek, 10). How appropriate thatPlato’s famous line of “know thyself” is also the purpose of this inquiry.We must know ourselves as educators in order for our practice to have aim!IdealismIn Socrates’ and Plato’s era, those known as Sophists proposed one ofthe dominant theories of philosophical ethics. The word sophist stimulates
  6. 6. thoughts of “sophomore” (wise fool) and “sophistry” (deceitfulargumentation), but simply stated it was a belief in the relativity of beliefsabout concepts such as truth, beauty, and good. The sophists argued forsituational ethics, which means that truth, beauty, and good change based onthe experiential circumstances of the individual. Therefore, ethics willchange when circumstances change. The sophists believed that educationcould be achieved through specialized vocational or professional trainingthat fit the individual. The emphasis was on specialization.From a modern anthropological perspective, the sophists have muchin common with our society’s efforts to foster cultural understanding,religious tolerance, and even acceptance of economically influenced socialbehaviors. The term “situational ethics” stirs images of “situationalleadership”, not so much in a consistency of beliefs but in the proceduralinteractions with changing circumstances. The Sophists claim that changingexperiences and circumstances impacts ethics. This view hints of‘primordial’ existentialism. A strong argument can be made that theSophists were professing a world-view similar to the more eloquent writingsof later existentialists Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and Sartre.As a student of Socrates and teacher of Aristotle, the Greekphilosopher Plato is considered to be the founder of the western philosophy
  7. 7. of Idealism. Socrates and Plato developed a philosophical system thatresponded directly to the dominant Sophists of the day, and created thefoundation for philosophical inquiry by western civilization. Plato’s majorworks include The Republic, Protagoras, and Phaedo. Plato’s CaveAllegory, which has achieved icon status in western learning, defines realityas the world of the mind. Plato believed that all knowledge of the universehad an underlying unity and that through the trauma of birth humans lostmemory of this universal knowledge. Therefore, the purpose of education,and LIFE, was to journey inward into one’s own mind to “educe”, or pullout, the universal knowledge that existed within. Thus the famous mantra of“know thyself.” The journey inward is achieved through the Socraticmethod of questioning, and dialogue with others as a means to questionourselves. Through such reflective questioning, Plato believed the universal(big ‘T’) Truths could be learned.The cave serves as a symbol for the world where people do not knowthemselves, but instead only see man made shadows of ideas. Because ofthe lack of inquiry about these shadows, people believe them to be (little ‘t’)truths. For Plato, the lack of inquiry of one’s own mind results in self-deception. Such self-deception is equated to imprisonment as the people ofthe cave are chained. Freedom is achieved through the arduous journey out
  8. 8. of the cave to the light where the universal Truths will be understood. Atthat point, the newly “enlightened” philosopher should return to the cave tolead, guide, and rescue others. The parallels to western religion and teachingare astounding. God/Allah/Yahweh is a universal Being and All Knowingoften represented as the light that will lead mankind from darkness. Yet Helives “within” everyone and individually people must seek Him. Thisjourney can be difficult and may require difficult changes in a person’s lifeand lifestyle. When an individual becomes enlightened to this UniversalKnowledge, he or she should return to lead, guide, and rescue others.Christianity and Islam in particular have evangelical elements that havemade them two of the most prolific religions in the world.Plato’s impact on western philosophy reaches far into history to ourmodern times, which is why subsequent philosophical perspectives ineducation will have elements that are similar to Plato’s Idealism and otherphilosophies in between. Nietzsche, regardless of personal opinions of hiswork, offers a good definition of knowledge: “the strength of knowledgedoes not depend on its degree of truth but on its age, on the degree to whichit has been incorporated…” (The Gay Science, 169-70).The ontology (what is reality) of Plato is the world of the mind. It isin the world of the mind where one sees universal Truths or the shadowy
  9. 9. truths. Plato’s epistemology (how do we know) is that ideas are universaland therefore consistent, allowing knowledge to be recognized like areminiscence of the universal ideas that exist within all of our minds.Idealist axiology (values) is the imitation of the ideal self or emulation of an‘enlightened’ persona. Based on the Idealist ontology, epistemology, andaxiology, we can understand the Idealist perspective in education. To teachreality Idealists teach subjects that inquire about the mind such as literature,philosophy, and religion. Teaching Truth is accomplished through teachingideas using lecture and discussion. Lecture and discussion as a teachingmethod is consistent with the role of the teacher as a person to be emulated,the enlightened one, and that goodness is taught through the imitation ofheroes and exemplars. The Idealist educator believes strongly in his or herrole as an exemplar for students. The purpose of a school’s existence is tosharpen minds and the intellectual process so that students can learn the“wisdom of the ages” (the Idealist curriculum). The great works that professthe wisdom of the ages in themselves become exemplars of intellectualthinking to be emulated. The role of the student is to receive and memorizeknowledge. Students do not create knowledge because knowledge alreadyexists universally. From an Idealist perspective, since Truth cannot bechanged it must be preserved which means that an Idealist school would be
  10. 10. against changes that threaten the pursuit of the world of the mind. TheConservatism of Edmund Burke in the 18thcentury is a more modernapplication of Idealism in that he reacted against the revolutionary changesof his century. He believed in the “accumulated wisdom of the human race,as a force for social stability” (Gutek, 198).RealismPlato’s greatest student was also his greatest critic. After studyingunder Plato, Aristotle challenged the Idealist ontology of the world of themind as a result of his scientific inquiries into the natural world. Aristotlecreated a hierarchy of nature. At the bottom were inanimate objects, such asrocks, and progressively ranking plant and animal life forms with humans atthe top. What placed humans at the top, according to Aristotle, was theability to reason. Aristotle has been called the “Father of Science” becauseof his methodical inquiries into the natural world, but when such methodsare built on Plato’s emphasis of self-inquiry, these two Greek philosopherscreated a methodology for philosophical inquiry that has permeated the lasttwo thousand years. Philosophical inquiry has become self-examinationusing the scientific method of inquiry. Aristotle’s scientific study ofmaterial, objective reality did not completely disregard his Idealist teacher.Aristotle believed that humans also possessed a soul, or mind, thus setting
  11. 11. up the great philosophical dilemma about the duality of human nature (mindand body). Aristotle believed that humankind had the goal to progresstoward happiness, which could be achieved through the sharpening ofreason.The ontology (reality) for Realism is a world of things.Epistemologically (how we know), Realists use their senses of observation.Unlike Idealism, Realism believes that the universal “Truths” exist in frontof us. We don’t discover those “Truths” through reflective inquiry, butthrough the application of scientific reasoning. The axiology of Realism(values), therefore, is the laws of nature that can be revealed through theapplication of scientific reason. Teaching reality is done through subjects ofthe physical world such as math and science. The purpose of a school’sexistence, then, is to reveal the order of the world and universe, and thecurriculum should teach the laws of physical reality. The curriculum shouldalso include liberal arts, which sharpen the development of rationality. Therole of the Realist teacher is to display and impart knowledge while thestudent manipulates the knowledge and is at best a passive participant.Since Realists believe that humankind is working toward a “goal”, change isseen as positive as long as it is orderly. Truth in the Realist school would betaught for “mastery of information” with the ability to demonstrate or recite
  12. 12. learned material. Basic intellectual access to knowledge is necessary inorder for scientific reasoning that requires problem solving, analysis, andevaluation.The Theistic Realism of Thomas Aquinas in the 13thcentury was animportant step in the survival of Realism in the Age of Faith. Aquinas’Summa Theologiae successfully argued that reason and faith arecomplimentary rather than contradictory as he attempted to synthesizeAristotle’s philosophy with Christian doctrines. Like Aristotle, Aquinas sawhumankind working toward a greater good on earth, but added that theultimate good was the experience of being in the presence of God. Reasonwas necessary for the implementation of free will. The ontology,epistemology, and axiology of Theistic Realism are the same as Realism, butthere are some variations in the perspective of Theistic Realism, orThomism, in education. Thomists believe that human beings shouldcultivate both spirituality and reason. Aquinas noted that knowledge doesnot necessarily lead to morality, so moral education should require the use ofreason to recognize and evaluate “courses of action” (Gutek, 54). Moraleducation is an issue that our schools are currently dealing with. Somepoliticians believe/argue that poor test scores are a reflection of lower moralstandards. A Thomist would assert that the parent is the primary educator of
  13. 13. a child because they cultivate the “values that support morality, religion, andeducation” (Gutek, 56). Research has been accumulating to support theimportance of the role of parental involvement in the academic achievementof a child, and the influence of home life situations that support a child’sacademic endeavors, or identifies him/her as “at-risk.” Finally, the Thomistteacher “should be a skilled communicator…” using words correctly, andcommunicating within the realm of the student’s experience. The Thomistteacher should lead a student to new educational outcomes based on whatthe student already knows, which requires “careful structuring andorganizing of lessons” (Gutek, 57). Essentially, an orderly, rationalapproach to the lesson will lead the student forward. For many Thomists,and many teachers today, teaching comes from a love of learning and a call“to serve humanity” (Gutek, 57).NaturalismIdealists, Realists, and Thomists have clear lines of demarcation fromone another, but the development of Naturalism in the early 18thcentury, andit’s evolution in to the late 19thcentury, reveals a new view of human nature.The three primary Naturalists are Jean-Jacques Rousseau, HeinrichPestalozzi, and Herbert Spencer. Rousseau often revealed a romantic viewof human nature, Pestalozzi retained a belief in God, and Spencer adapted
  14. 14. Darwin’s evolutionary theories into a competitive ethical system (Gutek,63). Despite these differences, Naturalists share three common beliefs: 1)“one must look to nature and to human nature, as part of the natural order,for the purposes of education”, 2) we understand nature “through thesenses”, and 3) because “nature’s processes are slow…education also shouldbe unhurried” (Gutek, 63).The ontology (reality) for Naturalism is nature itself. Naturalistsbelieve that human nature is defined by the interaction of human beings withtheir environment, therefore, “there is no single order of reality” (Gutek, 63).The subjectivity of human nature is thus introduced … a clear separationfrom the objectivity of Idealism and Realism. If human nature is definedthrough interaction with nature, the epistemology (how we know) ofNaturalism is observing results using the scientific method of inquiry. Achild can learn how to do something through trial and error. The axiology(values) of Naturalism is to harmonize one’s life more closely with nature.Notice how harmony with nature as a goal has replaced Plato’s universalTruths, Aristotle’s happiness, and Aquinas’ presence of God. Teaching thereality of Naturalism, if reality is nature itself, is achieved by observation ofnature. Nature will teach us what is real and truth can be learned throughexperiences and discoveries, and interactions with others. Nature is the
  15. 15. teacher. The role of the ‘human teacher’ is that of a facilitator thatverbalizes little, focuses on the child’s growth development, and allows thechild to discover in a self-directed, unhurried pace. The role of theNaturalist teacher is also very different from that of the verbal teacher inIdealism, Realism, and Thomism. The Naturalist student is involved andinteractive rather than a passive receptacle of pre-existing knowledge. Inthis context, schools exist to provide ‘guidance’ over a twenty-year perioduntil the student develops the habit of being a life long learner. Thecurriculum should consist of practical subjects that allow for the mastery ofnature. Naturalist educators see change as a part of nature but warn of therole of society in the development of character. Since characterdevelopment is currently a hot educational issue, it is interesting to note thatRousseau clarified the difference between two types of self-esteem. Thefirst was amour de soi, or the intrinsic love of being, and amour propre, orpride. Rousseau believed that intrinsic love of being could be learned fromnature, but pride and selfishness would be learned from society. Here, theissue of self-esteem has entered the education lexicon, and would remain acritical element of educational perspectives up to today.Pestalozzi (1747-1827) is believed to be the Naturalist who had thegreatest impact on the development of American schools. His life coincided
  16. 16. with the events of the French Revolution and the early nation building of theyoung United States. As with Rousseau, Pestalozzi likely received atraditional education founded on the principles of Idealism and Realism.Therefore, elements of both will be evident in Naturalism. Like the Realists,Pestalozzi believed that reason was the key to understanding the natural lawsof the universe. The purpose of studying those laws is where he and theother Naturalists differed. Pestalozzi argued that children are naturally goodand are only corrupted by society. Therefore, children could be made to begood through education in spite of their parents and society. In the innercities and impoverished rural areas of the United States, the belief ofeducation as an equalizer, as a tool to create “good” people regardless ofsociological background, is central to the belief that education is critical todemocracy (as argued by Thomas Jefferson and Horace Mann).Darwin’s Origin of Species, an example of the use of reason todiscover the natural law of specie diversification, inadvertently brought fortha new twist on Naturalism. Evolutionary Naturalism became popular in itsargument that humankind successfully adapted to a changing naturalenvironment. Herbert Spencer, however, transferred the natural law tosociety, arguing that individuals and even nations compete for survival, andonly the most fit will adapt to the changing social environment being created
  17. 17. by the industrial revolution. Spencer saw education as preparation for acompetitive world and emphasized early identification of skills and talents todetermine where a child’s energies could produce the most beneficialeducation for his survival. The undemocratic language of such beliefs isperhaps one of the reasons that “tracking” as an educational practice, isconsidered unethical.Naturalism took several turns, all of which have influenced oureducational practices, yet the primary contribution is the perspective thatnature (environment) influences the development of human beings (physical,intellectual, and social). Naturalism serves as a springboard for perhaps themost influential philosophy in American education; John Dewey’sPragmatism, and the introduction of human development as a psychologicalprocess resulting from interaction with a subjective environment.PragmatismPragmatism is the first educational philosophy credited to Americanorigin. Despite the demarcation from Idealism, Realism, and Thomism toNaturalism, these philosophies shared a common view of reality, “in whichtruth is a priori, or prior to and independent of human experience” (Gutek,78). Even the Naturalists who leaned more toward subjectivity believed innatural laws that could be discovered through reason. Naturalism can be
  18. 18. understood as a bridge between the traditional philosophies of Idealism andRealism, and Pragmatism. Pragmatism took a step in a different direction inthat it asserted that “truth was … derived from human experience” (Gutek,78). Gutek argues that Pragmatism is an expression of America’s frontierexperience from the preceding century (1800’s) in which success was“judged in terms of the consequences that came from transforming theenvironment for human purposes” (79). Pragmatism developed in the socialatmosphere of the Industrial Revolution in the last forty years of the 19thcentury. Despite the enormous wealth and the growing reputation ofAmerica as the land of financial opportunity, underneath the gild of goldwere the social side effects of industrialization: child labor, filthy tenements,political corruption, proliferation of disease, toxic food and drugs, a risingconsciousness of social stratification, and undemocratic conduct by bigbusiness and government. The political Progressive movement thataddressed the social problems of industrial America was the backdrop ofJohn Dewey’s Pragmatism. Progressives set out to change society throughsocial reform. Dewey, like the American frontiersmen and pioneers thatexpanded west, believed in practical application of ideas. Therefore, Deweybelieved that philosophy should solve human problems.
  19. 19. Although Dewey would later disagree with the Progressiveperspective of education, he was himself a Progressive, and he believed hehad a mission to “make the earth a better place to live, by reform andeducation” (Gutek, 80). One of the earliest influences on Dewey was hiscolleague George Herbert Mead. Mead developed a theory that childrenlearn through play, and thus, early childhood education could use play as aconnection to later activities, such as work (Gutek, 81). Like the Naturalists,Dewey believed that a child learns through interaction with his/herenvironment (a social environment in this case, rather than nature). ForDewey’s philosophy of Pragmatism, the ontology (reality) is a world ofexperiences. His epistemology (how we know) is still based on sensations,but is subjective in that individuals experience sensations differently. InPragmatism, the school serves a social function for society by providing aplace where “children’s individual tendencies were to be directed towardcooperative living in the school community” (Gutek, 82). The curriculumrequired the “language, skills, and knowledge common to group life” and,therefore, makes education “a deliberate process of bringing the immatureperson into cultural participation by providing the necessary symbolic andlinguistic tools needed for group interaction and communication” (Gutek,93). In this way, education serves the purpose of transmitting cultural skills,
  20. 20. knowledge, and values to perpetuate the cultural heritage. However, forDewey this meant providing the students with the skills, knowledge, andvalues to improve social conditions. Subjects include social sciences such ashistory and geography, organized sciences, and “making and doing” (Gutek,99). Dewey’s Pragmatism closed the gap between theory and practice(thought and action). The curriculum of Pragmatism is one of “making anddoing.” Modern examples of this are not “hands-on” activities as is oftenassumed. A better example would be a “hands-on” project that requires thecooperation of several students.In the Pragmatist perspective of education, the student is an activeparticipant and contributes to the learning process. Dewey believed thatteacher questioning (as is the tradition of Idealism and Realism) imposedexternal discipline. Instead, activities are problem oriented and requiredself-direction and self-discipline. The teacher became a resource person, ora guide. The role of the teacher is similar to Naturalism, but Dewey’sPragmatic student had more focused objectives in his/her learning thanRousseau’s.Because of Dewey’s Laboratory School, Pragmatism is also referredto as Experimentalism. In this phrase we understand the axiology (values)of Pragmatism. Commonly known as “the public test”, Dewey argued that
  21. 21. how children conducted themselves in the greater society would be ameasurable, pragmatic consequence of their education. As a member of asociety that was experiencing massive immigration in the late 1800’s andearly 1900’s, Dewey was a “moral relativist.” He believed that hierarchicalarrangements of value systems in his modern world created the need toresolve cross-cultural conflicts. Gutek writes that “the basis ofExperimentalist valuation was found in human preferences, wants, wishes,desires, and needs” (92). Dewey’s axiology is still relevant today with aworld wide, digitally based economy about to blossom. Americans nolonger wait for the world to come to them; the Internet takes Americans tothe world. The problem of cultural conflict, in Pragmatism, offers a societythe opportunity for “growth of social intelligence and enrichment” (Gutek,92). Teaching “Truth” through Pragmatism is done through problem solvingand projects, both of which are seen as the basis of social progress.ProgressivismProgressivism, like Pragmatism, has a strong foothold in Naturalismwhile at the same time looking for ways to improve and perfect humanenvironments by applying intelligence and the scientific method. Humanbeings, in this context, are capable of ‘progress’. Progressivism in educationis part of Progressivism in the United States. Progressives such as Woodrow
  22. 22. Wilson, Theodore Roosevelt, Jane Adams, and Upton Sinclair (to name afew) used their position as educated citizens to fight the corruptions ofindustrial society. Progressives were sometimes called ‘muckrakers’ fortheir strategy of digging up unseemly stories of corporate giants. Deweywould eventually criticize Progressive education as a reaction to traditionaleducation (Idealism, Realism, and Thomism). That is why Deweydeveloped philosophy with pragmatic applications.The ontology (reality) of Progressivism is that through interactionwith the environment, people grow and develop. Progressive epistemology(how we know) states that knowledge is the outcome of inquiry andinteraction. Progressive axiology (values) is anything that promotes growth.Progressives teach their view of reality with subject matter that is associatedwith the personal experiences of the children and through interaction withthe environment. This sounds very similar to the Constructivist theory oflearning. Schools exist, for the Progressivist, to serve as a laboratory forexperimentation because the focus is on the growth of the child and not onthe subject matter. The curriculum is similar to Dewey’s Pragmatism in thatthere is a focus on group activities, experiences, problem solving, andprojects. The Progressive teacher serves as a resource person and facilitatorof knowledge while the student is free to develop naturally through active
  23. 23. participation. Progressives, like the Naturalists, believed in a child-centeredcurriculum. Finally, since the Progressive reality is growth anddevelopment, Progressives are receptive to change in schools that areassociated with the needs of child growth and development.ExistentialismWhile Dewey, as a citizen of the Industrial Revolution, wantedPragmatism to prepare children to make society better, Existentialism thatbegan approximately around the same time wanted to free the individualfrom “the herd, the crowd, or the mass society” of the Industrial Age (Gutek,108). Like the Pragmatists, the Existentialists recognized thatindustrialization brought as many ills to civilization as it did benefits.Prominent Existentialists of the 19thcentury include Soren Kierkegaard,Freidrich Nietzsche, and Fyodor Dostoyevsky. In the 20thcentury, MartinHeidegger and Jean-Paul Sartre have written some of the most influentialworks. Overall, however, Existentialism is not so much a system of thoughtas it is a philosophical perspective (Gutek, 107).Where Dewey’s Pragmatism argued that truth was based on humanexperience, the Existentialists argued that truth IS subjectivity (the title ofKierkegaard’s famous work). In the search for absolutes, or big “T” truths,Existentialists argue that the only truth that exists for all humankind is that
  24. 24. each individual lives a completely subjective life, with a world-view basedon that individual’s personal experiences. Previous philosophies held thebelief that humankind had an essence prior to existence. In other words, thatthere was a ‘human nature’. Existentialists take the interaction between anindividual and his/her environment to its logical conclusion by writing thatexistence precedes essence. In other words, there is no human nature untilthe individual is born into the world. At that point, like Rousseau andPestalozzi, the child is a tabla rasa, or blank slate, onto which theexperiences of life will combine and evolve into a subjective worldview,with subjective values for that individual. Individuals can communicatewithin a society because of similar experiences. However, the previousexperiences and the new experiences that are combined with and thecomplex valuations that take place cannot be the same for any twoindividuals.As the Industrial Age flourished, Existentialists revolted against theobjectification of mass society. For an Existentialist, freedom of choice is arecurring theme, and emphasis is turned from reason to ‘passion’ as adriving force in human development. Sartre contradicts Aristotle’s beliefthat people are rational creatures. Sartre argues that each person freelychooses his/her own meaning, or essence, because there are no universal
  25. 25. truths or goals that humanity is striving toward. With this absolute freedomof choice comes responsibility. Nietzsche wrote, in The Gay Science,“thoughts are the shadows of our feelings – always darker, emptier, andsimpler” (203). Here Nietzsche places passion above reason because reasonis merely a tool to try to understand the complexities of human emotion…touse words to describe the indescribable.Existentialism, as a philosophical perspective in education, isconcerned with mass education in school systems that reflect the factorymodel of the industrial era. Existentialists believe that the use of thescientific method to analyze people breaks down “the quality of humanexperience into measurable and quantified responses” (Gutek, 114). Oneway for Existentialists to inquire about the human experience is a processknown as Phenomenology, which is a method of analyzing consciousawareness of experiences of how objects or events appear to the individual.Therefore, the Existential epistemology (how do we know) is personal,subjective choice. The axiology (value) of an Existentialist is freedom.Teaching the Existential reality, the world of existing, can beaccomplished through art, ethics, or philosophy. If truth is subjectivity, thenteaching truth is a process of arousing student awareness of his/hersubjectivity. This can be accomplished through Socratic questioning and
  26. 26. dialogue, but unlike the Idealists, the Existential teacher does not know theanswers, and only the student can construct the meaning. The role of theteacher, then, is one of questioner, and assists the student’s personal journey.The student’s role is self-determined. Despite the differences from theontology and epistemology of Plato’s Idealism, the role of teacher as a guidefor the student’s personal inward journey is interestingly similar. Regardingchange, Existentialism is the exact opposite of Idealism. While Idealism isanti-change, Existentialism understands that change is required at all times.Existentialism serves an important role in modern schools because of its rolein the development of humanistic psychology that focuses on thedevelopment of identity rather than breaking an individual down into a set ofidentifiable impulses.EssentialismEssentialism is an educational philosophy that involves a return to thebasic skills, arts, and sciences that have been useful in the past and willlikely be useful in the future. This theory has had a long history in theUnited States and reemerges whenever the issue of school efficiency andproductivity is questioned. There are six primary themes of Essentialism: 1)elementary curriculum should focus on reading and math literacy, 2)secondary curriculum should focus on math, science, language, and
  27. 27. literature, 3) discipline is needed for a proper learning environment, 4)respect for legitimate authority, 5) students must put forth effort to masterknowledge and skills, and 6) teachers must be mature and well-educated intheir subject area. The authors of A Nation at Risk would be consideredEssentialists (Gutek, 266). In this context, the last 20 years of reform as aresult of A Nation at Risk can be interpreted, in part, as an Essentialistmovement. The College Board (Advanced Placement program) producedAcademic Preparation for College, which outlined the essential skillsneeded to work in college. The Advanced Placement program, therefore,has capitalized on the Essentialist revival of late.The ontology (reality), epistemology (how we know), and axiology(values) of Essentialism are very similar to the traditional philosophies ofIdealism, Realism, and Thomism, while at the same time oppositional toNaturalism, Pragmatism, and Existentialism. The ontology of Essentialismis a world of the mind and things. The role of the Essentialist school is totransmit cultural elements. The mission is academic not social. Thecurriculum of Essentialism is subject-matter curriculum, “organizedaccording to carefully arranged principles of scope and sequence” (Gutek,274). The Essentialist teacher is an academic authority figure.
  28. 28. PerennialismThe Perennialists theory of education is closely related to, and basedon Realism and Thomism. Perennialism believes that human nature isconstant. The ontology (reality) of Perennialism is a world of God andreason. Epistemologically (how we know), Perennialists rely on thecultivation of reason and revelation, and their axiology (values) arerationality and intellect. Perennialism is most closely associated with theCatholic school system. Schools exist to develop reason and reveal God’swill, teaching the reality of a world of God and reason through disciplinarysubjects and doctrine. This statement alone explains why Perennialists aresometimes referred to as Neo-Thomists. The curriculum of a Perennialistschool is the “great books”, or classics of the Western world. The role of theteacher is to tell students what they need to know, or to interpret the greatbooks for the students. A Perennialist teacher should have a liberal arts andscience background. Like Realism, the Perennialist student is a passivereceptacle. Since human nature is a constant to the Perennialist, no realchange is needed. Perennialists, like the Essentialists, cry out againstbelieved erosion of academic standards. The Perennialist extends theerosion to ethical standards as well. Social Reconstructionists argue that
  29. 29. Perennialism is nothing more than a Eurocentric ideology to supporthistorically dominant institutions.Social ReconstructionismSocial Reconstructionist oppose the conservative Essentialist andPerennialist theories regarded to be “reflective theories that mirror inheritedsocial patterns and values” (Gutek, 307). According to Gutek, SocialReconstructionists claim to follow the Pragmatism of John Dewey but wantto move beyond reconstructing the individual’s experience to reconstructionof the social and cultural experience (307). The various forms of SocialReconstructivism that have developed share three common premises: 1) “allphilosophies, ideologies, and theories are culturally based and emerge fromspecific cultural patterns, 2) culture, as a dynamic process, is growing andchanging, and 3) human beings can refashion culture so that it promoteshuman growth and development” (Gutek, 307). Social Reconstructionistsreject Realism, Thomism, Essentialism, and Perennialism because they areall based on “abstract categories of unchanging reality, human nature, truth,and value” (Gutek, 307). In essence, Social Reconstructionists wantstudents to be able to evaluate the beliefs and values of their society. Thosebeliefs and values that are determined to exist because of custom should bereconstructed. Science and technology can be used to achieve goals of
  30. 30. social reconstruction and to solve the modern societal crisis of economicinequalities based on ethnicity. Social Reconstructionists believe thatAmericans have not adequately distinguished the difference between“schooling” and “education.” Americans have a faith in the power ofschooling to solve all problems and saw it as an entity isolated fromeconomic, social, and political influences. The Nazi’s of Germany andSoviet Communists demonstrated how school could be used to serve theinterests of the dominant institutions.When Social Reconstructionists argue for using schools to create anew social order, they often hear charges of ‘indoctrination.’Reconstructionists, however, believe that “schools are to identify the majorsocial problems that contribute to the cultural crisis and are to create theskills and attitudes that will resolve these problems” (Gutek, 319). Theontology (reality) of Social Reconstructivism is similar to Progressivebeliefs but is rooted in cultural experiences. The epistemology (how weknow) has several overlapping principals including truth seeking as a socialconsciousness, and inquiry through the ‘group mind.’ The axiology (values)of Social Reconstructionists is social self-realization. Reality is best taughtthrough history, especially history that focuses on social struggle. Humansurvival and education are seen as interrelated. Schools exist for
  31. 31. Reconstructivism to awaken social consciousness and to create equality inboth society and education. The curriculum, therefore, would focus onproblem solving and cooperative learning in the social sciences, such aseconomics, anthropology, sociology, political science, and psychology. TheSocial Reconstructivist teacher facilitates student growth through problemsolving, group activities, and cooperative learning. The student usesproblem solving as a means to achieve greater social consciousness. Finally,the school’s attitude toward change is centered on social change sincestudents must develop social self-realization.Critical TheoryBrief mention of Critical Theory is needed because of a renewedinterest in multicultural education. Critical Theorists, like the SocialReconstructionists, argue for an agenda that would transform schools andsociety. Critical Theorists see “schools, curriculum, teaching, and learningas agencies and activities that transcend the exclusively academic and haveimportant political, economic, social, and educational meanings andimplications” (Gutek, 330). They argue that children of economicallydisadvantaged families, and politically disorganized groups, are taught thatthey live in a society where “economic, social, and political institutions arefunctioning correctly” … giving legitimization to the dominant groups and
  32. 32. preserving the hegemony over the subordinate groups (Gutek, 326). CriticalTheorists argue that schools are political agencies “that empower some anddisempower others” (Gutek, 326). They call for an educational experiencethat encourages cultural diversity and a curriculum that uses the studentsunique multicultural experiences to “develop new skills and knowledge”(Gutek, 328).Terms and definitionsAxiology – That which is valued. The attempt to prescribe what is good andright conduct.Epistemology – The methodology of how we understand our view of reality.The theory of knowing and knowledge.Ontology – The nature of existence. What is real, or what is reality.Curriculum – The knowledge considered to have the most worth, andvaluable to the student as a member of society. The organized “experiencesthat a student has under the guidance and control of the school” (Gutek, 5).Activities1. Take a typical day in a class you teach, or taught, and evaluate thephilosophical influence behind the different elements of the lessonpresentation.
  33. 33. 2. Use the list of educational reforms created in Dr. Kester’s EducationalInnovations class and identify the philosophical perspective of thevarious innovations.3. Determine the philosophical perspective of national, state, district, andcampus mission statements.4. Use the personalities of the school board that exist in your current districtof employment. Knowing that they are likely unaware of the myriad ofphilosophies intermingled in their verbal professions of what they think is“good for the students and district”, discuss how your awareness ofphilosophical perspectives in education could assist your practice ofsituational leadership.5. Create a family tree of the philosophical perspectives reviewed in thischapter. The family tree should reflect the major divisions andsubdivisions to create a visual of the parallels, associations, orconnections between the different philosophies.6. After reviewing your personal self-analysis again, evaluate co-workersand determine if your campus or district “allies” and “foes” are labeled assuch because of philosophical differences.Internet LinksPlato
  34. 34. Plato’s texts’s texts Spencer and Education Power Point as a Basis for Curriculum slide show of Progressivism of Some Main Points from Sartres Existentialism and Human Emotions Philosophy
  35. 35. Existentialist Philosophers Theory Critical Theory of Jurgen Habermas