Philosophical/Social/Political Issues in Education: Philosophy Issues in Policy Decisions William Allan Kritsonis, PhD Potential Questions1. You have just accepted the position of superintendent in a district and the board has challenged you to change several of the district’s policies. You feel that unless the philosophy of the district staff changes, you will not be able to develop and implement new policies. How will you address this issue?2. The site-based decisionmaking committee for your district is having difficulty coming to consensus about several issues because the members of the committee do not have compatible personal educational philosophies. How will you lead this committee into a productive environment for decision-making?3. You have just been promoted from a campus administrative principal’s position to a central office position. You are charged with improving instruction on the elementary campuses. The five campus principals are very different philosophically. How will you work with the principals to develop compatible policies and procedures for curriculum so that all campuses are academically productive and curricular programming is comparable?
Key Terms The terms below are defined in terms of their use and meaning for thepurposes of this section of the study guide. curriculum – what is taught in the public school setting. idealist – a scholarly philosophical thought where reality is defined inspiritual or non-material terms. instruction – how curriculum is taught in the public school setting. philosophy - a persons attempt to think speculatively, reflectively,and systematically about the universe and the relationships of humans to theuniverse. personal philosophy – a person’s beliefs and general principals relatedto a certain discipline (education) and based on past experiences, education,and reflection. policy – set of rules and regulations developed by a local board oftrustees. Policies reflect current law and local practice. policy development – the process by which local policies arepresented, discussed, reviewed, and adopted. pragmatist – in scholarly terms a pragmatist believes that the humanconception of reality is based on experience. realist – according to scholarly thought a realist sees reality as an
order of objects that exist independently of human beings. Discussion of Topic The operation of a public school system is dependent on policies –policies that govern all aspects of management related to personnel,students, and curriculum decisions. Each policy is developed through aprocess of discussion, collaboration and consensus and reflects the beliefsand personal philosophies of the developers. Gutek (1997) states thateducation is in a constant state of debate, not only now, but, throughouthistory. However, in some ways, the presence of divergent thought isactually a of sign vitality, with school as a social institution being a focalpoint of conflict. The impact of policy development cannot be over emphasized. Publicschool policy has the potential to shape society because the vast majority ofall elementary and secondary students in the United States, almost 90percent, are enrolled in public schools, even at the lower grades. Accordingto Guthrie and Reed (1991), by 1990, 3.2 million 5- and 6-year-olds, 94% ofthe age cohort, were enrolled in public kindergartens. In addition,approximately 29 million students were enrolled in elementary schools witheither a K – 6th or a K – 8th grade configuration. With the vast majority of allschool-aged students enrolled in public schools, the development of policy
that meets the needs of a large and diverse public school population isdifficult at best and dependent on the ability to reach consensus onphilosophical issues. Throughout history, educators have continuously beenconcerned with encouraging the development of certain values in the youngand with the encouragement of certain kinds of preferred behavior (Gutek,1997). For effective policy development, educators would benefit fromexamining their basic philosophy with regard to life and society. Gutek(1997) defines philosophy in general terms as a persons attempt to thinkspeculatively, reflectively, and systematically about the universe and therelationships of humans to the universe. When an educator reflects on theconcept of reality, or of human nature, or of society, he or she is actuallyphilosophizing about education. When relating philosophy to the educationalsetting, the concept of reality held by the society supporting the particularschool is evident in the subjects, experiences, and skills of the curriculum, inan attempt by curriculum writers, teachers, and textbook writers, to describesocietal reality to students. Because of the impact philosophy has on policydecisions related to curriculum as well as other areas, it is valuable foreducators to recognize some of the various identified philosophies ofeducation to better examine analyze curricula and methods in light of their
relationships to a particular philosophical position. For example, “an Idealistdefines reality in spiritual or non material terms, a Realist sees reality as anorder of objects that exist independently of human beings…a Pragmatisthold that the human conception of reality is based on experience” (Gutek,1997, p. 2). Gutek (1997) indicates that what is taught, or the curriculum, and howit is taught, or instruction, are operational components of the educationalsystem that should garner attention from educational leaders and policymakers. The values of the public and community are most strongly reflectedin curricular policies and to a lesser degree in instructional activities. Thephilosophy of a district is most evident in the curricular decisions. If therewere complete agreement within a society regarding desired educationaloutcomes, decisions would be far more technical and not at all political.Gutek (1997) explains: As the vital center of the school’s educational efforts, the curriculum is the locus of the sharpest controversies. Decision making in curricular matters involves considering, examining, and formulating the ends of education. Those concerned with curriculum planning and organization ask such questions as: What knowledge is of most worth? What knowledge should be introduced to the learner? What
are the criteria for selecting knowledge? What is valuable for the learner as a person and as a member of society? The answers to these questions determine what is included and what is excluded in the schools instructional program, but also rest ultimately on assumptions about the nature of the universe, of human beings, of society, and of the good life ( p. 5). Again according to Gutek (1997), "When educators are unable torecognize the philosophical and ideological perspective from whichproposals emanate, they are unable to either criticize or to implement theseproposals from a professional perspective” (p. 9). The use of philosophyinquiry may be a beneficial aid to educators as they examine problems andmake effective decisions to solve identified problems. Even thoughknowledge of identified educational philosophies may affect thedevelopment of personal philosophies, the development of a philosophy ofeducation for a district or society may draw heavily on experiences,practices, and observations of the educators involved in the decision-making. Although examining educational philosophy provides insight into thepolicies and practices of a district, Theobald, (2000) states that over theyears, educational philosophy has received little attention from educatorsand policy makers. Scholars also have generally not evaluated the behavior
of people in schools to determine the philosophy behind the action. Acommon view of those associated with public schools is that the real work ofeducating children is accomplished by the teachers and administrators in thenation’s public schools and real work has no relationship to philosophy in itstruest sense. Rather than adopt the teachings of an educational philosophy such asIdealism, Realism, or Pragmatism, districts adopt a philosophy of educationthat is based on the needs and beliefs related to what is right for those servedby the district. Reed and Guthrie (1991) indicate that policies and practicesadopted by American public schools are the result of constant interplay ofthree deeply held values - equality, efficiency, and liberty whichsignificantly influence public policy generally and education specifically. Infact: Government actions regarding national defense, housing, taxation, antitrust regulation, racial desegregation, and literally hundreds of other policy dimensions, including education, are motivated and molded by one or more of these three values… Equality, liberty, and efficiency are viewed by an overwhelming public majority as conditions that government should maximize. These three values are considered "good," “just," and "right." (Guthrie & Reed, 1991, p.
26)." Guthrie and Reed (1991) further contend that these values are acommon thread in the historical roots of American heritage and affect thephilosophical beliefs by permeating the ideology of political parties,churches, courts, schools and other social institutions. Being a strategicleader in the educational setting is not just about evaluation and planning.Philosophically, it is “as important to know ‘what is right to do’ as it is ‘toknow how to do it right” (Guthrie & Reed, 1991, p. 21). Policy makers mustdetermine what is the right thing to do for a particular district and thendevelop the appropriate policies an them motivate educators, students,parents, community members – in fact all stakeholders – to follow thepolicies. Policy makers have a personal philosophy based on their lifeexperiences and teachings; yet, Miller and Safer (July, 1993) suggest thatpolicy makers are seldom required on a personal or professional level, todefend their decisions in terms of philosophical beliefs. They do notarticulate their position regarding a policy in terms of an in-depth ethical orepistemological position deliberation. Such deliberations, if they evertranspire, occur after the policy maker has left office and has time to reflect.So, unfortunately, what should affect policy making - ethical and evidential
reasoning, is often peripheral to policy decision-making. Policy decisions are strongly affected by local board members andthere influence in the community. According the Guthrie and Reed, 1991,such decisions involve complicated interactions of the constituency and themultiple layers of the organization. Education decision makers(administrators) have an understanding of local political interactions andrealize the affect of local politics on school policy. It is a fact that someindividuals in a community have more influence than others. This influenceis caused by several factors, including personal wealth, intellect, physicalforce, charisma, and family and friendship connections. The personal beliefs of the influential people in the community affectschool policy, which could be detrimental. Guthrie and Reed (1991) site astudy that suggests small towns may have a structure that is different thanlarger cities, with local politics more strongly affecting education policy.Administrators new to a district would do well to become familiar with thelocal philosophy of education and to become acquainted with influentialpeople within the community. The American system of education, though governed to some extent,by federal and state laws and guidelines, continues to be governed at thelocal level. Every public school system has a local board of education that is
elected by the residents of the school district. Because boards of educationare charged with adopting policies that govern the district, local philosophieswill be apparent, especially in the curriculum. For example, some publicschool districts have a strong technical program and others do not – which isa reflection of the beliefs and values of the members of the board of trustees.In turn, the carrying out of those policies reflects the personal philosophies,beliefs, and values of the district’s administrators, teachers, and supportstaff. Therefore, personal philosophies, whether developed through scholarlystudy or through personal experiences or a combination of both, affecteducation policy at both the development and implementation stages.
Related Websites: Education Policy - The Education Policy Analysis Archives has fulltext articles related to education policy. The website is available athttp://epaa.asu.edu/epaa ERIC Digests - This site allows access to various ERIC documents athttp://www.edgov/databases/ERIC_Digests Policy Perspectives - Articles are available athttp://www.edpolicy.org/perspectives/archives/ that examine public policyissues in teacher education. Policy Publications - Articles related to policy are available athttp://www.edpolicy.org/publications
References Gutek, G. L. (1997). Philosophical and ideological perspectives oneducation. Boston: Allyn and Bacon. Guthrie, J. W. & Reed, R. J. (1991). Educational administration andpolicy. Needham Heights, Massachusetts; Allyn and Bacon. Miller, S. I. & Safer, L. A. (July, 1993). Evidence, ethics and socialpolicy dilemmas. Education Policy Analysis Archives. [Online] Available:http://epaa.asu.edu/e/v1n9.html Theobold, P. (January, 1992). Rural philosophy for education:Wendell berrys tradition. Eric Digest ED 345930. Eric Clearinghouse onRuralEducation and Small Schools. Charleston, WV. [Online] Available:http://www.ed.gov/databases/ERIC_Digests/ed345930.html