Philosophical Issues, Dr. W.A. Kritsonis


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Dr. William Allan Kritsonis earned his BA in 1969 from Central Washington University, Ellensburg, Washington. In 1971, he earned his M.Ed. from Seattle Pacific University. In 1976, he earned his PhD from the University of Iowa. In 1981, he was a Visiting Scholar at Teachers College, Columbia University, New York, and in 1987 was a Visiting Scholar at Stanford University, Palo Alto, California.
In June 2008, Dr. Kritsonis received the Doctor of Humane Letters, School of Graduate Studies from Southern Christian University. The ceremony was held at the Hilton Hotel in New Orleans, Louisiana.

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Philosophical Issues, Dr. W.A. Kritsonis

  1. 1. Philosophical/Social/Political Issues in Education: Philosophy Issues in Policy Decisions William Allan Kritsonis, PhD Potential Questions 1. 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?
  2. 2. Key Terms The terms below are defined in terms of their use and meaning for the purposes 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 in spiritual or non-material terms. instruction – how curriculum is taught in the public school setting. philosophy - a person's attempt to think speculatively, reflectively, and systematically about the universe and the relationships of humans to the universe. personal philosophy – a person’s beliefs and general principals related to a certain discipline (education) and based on past experiences, education, and reflection. policy – set of rules and regulations developed by a local board of trustees. Policies reflect current law and local practice. policy development – the process by which local policies are presented, discussed, reviewed, and adopted. pragmatist – in scholarly terms a pragmatist believes that the human conception of reality is based on experience. realist – according to scholarly thought a realist sees reality as an
  3. 3. 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 a process of discussion, collaboration and consensus and reflects the beliefs and personal philosophies of the developers. Gutek (1997) states that education is in a constant state of debate, not only now, but, throughout history. However, in some ways, the presence of divergent thought is actually a of sign vitality, with school as a social institution being a focal point of conflict. The impact of policy development cannot be over emphasized. Public school policy has the potential to shape society because the vast majority of all elementary and secondary students in the United States, almost 90 percent, are enrolled in public schools, even at the lower grades. According to Guthrie and Reed (1991), by 1990, 3.2 million 5- and 6-year-olds, 94% of the age cohort, were enrolled in public kindergartens. In addition, approximately 29 million students were enrolled in elementary schools with either a K – 6th or a K – 8th grade configuration. With the vast majority of all school-aged students enrolled in public schools, the development of policy
  4. 4. that meets the needs of a large and diverse public school population is difficult at best and dependent on the ability to reach consensus on philosophical issues. Throughout history, educators have continuously been concerned with encouraging the development of certain values in the young and with the encouragement of certain kinds of preferred behavior (Gutek, 1997). For effective policy development, educators would benefit from examining their basic philosophy with regard to life and society. Gutek (1997) defines philosophy in general terms as a person's attempt to think speculatively, reflectively, and systematically about the universe and the relationships of humans to the universe. When an educator reflects on the concept of reality, or of human nature, or of society, he or she is actually philosophizing about education. When relating philosophy to the educational setting, the concept of reality held by the society supporting the particular school is evident in the subjects, experiences, and skills of the curriculum, in an attempt by curriculum writers, teachers, and textbook writers, to describe societal reality to students. Because of the impact philosophy has on policy decisions related to curriculum as well as other areas, it is valuable for educators to recognize some of the various identified philosophies of education to better examine analyze curricula and methods in light of their
  5. 5. relationships to a particular philosophical position. For example, “an Idealist defines reality in spiritual or non material terms, a Realist sees reality as an order of objects that exist independently of human beings…a Pragmatist hold 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 how it is taught, or instruction, are operational components of the educational system that should garner attention from educational leaders and policy makers. The values of the public and community are most strongly reflected in curricular policies and to a lesser degree in instructional activities. The philosophy of a district is most evident in the curricular decisions. If there were complete agreement within a society regarding desired educational outcomes, 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
  6. 6. 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 to recognize the philosophical and ideological perspective from which proposals emanate, they are unable to either criticize or to implement these proposals from a professional perspective” (p. 9). The use of philosophy inquiry may be a beneficial aid to educators as they examine problems and make effective decisions to solve identified problems. Even though knowledge of identified educational philosophies may affect the development of personal philosophies, the development of a philosophy of education 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 the policies and practices of a district, Theobald, (2000) states that over the years, educational philosophy has received little attention from educators and policy makers. Scholars also have generally not evaluated the behavior
  7. 7. of people in schools to determine the philosophy behind the action. A common view of those associated with public schools is that the real work of educating children is accomplished by the teachers and administrators in the nation’s public schools and real work has no relationship to philosophy in its truest sense. Rather than adopt the teachings of an educational philosophy such as Idealism, Realism, or Pragmatism, districts adopt a philosophy of education that is based on the needs and beliefs related to what is right for those served by the district. Reed and Guthrie (1991) indicate that policies and practices adopted by American public schools are the result of constant interplay of three deeply held values - equality, efficiency, and liberty which significantly influence public policy generally and education specifically. In fact: 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.
  8. 8. 26)." Guthrie and Reed (1991) further contend that these values are a common thread in the historical roots of American heritage and affect the philosophical beliefs by permeating the ideology of political parties, churches, courts, schools and other social institutions. Being a strategic leader 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 ‘to know how to do it right” (Guthrie & Reed, 1991, p. 21). Policy makers must determine what is the right thing to do for a particular district and then develop the appropriate policies an them motivate educators, students, parents, community members – in fact all stakeholders – to follow the policies. Policy makers have a personal philosophy based on their life experiences and teachings; yet, Miller and Safer (July, 1993) suggest that policy makers are seldom required on a personal or professional level, to defend their decisions in terms of philosophical beliefs. They do not articulate their position regarding a policy in terms of an in-depth ethical or epistemological position deliberation. Such deliberations, if they ever transpire, occur after the policy maker has left office and has time to reflect. So, unfortunately, what should affect policy making - ethical and evidential
  9. 9. reasoning, is often peripheral to policy decision-making. Policy decisions are strongly affected by local board members and there influence in the community. According the Guthrie and Reed, 1991, such decisions involve complicated interactions of the constituency and the multiple layers of the organization. Education decision makers (administrators) have an understanding of local political interactions and realize the affect of local politics on school policy. It is a fact that some individuals in a community have more influence than others. This influence is caused by several factors, including personal wealth, intellect, physical force, charisma, and family and friendship connections. The personal beliefs of the influential people in the community affect school policy, which could be detrimental. Guthrie and Reed (1991) site a study that suggests small towns may have a structure that is different than larger cities, with local politics more strongly affecting education policy. Administrators new to a district would do well to become familiar with the local philosophy of education and to become acquainted with influential people 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 the local level. Every public school system has a local board of education that is
  10. 10. elected by the residents of the school district. Because boards of education are charged with adopting policies that govern the district, local philosophies will be apparent, especially in the curriculum. For example, some public school districts have a strong technical program and others do not – which is a 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 support staff. Therefore, personal philosophies, whether developed through scholarly study or through personal experiences or a combination of both, affect education policy at both the development and implementation stages.
  11. 11. Related Websites: Education Policy - The Education Policy Analysis Archives has full text articles related to education policy. The website is available at ERIC Digests - This site allows access to various ERIC documents at http://www.edgov/databases/ERIC_Digests Policy Perspectives - Articles are available at that examine public policy issues in teacher education. Policy Publications - Articles related to policy are available at
  12. 12. References Gutek, G. L. (1997). Philosophical and ideological perspectives on education. Boston: Allyn and Bacon. Guthrie, J. W. & Reed, R. J. (1991). Educational administration and policy. Needham Heights, Massachusetts; Allyn and Bacon. Miller, S. I. & Safer, L. A. (July, 1993). Evidence, ethics and social policy dilemmas. Education Policy Analysis Archives. [Online] Available: Theobold, P. (January, 1992). Rural philosophy for education: Wendell berry's tradition. Eric Digest ED 345930. Eric Clearinghouse on RuralEducation and Small Schools. Charleston, WV. [Online] Available: