Into the 20 th Century As public schools increased in size and scope, as immigrants from Europe and Asia came in waves into the cities, as ghettos grew alongside factories and industry, the administration of education became more formalized. Policies were created so that schools became more consistent, resulting in mandates for what the curriculum was to be at each grade level. Elementary schools became distinct from secondary schools. These developments, along with the passage of the 1918 Compulsory Education Act requiring all children to attend schools, led to education being a focus of much debate nation-wide regarding the primary aim of schools during this time span.
Behaviorism School was beginning to be viewed as an ideal place to “train” young minds and attitudes. A new psychology was emerging through the work of B.F. Skinner and others who were knows as behaviorists. Behaviorism hypothesized that learning is a function of change in the way one behaves. Individuals respond to events that occur in the environment, a response produces a behavior, and stimulus-response patterns could be reinforced through rewards and punishments. During this time many psychologists and educators became interested in measuring aptitude and achievement in children.
John Dewey However, not all educators viewed children in terms of test scores, measurement, or stimulus-response. One of the best known educators who influenced schools and education was the progressive educator John Dewey, who was passionately committed to democratic ideals and whose entire life was dedicated to forging communities where all citizens would fully realize their power and capacities be engaging in associated living in political social and cultural life. For Dewey, democracy was a way of living together responsibly in the public realm through decision-making and negotiation, and it was through schools that democracy could be fostered and practiced.
Progressivism Progressivism is an orientation of philosophy of education based on the assumption that all learning is active, that learning is intellectual, social, and emotional, and that curriculum should begin with the child’s interests and experiences. Progressivism elevates shared interests and shared interactions between pupils in the classroom. Each person’s voice is important and one of the hallmarks of a progressive classroom is the emphasis on communication skills. There is a strong emphasis on critical thinking and problem solving within each lesson.
Essentialism Essentialism is based on the assumption that students should learn the basic facts regarding the social and physical world. Essentialist teachers are often called “traditional” teachers, as they teach that there is a set structure and form for all things in existence. Learning subject matter is the goal of education; reading, writing and mathematics form the main focus of an essentialist orientation. As essentialist teacher would have students mastering skills, moving from simple to more complex skills and knowledge.
Perennialism Perennialism is a philosophical orientation based on the assumption that all learning should be focused on unchanging principles or great ideas. The purpose of education is to expand a person’s intellectual, rational power through the study of laws of nature and science, or theories of mathematics, or the accepted classical literature such as Shakespeare. Enduring ideas emerge, perennialists believe, out of a stable and unchanging body of knowledge and ideas.
Social Reconstructionism Social reconstructionism is based on the belief that schools should aim to foster active participants in society through a study of social problems and an aim to create a more just society. Social reform is an integral part of a social reconstructionist curriculum. Rather than accepting society as it is, social reconstructionist teachers provide their students with critical thinking skills to identify, question, challenge, and try to solve the crises that beset humankind in society. Knowledge is not static to a social reconstructionist; rather, knowledge is contextual and socially constructed. The aim of education is as a vehicle for social change.
Ethic of Care Nel Noddings, a philosopher of education, has developed a philosophy based on the commitment to caring. This relational epistemology, or way of knowing, acknowledges that all human beings are social beings. An ethic of care suggests we need one another, and from birth our entire life is spent moving in and out of relationships with others. Our sense of who we are as persons is developed through our relationships with others; our sense of who we are as a society is developed through our relationships with other societies. In short, we are contextual, not individual and alone.