Philosophy (meaning love of wisdom) helps teachers in the learning profession understand and reflect on the key issues and concepts in education. Educational philosophy entails ones beliefs about what, why and how one teaches, the audience being taught and about the nature of learning itself. Every individual has a different perspective on life, politics, learning and personal experiences that shape his or her beliefs. The Progressive Movement in the 1930s revolutionized educational philosophy by advocating for different approaches in education such as the use of a scientific approach of gathering and analyzing ideologies from various sources (Richards, & Rodgers, 2014). The values, experiences, environment, social interactions and the exposure to philosophical approaches form the basis of educational philosophy. A better understanding of the branches of philosophy, worlds philosophical views, other educational philosophies and theories will help shape ones educational philosophy along with other aspects. There are three branches of philosophy, namely metaphysics, epistemology and axiology. These aspects influence various key philosophies in education today.
Metaphysics focuses on the nature of reality and seeks to find out the kind of things that exist. For instance, the nature of the physical universe and the world around us is either viewed as a reality or a mere illusion. Metaphysicians investigate the existence of things such as the humans free will, and if there is a god or not. Personal consideration of reality whether it is real or an illusion can influence ones metaphysical beliefs and perspectives in learning. In metaphysics, four philosophies are applicable in education today, namely idealism, pragmatism, realism and existentialism. Idealism and realism are derived from Plato and Aristotle, ancient Greek philosophers (Smith, 2008). Pragmatism and existentialism are contemporary.
Idealism is a philosophical approach that considers that ideas are the only true reality. Plato, the father of Idealism, believed that there are two dimensions of the world (Dunham, Grant & Watson, 2014). One is the spiritual/ mental that is universal, permanent and order. The second one is the world of appearance that is disorderly, ever-changing and is experienced through senses, i.e. taste, smell, sound, touch and sight. Plato believed that one should overcome the limitations of the sensory world by pursuing knowledge with reason and universal truth of an Absolute Mind. According to Plato, the soul comes before birth and is perfect. Concerning education, latent ideas need to be brought to consciousness representing perfection compared with the birth process. Education requires one to discover and develop an individuals moral quality and abilities and become successful adult outcomes with required competencies at work and other areas. Additionally, the learners character is developed through imitating proven examples. Use of lectures and discussions as teaching methods helps to focus on handling ideas. The use of research-based teaching, for instance, engages the learners in collaborative problem-solving, relating the topics to students personal lives and focusing on developing their knowledge and skills rather than scores or grades (Koonce, 2015).
In realism, it is believed that the ultimate reality is what can be observed and is independent of the human mind. Aristotle, a student of Plato, believed that to understand an object, the constant and ultimate form has to be understood (Marsh Jr, 2001). He introduced logic as a formal discipline to understand the physical aspects and events. About the realist curriculum, the physical world is considered as the subject matter especially in science and mathematics. In education, the curriculum focusses on teaching that would facilitate the knowledge of facts and basic skills through demonstration techniques. Therefore, the learners should think critically and scientifically with the use of experimentation and observation. Their character is developed through dedication to training and rules of conduct. Teaching is done through systematic presentations and enables development of particular skills. It applies to the availability of schematics or inventories of skills, for example, which are resourceful to curriculum developers and teachers to foster and advance those particular skills (Koonce, 2015).
Pragmatists consider that experienced or observed things are real, i.e. the reality of experience. However, reality changes according to what is learnt through experiences and thoughts to problems that are faced in the daily life. The philosophy of pragmatism is derived from the teaching of Charles Sanders Pierces (1839-1914) who believed that one should act as a result of thoughts rather than not act and lead to indecisiveness (Moore, 2007). From that ideology, John Dewey (1859-1952) suggested that learners should adapt to others and the environment. For instance, the learners from different ethnic backgrounds in a school setting should learn together cooperatively like in a democratic society. Their character is developed through group decisions after which social order is created among them. It is believed that learners should apply their knowledge to real-life situations through experimental inquiries. According to pragmatists, teaching methods should include experimenting, problem-solving and have students work in groups. The pragmatic philosophy influences the education of today whereby virtual schools have received criticism from some curriculum developers and the public. For example, Koonce (2015) suggests that policymakers should reduce or stop the growth of virtual schools which have relatively poor performance and rather advocate for a pragmatic view of a multicultural setting.
According to existentialism, the nature of reality is quite subjective. The individual choice and standards are more meaningful than the standards of the physical world. Existentialists point out that individuals should define themselves in relationship relate to their existence by the choices they make. By focusing on freedom, one should not accept others predetermined ideologies but rather define oneself and make meaning of ones life. The existentialism philosophy is derived from Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) who is considered as the founder of existentialism and had a Christian orientation. Concerning education, the learners should confront others view and clarify their own. The development of character emphasizes on the learner to make independent decisions. Existentialists believe that the educational experience should promote self-actualization and self-decision. Existentialism has influence education through the introduction of new curriculum and instructional programs that encourage students to reflect on their learning processes and status of their understanding (Koonce, 2015).
Epistemology is a branch of philosophy that focuses on the nature of knowledge itself and how people come to learn what they know (McInerney, 2002). In epistemology, there are four bases of knowledge, i.e. empiricism (experience), divine revelation, intuition and logic or reasoning (deductive and inductive). Others include scientific inquiry, and sense and feelings. The philosophies of perennialism, essentialism and progressivism are applicable in education.
Progressivism is a philosophy which integrates the student and points out that teachings should be evaluated by actively subjecting the student to the tasks. It further suggests that mastery of content should be verified by the ability of the student to critically think and solve problems based on their involvement and know-how. The teacher allows for freedom, fair play and total inclusivity of the student in whatever the student is learning in the classroom rather than just dictating everything. To draw a further understanding of this concept in the modern-day world, a teacher might assign a classroom a group activity on constructing a water boat, later on, used in ranking. The students will have to work as a team in developing the design, selecting the best material, build it and make a presentation. It not only teaches the student how to be inclusive but also to nurtures healthy interactions.
Robert Maynard Hutchins (1963) and Mortimer Adler are the advocates of this educational philosophy (Pimlott, 2011). This educational concept focuses on ancient thoughts and beliefs mainly documented in writings as the basis for establishing curriculums. It is a much more fixed ideology giving no room to dynamism. Students are expected to read, understand and adopt the ideas as scripted and apply them in tackling problems. The aim being to establish steadfast eternal facts since in most cases the human environment remains unchanged. Therefore, the student need be taught this concept for developmental purposes and the better understanding of the co-existing happenings as well as the past occurrences. Human achievements such as poetry, spoken word, biographies, history and major laws are stressed in this philosophy as majorly advocated by Mortimer Adler and Robert Maynard Hutchins. A perfect example is that of the World War and the order in which African Countries were portioned and colonized.
The essentialist philosophy was used by William Bagley (1934), James D. Koerner (1959), Paul Copperman (1978), H. G. Rickover (1959) and Theodore Sizer (1985) in reaction to progressivist approach in the 1930s. The concept is teacher oriented and asserts that there should exist an integral set of competencies and general know-how that each learned person should possess and should be delivered systematically. The teaching mechanisms should be driven by ethicality. Contradictory to perennialism, essentialism is open to alteration. Learning is supposed to be real to the outside world, equipping learners with essential tools to cope in the real world. Smart work, reverence for those in power, rational thinking and self-respect is highly stressed rather than imposing rules.
Reconstructionism is a student-oriented philosophy which focuses on the contemporary issues such as the collective world advancement, day to day happenings, contentious matters as well as being visionary for a much more democratic and transparent future. Reconstructionism education system emphasizes the role of implementing societal restructurings. According to Theodre Brameld (1904-1987) the initiator of this very philosophy, in his response to the atrocities of the Second World War, acknowledged that humans could destroy their counterparts via technology or sheer animosity. However, George Counts (1889-1974) established that only learning could groom people to make reforms against cruelties (Murphy, 2006). Paulo Freire a philosopher, after his encounter with absurd poverty, advocated for education as a tool for societal reform through progressive dialogues and sane thinking. For effective learning, the student must discover and rediscover the world based on their involvement and then take a cause of action on the modern-day challenges and their implications for education (Miliusiene,2012).
Axiology is the study of personal principles and values. The values are subdivided into two categories, namely ethics and aesthetics. Ethics focuses on personal values and morals, defining what is right and wrong, good and evil. Aesthetics investigate things such as beauty and art. Axiology considers that education is not just about knowledge but also the quality of life. In axiology, humanist philosophy is applicable education today.
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