Read other educational philosophies posts in this series.
It is a new year, we have hopefully recovered well from our extended holidays, and are ready to tackle school again. My apologies that I’ve delayed this post for so long.
These posts have not been extremely in-depth about educational philosophies or about homeschooling. My purpose was to get you to think about ‘the why’ of your approach to homeschool, not to sway you to think one way or another. Why do we use textbooks? Why do we focus on math or science? Why do we include this book or that book? Why do we expect our children to do this or that?
The ultimate reason rests with who we think man is and what is his purpose. I believe these are definitely definable and dictate what we include in our homeschool. This post will focus on a few prevalent educational philosophies today that are applied to both public and homeschool classrooms.
Three prevalent educational philosophies:
John Dewey is greatly associated with pragmatist education although I don’t think he thought of himself in those terms. Pragmatism is all about relevancy and applicability. The information, or curriculum, has to be relevant to the students. It also needs to be useful in the lives they live. Another name given to this philosophy is Experientialism because it focuses on the reality of the experience of the learner. Dewey’s many published works focus at length on experience as the ultimate means of education.
Its emphasis is again on the experience of the student, here and now. Teachers utilizing pragmatic means will generally desire the ultimate outcome to be students as agents of change. It is believed that these students will be better equipped to handle situations and people with which they may have before been unfamiliar.
An argument against pragmatist or experientialist education is that it disregards passing down a base of knowledge. The curriculum is ‘interdisciplinary’ without distinction between subject areas. Unit studies are generally ‘interdisciplinary’ (that doesn’t necessarily mean they are pragmatic in scope, however). But also learning by doing every day tasks is ‘interdisciplinary’. Examples include learning math by cooking; geography by field trips and vacations; history by visiting museums; and much through independent reading.
Within this philosophy is also the push to present the student with what they like or prefer. Or at least to present the least liked subjects and lessons in ways they will want to like them. For this an example I present are the multitude of apps and games geared to education. The pragmatic educator will argue that since the technology is available, it should (or can logically) be used in the teaching because it is relevant.
Ultimately, a pragmatic philosophy suggests that there is no absolute and unchanging truth but rather what works is what is true. The originator of the pragmatism, Charles Sanders Peirce, believed that thought must produce action to be of worth. But what we believe to be true is paramount to the action that results.
Educators and other individuals associated with Pragmatism:
- John Dewey
- Wiliam James
- Hilary Putnam
Another philosophy that prefers to look to each individual for what is true, and therefore what is worthwhile to be taught and learned, is Existentialism. Delight-directed learning styles and possibly unschooling stem from this type of philosophy. How is this?
As individuals we are all unique; not one person is like another. We have generalities that can be tied with being a human being but each person possesses different talents and abilities. Within those talents and abilities, each person also excels differently. Existentialism focuses on bringing these to the forefront through free choice of the student. They choose what they will learn because the choices will make them who they will become. Ultimately, each person is responsible for their own actions and choices.
To choose for students what they will learn ahead of time is infringing on the students’ free will. Educators who follow this philosophy often will collaborate with students to determine a course of study or curriculum. As the belief of free will is very important, the use of experience is also emphasized. Based on what is experienced a student will choose what they learn, therefore being responsible for their actions.
Educators also utilize dialogue and discussion in their daily lessons to ensure that there are more experiences available to the student for making the choices they need. Existentialist educators focus on the whole child, not simply academic. In subject areas such as history, the actions of individuals, whether positive or negative, are emphasized as models for the students rather than dates and specific events.
Educators and other individuals associated with Existentialism:
- Soren Kierkegaard
- Albert Camus
- Jean-Paul Sartre
Some say that another name for this is Constructivism. I talked about both Progressivism and Constructivism in a previous post. Another possible term might be Eclecticism*. There are many homeschoolers that label their style as eclectic.
There have been some who suggest that Dewey was a progressive educator, although he would not agree and actually writes about this in his book Experience and Education. Progressivism has many definitions and it was difficult to pin down one but this fits well I think:
‘child-centered instruction’, ‘discovery learning’ and ‘learning how to learn’ (Labaree, 2005, p. 277)
However, looking at that definition it would lead a person to any number of philosophies!
This was popular in the early- to mid-1900s. When I say ‘popular’ I mean it was a trend that didn’t really catch on. It has since come back in fashion with educationalists attempting to find something that works in the schools. However, it was more popular in private schools than the public schools.
I see this as a philosophy- or almost more of a method stemming from different philosophies; it’s a fine line- that has grown in today’s learning circles. Educators today who follow this are not content with using a set or prescribed curriculum or a traditional base of knowledge. But at the same time they do not necessarily adhere to the other philosophies.
Labaree’s blunt definition suggests that it is in line with both Pragmatism and Existentialism, and yet it is different. Gutek (1995) narrows this down to a movement set to :
- Encourage child freedom.
- Contribute to the whole child and not simply his or her intellect.
- Use activities to give child direct experience of the world.
- Foster cooperation between schools and families.
This has become a much longer post than I’d intended. I had one more philosophy to put in here that I feel is prevalent in today’s education spheres, Reconstructionalism, but I will leave it. Briefly, it is most adamantly focused on pushing students to change society. For this you can look to Paulo Freire’s works. For Christians, this is something that must not be overlooked (the education of today’s students in many schools under this philosophy). But I leave this to your own research and examination.
I do have a note in regard to Eclecticism as I marked in the section on Progressivism:
*The reason I say it may fit here is that these educators understand that all of the philosophies, and therefore methods, overlap in areas. It is incredibly difficult to utilize only one in education. Therefore they will pick and choose from the different philosophies and methods to form a conglomeration they feel is best suited to their student.
You don’t want to mix philosophies frivolously or without much thought…
“There is a danger of sloppy and inconsistent thinking, especially if you borrow a bit from one philosophy and stir in some of another” (Cohen, 1999).
…much as you shouldn’t want to use a method, or curriculum, without understanding the philosophy behind it.
“I feel strongly that to attempt to work this method without a firm adherence to the few principles laid down would be not only idle but disastrous” (Mason, quoted in Glass, 2014).
In the next- and it will be the final- post, I will present some references for educational philosophy. It will by no means be exhaustive. There are so many writers on the subject!
- Cohen, L. M. (1999). Philosophical Perspectives in Education. Accessible online
- Glass, K. (2014). Consider This: Charlotte Mason and the Classical Tradition. Author.
- Gutek, G. L. (1995). A History of the Western Educational Experience. Waveland Press, Inc.
- Labaree, D. F. (2005). Progressivism, Schools and Schools of Education: An American Romance. Accessible online
I would love to hear your thoughts on any of the posts in this series.