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Chapter 12: Philosophy of Education



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Chapter Summary
  1. Behind every school and every teacher is a set of related beliefs-a philosophy of education-that influences what and how students are taught. Philosophies of education are based on the way that schools and teachers resolve the various philosophical questions that have puzzled Western thinkers since the time of the ancient Greeks.

  2. Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle are the three most legendary ancient Greek philosophers. Socrates is hailed today as the personification of wisdom and the philosophical life. He gave rise to what is now called the Socratic method, in which the teacher repeatedly questions students to help them clarify their own deepest thoughts.

  3. Plato, Socrates' pupil, crafted eloquent dialogues that present different philosophical positions on a number of profound questions. He believed that a realm of externally existing "ideas," or "forms," underlies the physical world.

  4. Aristotle, Plato's pupil, was remarkable for the breadth as well as the depth of his knowledge. He provided a synthesis of Plato's belief in the universal, spiritual forms and a scientist's belief in the physical world we observe through our senses. He taught that the virtuous life consists of controlling desires by reason and by the moderate path between extremes.

  5. Philosophical questions include the following: Is reality composed solely of matter? Is it characterized by constant progress through time (metaphysics)? What is the basis of human knowledge (epistemology)? What is the nature of the good life (ethics)? The just society (political philosophy)? Beauty (aesthetics)? What are the principles behind human reasoning (logic)?

  6. This chapter presents five educational philosophies: essentialism, perennialism, progressivism, existentialism, and behaviorism. Essentialism focuses on teaching whatever academic and moral knowledge is needed for children to become productive citizens. Essentialists urge that schools get back to the basics; they believe in a strong core curriculum and high academic standards.

  7. Progressivism is based largely on the belief that lessons must seem relevant to the students in order for them to learn. Consequently, the curriculum of a progressivist school is built around the personal experiences, interests, and needs of the students.

  8. Perennialism focuses on the universal truths that have withstood the test of time. Perennialists urge that students read the Great Books and develop their understanding of the philosophical concepts that underlie human knowledge.

  9. Existentialism is derived from the belief in human free will. Students in existentialist schools are allowed to control their own education. They are encouraged to understand and appreciate their uniqueness and to assume responsibility for their actions.

  10. Behaviorism is founded on the view that human beings are primarily the product of their environment and that children can become moral, intelligent people if they are rewarded for proper behavior. Behaviorists break down material into small lessons, test students after each lesson, and reward students for proper responses.

  11. While essentialism is currently the most popular of these five educational philosophies, there also exist schools based primarily on each of the other four philosophies. Many schools do not ascribe to any one of these philosophies in a pure form; they are considered eclectic in approach.

  12. You should continue to develop and reflect on your own philosophy of education; it will shape the kind of teacher you become.



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