Educational Philosophy

Which philosophy of education do you think is most prevalent now?

I think it’s clear that American educational philosophy is dominantly and increasingly essentialist.  Essentialists believe that “learning should focus on essential basic skills, such as reading, writing, mathematics and, to a certain extent, science and geography” (Kauchak & Eggen, 2005, page 217). It is also characterized by a belief that “there is a critical core of information that all people should possess” (Kauchak & Eggen, 2005, page 218). This aligns completely to the current focus on standards (“the critical core of information”) and standardized testing (“that all people should possess”).

As I’ve said elsewhere in this forum, post-modernism in my experience does have influence on curriculum content but seems to have little power as a consensus philosophy and less over the overall structure or goals of educators at the elementary school level. Likewise, perennialism seems to have little or no influence over curriculum and educational philosophy today. Contemporary educational philosophy has little room for ‘great works’ (other than a very few exceptions like Shakespeare) and less for the concept of eternal ideas and values.

Progressivism is interesting. Labaree’s analysis makes complete sense to me. Progressivism is really two separate philosophies. The romantic, philosophical wing of progressivism derives from Dewey and represents the child-centric, artistic (for want of a better concise description) meme that pervades our society’s discussions of education. While this philosophy remains pervasive and powerful in discussion, it has little and lessening power over actual policy. The ‘administrative’ progressives (centered by Labaree on Edward Thorndike) focus instead on efficiency and social engineering. We still see their influence in IQ testing, tracking and vocational education but even this seems to be losing out to the essentialists. Perhaps the societal economic structures these administrative progressives intended to support are themselves fading away. Certainly, fear over the lack of seemingly fundamental skills in so much of our youth seems to have claimed priority over ‘higher’ concepts like social engineering.

As I reflected elsewhere, I am far from convinced that this essentialist move towards ‘core’ standards and testing can actually accomplish its stated objectives. Like so much of the reductionist modern impulse, it may be that too much is lost in the cold reduction of life to ‘essentials’. Twain is said to have quipped that analyzing comedy is like dissecting a frog, both seem to suffer in the process. Perhaps I am a philosophical progressive at heart (or have sympathies in that direction) but it seems to me that students and their education are similarly at risk from the ‘dissection’ of the body of learning and experience included in their education. 

Labaree, D. F. (2005, February). Progressivism, schools and schools of education: An American romance. Paedagogica Historica, 41(1/2), 275. 

Kauchak, P. & Eggen, P. (2005). Introduction to teaching: Becoming a professional (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.


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