By Thomas Peterson


How do you develop a philosophy of education?


            One must first begin by examining the various schools of philosophy.  For this class we will consider four major schools of philosophy idealism, realism, pragmatism, and existentialism.  As you study these schools of philosophy, which one comes closest to your beliefs?  Do you agree with more than one?  Can you be attached in various ways to some or all of them?

            Secondly, we must examine these schools of philosophy as they impact on education.  Each of these schools of philosophy has an impact on every facet of education; from curriculum development to teaching methods and from classroom management to evaluation techniques.  Each of these schools of philosophy determines the decisions we will be called to make on a daily basis.

            Lastly, we must be able to explain how we will personally respond to educational issues.  It also gives us a way of inquiring into, interpreting, and clarifying educational issues.  Thus we need to develop our own philosophy of education (or theory of education) which guides our decision making.  Our theory also enables us to explain what we are doing and why.  George F. Kneller says this of the teacher with an educational philosophy: “Philosophy frees the teacher's imagination and at the same time controls his intellect.  By tracing the problems of education to their roots in philosophy, the teacher sees these problems in ampler perspective.  By thinking philosophically, he applies his mind systematically to issues of importance which have been clarified and refined.” (p. 128)

I am also listing for you 5 philosophical theories of education which comprise the major educational responses to the prevailing social and educational climate of the time.

The first three (perennialism, essentialism, and behaviorism) can generally be categorized as classical or traditional in nature while the last two (progressivism and reconstructionism) represent a more progressive or modern view.  It is important to note that each of these theories represents a response or protest to the prevailing social and educational climate of the time.  As we examine and review each educational theory we must not only keep in mind the similarities and differences among the theories, but the reasons or rationales behind the protests.



Development of Idealistic Thought

Contributors include:

1.      Socrates (469-399 B.C.)               2.         Plato    (427-347 B.C.)

3.      Augustine (354-430)                     4.         Rene Descartes (1596-1650)

5.      George Berkeley (1685-1753)      6.         Immanuel Kant (1724-1804)

7.      Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831)        8.         Josiah Royce (1855-1916)

Plato’s epistemology, or theory of knowledge, is based on the concept of reminiscence or recollection by which human beings recall the truths that are latently but unconsciously present in their minds.  Reminiscence implies that every human being possesses a soul, which prior to birth lived in a spiritual world of perfect forms or ideals.  The soul once had true knowledge, but lost it by being placed in a material body which distorted and corrupted that knowledge.  Man has the arduous task of trying to remember what he once knew.  It's like giving birth to ideas which they never knew they had.  Knowing requires effort, however.  The learner has to be ready and willing to learn, to discard false opinion, and needs to seek truth in a deliberate and conscious fashion. 

Idealism holds that truth is in the consistency of ideas and that goodness is an ideal state to strive to attain. In fact, it may be said that ideas of truth, goodness, justice, and beauty are the only true reality because they never change.   Matter or the natural world is characterized by change, instability, and uncertainty while ideas are lasting and immutable.  Truth could not be found in the world of matter.  It could be found in conceptual world of data rather than the perceptual one of sense data. 

Idealism can be defined as a view that the existence of objects depends wholly or in part on the minds of those perceiving them.  Another way to say it is that reality is a world within a person's mind.

As teachers we should concern ourselves primarily with the search for truth – which in ancient times ultimately meant a search for god.  To discover truth, Idealists put an enormous amount of weight (some would call it faith) on the Socratic Method that of discussing ideas.  Truth always emerges through dialogue (dialectic). 


REALISM and educational theory of ESSENTIALISM and Perennialism

Development of Realistic Thought

Contributors include:

1          Aristotle (384-332 B.C.)                         2.   Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274)

3.    Francis Bacon (1561-1626)                      4.   John Locke (1632-1704)

            5.    Alfred N. Whitehead (1861-1947)          6.   Bertrand Russell (1872-1970)

            7.    Hilary Putnam (1926- )                            8.   John R. Searle (1932- )


Leading educational proponents include:  William C. Bagley, Arthur E. Bestor, Herman Horne, Hyman G. Rickover, A. Graham Down, E.D. Hirsh, Jr., William J. Bennett.

Aristotle believed that all things possess an essence or nature that has potential to be actualized.  Inherent in this essence of nature, everything in that natural world or created by human agencies is unique in that each is striving toward an end consistent with its nature or essence.  The defining characteristic of human beings is their ability to ask general questions and seek answers to them through observation and analysis. For example, we can observe in each acorn a natural inclination depending on the conditions to become an oak tree. 

Realism believes in the world as it is. It is based on the view that reality is what we observe. It believes that truth is what we sense and observe and that goodness is found in the order of the laws of nature. 

Truth can be discovered through observation and logic (inductive and deductive). The scientific method of discovery is a prime example of how a realist will discover what is real and good. 

As a result, schools exist to reveal the order of the world and universe. Students are taught factual information—facts that can be verified, measured and observed.

Essentialism developed into a conservative educational theory that arose in the 1930s in opposition to progressive education.  This movement came to mean that education was to teach basic or essential skills.   They also stressed that the best preparation for life is learning about the cultures and traditions of the past.


     1.    Essentialism of the 1930s--William Bagley

     2.    Academic critics of the 1950s,

     3.   "Back to the Basics" of the 1970s,

    4.    Neoconservatism of the 1980s as evidenced in A Nation at Risk where the core

           requirements for high-school students call for a curriculum based on intellectual    



Educational theory of Essentialism


The educational theory of essentialism is, like perennialism, based in the philosophical thoughts of idealism and realism.  Essentialists argue that (1) schools should be academic rather than social agencies, (2) curricular organization should be based on carefully selected and well-defined skill and subjects, (3) the teacher should be an authority figure, and (4) learning should be teacher directed. 

            Unlike perennialism, however, essentialism began as an educational rather than a philosophical movement.  Essentialism is a conservative educational theory that arose in the 1930s in opposition to progressive education.  With recurring regularity, various movements in education have urged a return to teaching of the essential or basic skills.  Although there have been advocates for a return to "fundamental education" throughout the history of American education, contemporary American education has witnessed, according to Gutex (1992), four important movements:  (1) the essentialism of the 1930s. (2) the academic critics of the 1950s, (3) the "Back to Basics" of the 1970s till 1990s, and (4) the neoconservatism of the 1980s as evidenced in A Nation at Risk where the core requirements for high-school students call for a curriculum based on intellectual disciplines.

            Basically, essentialism emphasizes the authority of the teacher and the value of the subject matter curriculum.  Ornstein (1989), notes that for the essentialists, "education involves the learning of the basic skills, arts, and sciences that have been developed in the past.  Mastering these skills and subjects prepares the student to function as a member of a civilized society.  In addition, the student also should acquire the behavior needed for successful living.  The learning of the essential curriculum requires discipline and hard work." (Ornstein p.213)

            According to Gutek (1992) "the term Essentialist was used to identify a group of educators who organized the Essentialist Committee for the Advancement of American Education in 1938.  The leading spokesperson for the committee was William C. Bagley, who wrote the "Essentialist Platform."  The essentialists developed both a critique and a program for American education.  The essentialist critique attacked tendencies in American education that were regarded as weakening the academic standards of the schools.  Among the essentialist criticisms were the following:  (1) The standards of achievement of American students in fundamental skills and subjects were deficient in comparison to other countries, (2) increasing numbers of students in junior and senior high schools were functionally illiterate because of reading deficiencies, (3) many school systems had abandoned rigorous standards of scholastic achievement for promotion and merely passed students on schedule to higher grades, (4) progressive educators had weakened instruction by replacing exacting subjects with ill-defined projects and activities, and (5) an erroneous theory of child freedom had been used to eliminate discipline, order, and sequence from American schools." (p 107)

            L. Dean Webb (1992) noted that the curriculum of the essentialist school's basic education includes instruction in the "essentials," that include reading, writing, arithmetic, and research skills in the elementary grades and science, mathematics, history, English, and foreign languages in the high-schools.  These are the "required tools" of a liberal education and the most reliable aids in meeting the requirements of both personal and social life.  It is the task of the school to channel the accumulated experience of humankind into organized, coherent, and differentiated disciplines.  Only after mastering these basic disciplines can the student be expected to use them to solve personal, social, and civic issues.

            Currently, the neoessentialists severely criticize educators who reject or ignore the school's mission in transmitting the nation's cultural heritage, especially as it is found in history and literature.  They attack educators who emphasize "process" over content.  They maintain that history should be taught as a separate subject and not submerged in the ill-defined social studies.  Also, English should be revitalized as the study of literature and not watered down in the language arts. 

        Some common themes to be found in all variations of the essentialist positions are:

1.  Americans have largely lost sight of the true purpose of education, which is intellectual training.  With the rigor of our educational programs and teaching methods (discipline, respect for legitimate authority), declining steadily for decades, 

2.  elementary school curriculums should aim to cultivate basic tool skills that contribute to literacy and mastery of arithmetical computations; and

3.  secondary curriculum should advance competencies in math, science, history, English, and foreign languages.

4.  We must teach our students that intellectual achievement requires hard work and disciplined attention.

5.  Like the perennialists, realists and essentialists believe that the best preparation for life is learning about the cultures and traditions of the past.

Essentialism influences educational thought in the following ways:

1.                  Schools should be academic rather than social agencies,

2.                  Curricular organizations should be based on carefully selected and well-defined skill and subjects--basic skills, arts, math, history, and science--from the past,

3.                  The teacher should be an authority figure,

4.                  Taught as separate subjects,

5.                  Learning should be teacher directed,

6.                  Use of scientific approach--inductive logic,

7.                  Emphasize content over process,

8.                  Excellence in education is based on external criteria,

9.                  Fact-base or objective base approach to knowledge,

10.              Divorced from personal experience (emotion, passion, feelings, etc)--external sense-related reality

11.              Antiphilosophical--discourages search for wisdom.

This is a conservative educational theory that arose in the 1930s in opposition to progressive education.


Educational theory of Perennialism


Perennialism views truth as unchanging, or perennial.  It views nature and, in particular, human nature as constant, as undergoing little change.  Beneath the superficial differences from one century or decade to the next, the rules that govern the world and the characteristics that make up human nature stay the same. It's focus is based on the need to return to the past, namely, to universal truth and such absolutes as reason and faith. 

            "Perennialists believe that western society lost its way several centuries ago.  They decry what they see as a trend to rely too much on experimental science and technology and thus ignore enduring truths.  They argue that the growing status of scientific experimentation has led to a denial of the power and importance of human reason. 

            Perennialists favor schools that develop the intellect of all learners and prepare them for life.  This preparation is best accomplished when individuals have mastered the truths discovered through the centuries.  Such wisdom is seen as important regardless of the career or vocation an individual ultimately chooses to follow." (Armstrong 1993)

            "The perennialists see education as the search for and the dissemination of truth.  Since truth is universal and unchanging, a genuine education is also universal and constant.  The school's curriculum should emphasize the recurrent themes of human life.  It should contain cognitive subjects that cultivate rationality and the study of moral, aesthetic, and religious principles to cultivate the attitudinal dimension.  Like idealists and realists, perennialists prefer a subject matter curriculum.  The perennialist curriculum includes history, language, mathematics, logic, literature, the humanities, and science.  The content of these subjects should come from the classical works of literature and art.  Mastering the subject matter of these learned disciplines is regarded as essential for training the intellect." (Ornstein 1989)

            "Because the perennialist views knowledge as consisting of unified and unchanging principles, the emphasis of essentialism on separate subjects and on the learning and retention of factual information is soundly condemned.  The separate subjects that the perennialist might support are those that are broadly defined as the classical liberal arts.  The perennialist points out that what the essentialist considers "essential" is constantly changing.  Therefore, a school program's focus on the essentials runs the risk of teaching learners information that, in time, will have little relevance for their lives." (Armstrong 1993)

            Perennialists are particularly vocal in their opposition to vocational training in the schools.  They believe that vocational education represents a sellout of the true educational purpose of the school to the narrow interests of business and government.  This concern is directed not only at public schools, but at colleges and universities as well.

            Perennialists believe that higher education has developed entirely inappropriate emphasis on developing students' research skills and on preparing them for future career.  In the eyes of perennialists, courses with these emphases divert students away from a "genuine education" that would emphasize a mastery of lasting truth.  If they could, perennialists would ban all research and practical training from colleges and universities and turn these responsibilities over to technical institutes.

            The perennialist shares with the essentialist the idea that the primary goal of education is to develop the intellect.  However, in the perennialist view learners should pursue truth for its own sake, not because it happens to be useful for some vocation.  This pursuit of truth can best be accomplished through the study of the great literary works of civilization.  Perennialists are especially attracted to courses in the humanities and literature.  These classics are viewed as important because they deal with universal issues and themes that are as contemporary today as when they were written.

            In summary and according to George F. Kneller, perennialists have six basic principles: 

1.  Despite differing environments, human nature remains the same everywhere; hence, education should be the same for everyone.

2.  Since rationality is man's highest attribute, he must use it to direct his instinctual nature in accordance with deliberately chosen ends. 

3.  It is education's task to import knowledge of eternal truth. 

4.  Education is not an imitation of life, but a preparation for it. 

5.  The student should be taught certain basic subjects that will acquaint him with the world's permanencies. 

6.  Students should study the great works of literature, philosophy, history, and science in which men through the ages have revealed their greatest aspirations and achievements. (pp. 42-45)

            Leading educational proponents include:  Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, Jacques Martain, Robert M. Hutchins, Mortimer J. Adler, and Allan Bloom.


Educational theory of Behaviorism


Rooted in the philosophical schools of realism, behaviorism or behavioral engineering is an educational theory that is predicated on the belief that human behavior can be explained in terms of responses to external stimuli.  L. Dean Webb states, "the basic principle of behaviorism is that education can best be achieved by modifying or changing student behaviors in a socially acceptable manner through the arrangement of the conditions for learning.  For the behaviorist, the predictability and control of human behavior are paramount concepts.  The control is obtained not by manipulating the individual but by manipulating the environment.

            The basic principles of the theory of Behaviorism are as follows:

1.  All behaviors are both objective and observable.

2.  All behaviors are caused.

3.  As natural organisms we seek positive reinforcement and avoid punishment.

4.  The teacher should arrange conditions under which learning can occur.

5.  Technology makes it possible for teachers to teach beyond their knowledge of content or subject matter.

6.  Students will learn best by the use of carefully planned schedules of reinforcement.

            There are two major types of behaviorism: (1) classical conditioning or stimulus substitution behaviorism, and (2) operant conditioning or response reinforcement behaviorism (Phillips & Soltis, 1985).  Classical conditioning, based on the work of the Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov (1849-1936) and the American experimental psychologist John B. Watson (1878-1958), demonstrates that a natural stimulus that produces a certain type of response can be replaced by a conditioned stimulus.  For example, Pavlov found that with dogs the natural stimulus such as food will produce a natural response such as salivation.  However, when Pavlov paired the natural stimulus (food) with a conditioned stimulus (bell), he found that eventually the conditioned stimulus (bell) produced a conditioned response (salivation).  Watson eventually used Pavlov's classical conditioning model to explain all human learning.

            The operant conditioning model can best be described by the work of psychologist E.L. Thorndike (1874-1949) and B. F. Skinner (1904-1990).  Both Thorndike and Skinner suggested that any response to any stimulus can be conditioned by immediate reinforcement or reward.  Skinner later determined that an action or response does not have to be rewarded each time it occurs.  In fact, Skinner found that random reward or intermittent reinforcement was a more effective method for learning than continuous reward.  Skinner also discovered that behavior could be shaped by the appropriate use of rewards. 

            As a theory of education, behaviorism was a protest against the importance placed on mental processes that could not be observed (e.g., thinking or motivation).  Today, behaviorism has taken a moderate stance and has adopted a cognitive-behaviorial approach which attempts to change the individual's cognitions or perceptions of the world and his or her self.

            Measurements and evaluation are central to the behaviorist.  Specified behavioral objectives (e.g., the behaviors or knowledge that students are expected to demonstrate or learn) serve not only as guides to learning for the student, but as standards for evaluating the teaching-learning process.  For the behaviorist, only those aspects of behavior that are observable and preferably measurable are of interest to the teacher.  Advocates of behavioral objectives claim that if teachers know exactly what they want students to learn and how they want them to learn, using behavioral objectives can be an efficient method for gauging how much learning has occurred.  Measurement and evaluation also provide a method for obtaining accountability from teachers since they are (behaviorists believe) pivotal to the learning process." (L.Dean Webb pp. 210,212)

            Leading educational proponents include:  Ivan Pavlov, John B. Watson, E.L. Thorndike, B.F. Skinner, and David Premack.


PRAGMATISM and the educational theory of Progressivism


PRAGMATISM  -  The Greek meaning is "work" and can also mean “practical.”

            It seeks to examine traditional ways of thinking and doing, and where possible and desirable, to reconstruct our approach to life more in line with the human needs of today.

Pragmatism was influenced by the "scientific revolution" and twentieth-century American philosophers. Background - Francis Bacon, John Locke, Rousseau, and Charles Darwin.  As philosophy - Charles Sanders Peirce, William James, George Herbert Mead, and John Dewey.

            The experience is central to the pragmatist.  It can be defined as the interaction of the human organism with its environment.  Experience and nature are not two different things separated from each other, but rather experience itself is of nature.  Experience is of and in nature. We cannot separate experience from nature.  Includes stones, plants, disease, social conditions, enjoyments, and sufferings.

            Genuine thought begins with a "problematic situation," a block or hitch to the ongoing stream of experience.  In encountering these blocks, consciousness is brought to focus, and one is made more acutely aware of the situation. It is dealing with these real problems that creative intelligence is capable of development.

Reality is seen as always changing or in transition.  Knowing is a transaction where the person is always interacting with an ever-changing environment. Hence we never arrive at truth but are constantly changing, because the person is changing, the environment is changing, and the experience between them is also changing. Reality then is always seen as being open-ended, in process, with no fixed end.  This means that we cannot expect to locate enduring solutions for every problem - instead, take each problem as it comes.


Educational theory of Progressivism


Progressivism grew as a response to an education which focused on Perennialism and the memorization of irrelevant facts.  Progressivists primary concern was that of making education a practical matter that required a method of systematically thinking things out in a clear fashion.  .

Progressive education which grew out of pragmatic thought must be understood as both a general movement to reform American life (political "Progressive Era" 1900-1920) and education.  Progressivism is often associated with reconstructionism (in the broad sense) and more specifically with John Dewey's pragmatism and experimentalism.  Rooted in the philosophical school of pragmatism, progressivism is the counterpoint to both essentialism and perennialism.

            "According to the progressive educator, the child should be the focal point of the school, and therefore the curriculum and teaching methodology should relate to the students' interests and needs.  Moreover, progressivism contends that children want to learn if they are not frustrated by adults; therefore, teachers should act merely as guides to student learning and, in order to respond to different requests for knowledge, must possess significant knowledge and experience." (Reed 1992 p 219) 

The metaphor of the "teacher as facilitator,"  "director of learning," or "coach" might best describe the progressivist teacher.  Such a teacher is not considered to be the authority or disseminator of knowledge or truth like the perennialist or essentialist teacher.  Rather, he or she serves more as a guide or supervisor who facilitates learning by assisting the student to sample direct experiences.  Although the teacher is always interested in the individual development of each student, the progressivist instructor would envision his or her role as focusing beyond the individual.  Progressivism by its very nature is socially oriented; thus the teacher would be a collaborative partner in making group discussions, keeping in mind their ultimate consequences for the students." (Webb, 1992, p 208)

            "The school, according to the progressive movement, is a microcosm of society, and learning experiences should occur in the school as they do in society; they should not be artificially divided into time, space, and content.  English and social studies, for example, should be integrated and focus on problem solving rather than simple memorization of content.  According to the progressivist, education is part of life itself, not a preparation for life; this is the exact opposite of the perennialist's point of view.  Thus, learning should be cooperative as it is in a democratic environment.  Teachers and students should be involved in the operation of the school.  Teachers should participate in such things as curriculum planning and assignment of students to groups. 

            According to George F. Kneller, the basic principles of progressivism include the following: 

1.  Learning should be active and related to the interests of the child. 

2. Individuals handle the complexity of life more effectively if they break experiences down into specific problems.  Therefore, learning should involve the solving of problems rather than memorization of subject matter. 

3.  Since education is a reconstruction of experience, education is synonymous with living.  So education should be like life itself rather than a preparation for life. 

4.  Because interests of the child are central to what is taught, the teacher should act as a guide rather than a figure of authority.

5.  Individuals achieve more when they work with others than when they compete.  Therefore, the schools should encourage cooperative learning practices. 

6.  In order to grow individuals need the interplay of ideas and personalities.  Since this is best achieved in a democratic system, the school must operate within the principles of a democracy.

            Progressivism was an attempt to reform the essentialist and perennialist views of schooling in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.  In the 1870s, educator

Colonel Francis W. Parker was one of the first to argue that schools were too authoritarian, relied too heavily on textbooks and passive learning, and isolated learning from social reality.  In Schools of Tomorrow (1915) John Dewey spelled out his pragmatic philosophy by explaining how progressive methodology functioned in the classroom.  In 1919 the Progressive Education Association was founded.  Some of the legacies passed down to contemporary schools from progressive education include manipulatives in science and mathematics, field trips, projects related to the study of community issues, and classroom stores, and kitchens.

            During the years of the Great Depression and those immediately following it, progressivists moved away from emphasis on the individual child toward emphasis on education for the good of society.  They advocated that schools be heavily immersed in solving society's problems and issues.  Progressivists take the pragmatic view that change is the essence of reality, and, therefore, education is always in the process of changing; it is a positive, continual reconstruction of experience.  The more radical wing of the progressive movement became known as reconstructionists." (Reed, pp.219,220)

            Leading educational proponents include:  Jane Addams, John Dewey, William H. Kilpatrick, Harold Rugg, George S. Counts, and John Childs.  Other educational reformers/contributors include: Comenius, Rousseau, Sigmund Freud, Pestalozzi, Froebel, Marietta Pierce Johnson (1864-1938 at Fairhope, Alabama), Francis W. Parker (1837-1902 Chicago Normal School), and Harold Rugg and Caroline Pratt (1867-1954, both developed the concept of artist-teacher) .


Educational theory of Reconstructionism


            Reconstructionism or Social Reconstructionism emerged in the 1930s under the leadership of George S. Counts and Harold Rugg, and later achieved consummation by Theodore Brameld.  Prior to the 1930s the Progressive Education movement had made certain advances beyond Essentialism in teacher-pupil relations and teaching methodology and according to the reconstructionists, become fixated on the child (child-centered).  The reconstructionists charged that the progressivists had failed to develop long-range, compelling goals for a society that, at the time, was undergoing great social, political, and economic transformations.  The crises that gave rise to the urgency grew out of the Great Depression of the 1930s and later, in the 1950s, the threat of nuclear annihilation.

            It was John Dewey who suggested the term "reconstructionism" by the title of his book, Reconstruction in Philosophy (1920).  During this time some Progressives, such as George S. Counts, believed that Progressive Education should seek to create a cooperative society in which wealth would be shared more equitably.  Counts's call to "build a new social order" attracted adherents from the ranks of progressive educators.  Eventually, social reconstructionism developed into a distinctive educational ideology that contained both an analysis of society and a plan for social reform. 

            They argued that civilization is in a state of profound cultural crisis.  If schools are to continue to mirror the social status quo, then, schooling will merely transmit societal ills and injustices.  Schools, then, would be really training children to play the roles required in an archaic and self-destructive society.  Rather than relying of metaphysics as a theoretical rationale, the reconstructionists used the findings and methods of social sciences such as economics, anthropology, sociology, and psychology to provide the basis for their plans of social reform.  They want to use education as a means of designing policies that will bring about a new society.  Such an education, they argue, cannot be neutral; it must be committed to bring about deliberate social change.  It must prepare future generations to be social engineers who can use science and technology to create a new and better world society.

            According to Gerald Gutek (1992) reconstructionists educators, teachers, students and schools should:

1.  Identify major social problems by critically examining the present condition of society.

2.  Analyze social problems, issues, and controversies with the aim of resolving them in ways that enhance human growth and development.

3.  Be committed to bring about constructive social change and reform.

4.  Cultivate a planning attitude among students that will be carried into adult citizenship activities.

5.  Join in promoting definite programs of social, educational, political, and economic reform.

            Gutek also believes that "Social Reconstructionists believe that a new society can be created only as educators challenge obsolete conceptions of education and schooling and initiate carefully planned change that will lead to social reform.  Because social sciences such as anthropology, economics, sociology, political science, and psychology are useful in providing the background and methods for planned social change, they should be emphasized in the curriculum.  Education should awaken the students' consciousness about social problems by encouraging them to question the status quo and to examine controversial issues in religion, society, economics, politics, and education.  By examining rather than ignoring controversial issues, the Reconstructionists believe, students well develop alternatives to the status quo.

            The Reconstructionist teacher should encourage and respect divergent thinking by students.  Divergent thinking should not be purely intellectual but should be used instrumentally to create alternative political, social, and economic institutions and processes.

            Social Reconstructionists assert that a truly progressive education should create a world order in which people plan their own future.  It should be future rather than past oriented.  Reconstructionists contend that traditional schooling is based on the past to the neglect of the future.  If people are to control their own destinies, it is important that schools include futuristic studies in the curriculum.

            Reconstructionists insist that teachers lead students to examine critically their culture.  They should identify major areas of controversy, conflict, and inconsistency and seek to resolve them.  For example, the curriculum should include units on such problems as overpopulation, environmental pollution, world poverty, violence, and war.  Education should examine these world problems and seek to resolve them so that people can improve the quality of life on the planet.

            The Reconstructionists believe that technology has created an interdependent world.  Events in one region of the earth will have an impact in other regions.  The new education must stress the reality of an interdependent and international world.  Reconstructionists seek to internationalize the curriculum so that students learn that they are living in an interdependent world culture." (Gutek p 122)

            Leading educational proponents include:  Plato, Augustine, Karl Marx, John Dewey, George S. Counts, Theodore Brameld, William O. Stanley, Alvin Toffler, Harold Rugg, John Childs, William H. Kilpatrick, Ivan Illich, and Paulo Freire.



Basic Tenets of Existentialism

·         Movement of the 19th and 20th centuries

·         Became prominent after World War II

·         Existentialism is a philosophical perspective or inclination rather than a complete system of thought

·         Existentialism is not a uniform body of philosophical thought

·         It emphasizes the importance of individual responsibility. The student should live his or her life in the here and now—not in the past or in the future. The student must be "true to him/herself.

·         The quest of an existentialism education is to cultivate an authentic person who is aware of freedom and that every choice is made with integrity.

·         All true living is relational


Jean Paul Sartre, an existentialist philosopher, stated, “The Existentialist conceptions of freedom and value arise from their view of the individual. Since we are all ultimately alone, isolated islands of subjectivity in an objective world, we have absolute freedom over our internal nature, and the source of our value can only be internal,” (, 2000).

Sartre’s description of existentialism includes the basics of what this school of education believes. Existentialism is focused on the individual student. Furthermore, it is attentive to the spiritual growth of each individual. It allows “students the freedom of choice and provide[s] them with experiences that will help them find meaning in their lives,” (Parkay and Stanford, 1998). 

Foundational to existentialism is the belief that true reality is to be found by forming loving relationships.  All real living is relational and we can only truly know something or someone by having a relationship with it/him/her.  Martin Buber best describes these relationships as “I” and “IT” and “I” and “Thou.” 

The students in an existentialist classroom are allowed to question their existence and subject matter comes secondary to their questioning. The students have the responsibility of “determining for themselves what is ‘true’ or ‘false,’ ‘right’ or ‘wrong,’ ‘beautiful’ or ‘ugly’,” (Shaw, 2000). Students conduct themselves in ways mirroring many of Aristotle’s pupils. They conduct their own inquiries and draw their own conclusions.

The knowledge that students inherit in an existentialist classroom is not like any other school of education. The subject matter in this type of a classroom is unique to each individual which allows them learn how to accept and appreciate themselves. Sartre said, “Everything has been figured out, except how to live,” (, 1998). Existentialist view education and knowledge as what we learn through personal inquiries and relationships. By discovering who we are and why we are here will help us grow physically, emotionally, spiritually and intellectually.


Development of Existential Thought

Contributors include:

Karl Barth, Simone de Beauvoir, Samuel Beckett, William Blake, Martin Buber, Albert Camus, E. M. Cioran, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Martin Heidegger, William James, Karl Jaspers, Franz Kafka, Soren Kierkegaard, Abraham H. Maslow, Friedrich Nietzsche, Blaise Pascal, Jean Paul Sartre, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Henry David Thoreau, Paul Tillich,