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Influence of Idealism and Realism on the Philosophy of Education: Analytical Essay

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Education is a liberal discipline and it is practical in nature, while philosophy is a theory, therefore, philosophy of education is referred to as the branch of philosophy that addresses philosophical questions concerning the nature, aims, and problems of education (Louman, 2011). Hence, philosophy is the cornerstone of the foundation of education and without philosophy, education would be a blind effort, and without education, philosophy would be crippled, as philosophy answers thousands of questions pertaining to the whole field of education. However, this academic writing endeavours to compare and contrast the idealist and realist (schools of thought) concept of reality relating to the teaching and learning process in the 21st Century classroom. It should be noted that there are different schools of philosophy depending on the answers they seek to the question of reality. It is a search for understanding of man, nature, and universe, and these schools of philosophy include; Idealism, Realism, Pragmatism, and Existentialism. In this case this academic writing will focus on Idealism and Realism as the schools of philosophy and relating these schools to teaching and learning in the 21st Century classroom. All these and more are addressed in the essay that follow.

Both, Idealism and Realism are the two competing philosophies in the field of education. Dating back to ancient Greece, these theories influence the philosophy of education to this day. Anthony (2010) highlighted that Idealism is the school of educational thought promoted by Plato in 400 B.C. Plato thought that humans could improve from within, by correcting their thoughts and discovering knowledge already there since birth. Idealism is a philosophical approach that has as its central tenet that ideas are the only true reality, the only thing worth knowing. In this view, the world exist solely in the minds of people and that ultimate truth relies on a consistency of ideas. Anthony (2010) also quoted, Emmanuel Kant’s idealism, which state that the world exists, but our minds are separate from it. While Realism is the school of educational thought promoted by Plato’s student, Aristotle. Realism holds that the only reality is the material world, that study of the outer world is the only reliable way to find out the truth; the world is an objective phenomenon that our minds must adhere to. In Realism, a person is an empty vessel for knowledge, which can only come from outside of the self, through observation. This philosophy was the progenitor of the scientific method, a system of inquiry relying on objective facts.

Idealism and Realism they both focus on the aims of education. Maheshwari (2011) documented that in idealism, the aim of education is to contribute to the development of the mind and self of the learner. He avers that the education-imparting institutes should emphasize intellectual activities, moral judgements, aesthetic judgements, self-realization, individual freedom, individual responsibility, and self-control in order to achieve this development. The issues that are mentioned here are also very critical to the teaching and learning process in the 21st century classroom in order to develop the minds of the learners. Beside that Maheshwari also indicated that in an idealist education system emphasis should be placed on developing the mind, personal discipline, and character development and that a person should be literate and of good moral character. In addition to that the aim of education in Idealism is to bring the leaner as close to absolute truth as possible. It should also be noted that all aims of the idealist as educator find their ground in the conception of ultimate reality and the students; relation to this reality. Furthermore, Maheshwari (2011) maintains that the aim of education is to discover and develop each individual’s abilities and full moral excellence in order to better serve society. The school, as one of institutions concerned with the absolute must make judgements as to what is right and what is wrong; thus, one of the aim of education would be to develop morality. While in Realism, Realists do not believe in general and common aims education. Pak (2014) argues that to the realists to them aims of the education are specific to each individual and his perspectives and that each one has different perspectives. Therefore, the aim of education according to the realists should be to teach truth rather than beauty, to understand the present practical life. Pak (2014) also wrote that the purpose of education, according to social realists, is to prepare the practical man of the world. In addition to that, Akinpelu (1981:139) in his own contribution, he stated that in the view of the realists, education is in one sense the process of developing the capacities of a man to enable him to know the truth as it is. He also holds the view that in Realism the ultimate aim of education is the achievement of the knowledge of the nature and the inner workings of the universe, so that the learner may consciously adjust himself to what is real. In more specific terms, is to help the individual learner to form habits dispositions and tendencies to search for the truth, to grasp it, enjoy it and use it in every aspect of his life.

Idealism and Realism both philosophical school of education thoughts also focuses on the role of the teacher. However, Idealism and Realism are fundamentally opposing views, and a teacher philosophy will be evident in the classroom. An idealist, for instance, will seek the role of a facilitator, guiding students towards the truth. Students will be able to seek the truth independently, thinking freely with the careful guidance of the teacher. Anthony (2010) a teacher as a facilitator will not act as an absolute authority but as a gentle guide for the student. A realist, on the other hand, will seek to infuse students with knowledge from without. Anthony maintains that a realist will seek to employ the scientific method of hypotheses and careful study over a use of pure logic and reason, as found in an idealistic education. Maheshwari (2011) also indicated that Realism is consistent with behaviourism, which is a system of learning through punishment and reward. And be reliant solely on information from external world, realism discounts the original thought of the student. Therefore, the teacher then will be seen as the highest authority, a figure to which students must answer rather than a guide who can be question. Thence, according to realists a teacher should be such that he himself is educated and well versed with the customs of belief and rights and duties of people, and the trends of all ages and places. He must have full mastery of knowledge of present life, he must also guide the students towards the hard realities of life and more importantly, he must be able to expose children to the problems of life and the world around. Hence, it is necessary for the teachers to know these facet in order for them to know their role as a teacher in the teaching and learning process in the 21st Century classroom.

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In addition to that Idealists and Realists both have interest on the nature of curriculum that is being used to teach leaners in these learning institutions. However, they have difference views the important factor in education at any level for idealist is teaching children to think. Maheshwari (2011) pointed out that teachers should help students to explore texts for ideas about the purposes of life, family, the nature of peer pressure, and the problems of growing up. He also emphasized that idealist believe that ideas can change lives and that classical literature can be used to help solve problems in today’s world and that creativity will be encouraged when students immerse themselves in the creative thinking of others and when they are encouraged to reflect. Therefore, the idealist curriculum places considerable emphasis on the study of history and the reading biographies. Certainly, it is assumed by the idealists that through the study of the past, we can find appropriate truths around which to model our present behaviour. On the other hand, Akinpelu (1981:139) noticed that the curriculum, according to Realists, is essentially the whole spectrum of the culture of the society, reduced to side and expressed in different disciplines and subject matter. Akinpelu maintains that each discipline is partial view of the culture; that is, it is the whole culture seen from one point of view. For instance, Economics is the whole culture looked at from the economic point of view, and history gives the historical perspective, and so on. Therefore, no one single subject or discipline can be adequate to express the whole truth to be found in a culture. Akinpelu (1981:140) adds that there is a needed what realists call a basic curriculum, which contains the essential truths and to which every learner should be exposed in the course of his school education. And this curriculum should be the same for all levels of education only that it should start with the simple, basic principles and increase in details and complexity as levels rise higher and higher. Thence, the curriculum in the 21st Century should be scientifically approached, standardized, and distinct-discipline based approach.

Furthermore, Idealists and Realist also have much interest on the methods of teaching that are being applied in these learning institutions. From idealist point of view, idealism has exercised more influence on the aims and objective of education than on methods of teaching. Ivory (2006) recorded that speaks to the general methods of teaching, and the great Greek idealist Plato, however, advocated the Socratic method-dialects a series of questions that lead the learner to greater knowledge. Ivory (2006) also maintains that idealism is not much concerned with the choice of methods as long as its essential objective is fulfilled, which is the enrichment of personality of the public. Hence, idealism lays stress on instruction, activity, and experience, here the word instruction implies sympathetic guidance by the teacher. Another which idealism emphasizes in the method of teaching is an activity or learning by doing. Anthony (2010) documented that the normal child should learn through activity, and that idealism does not decry questioning, discussion, and lecture method of teaching. But that it extols the method and spontaneous mental activity, it does so because creative activity leads to self-expression and realization of the highest potentialities of the learner. While, Realism on the other hand, seeks to instruct students as though they were empty vessels for knowledge. Any practical methods are appropriate, including technology. This theory also accepts the scientific testing of students to place them in appropriate classrooms. Pak (2014), stated that the methods of the realists involves teaching for the mastery of facts in order to develop an understanding of natural law. This can be done by teaching both the materials and their application. In fact, the real knowledge comes only when the child or learner can organize data of experience. The realists prefers to use inductive logic by going from the particular facts of experience to the more general laws deducible from these data. Therefore, the teacher in the 21st Century classroom has to be aware of the idealist and realist notions before applying their methods of teaching in order for them to achieve and produce the desired outcome by the end of the day.

It should also be noted that between these two schools of thought, Idealism has faced a wave criticism from various scholars. Rockmore (2007) highlighted some of the critiques in idealism and these include that it neglects the child’s psychological nature. It is alleged that it neglects the physical nature of the child and is more inclined towards spiritualism. It also ignores the physical self. Besides that Idealism does not contribute much to the field of methods of teaching as it de-emphasizes experience. In addition to that it overemphasizes on humanities, as it under-rates the study of science and technology, it overlooks the possibility of error and that its truth is unchanging. Furthermore, it does of taking note of individual differences and special abilities of the learner and subject them, one and all, the same course of studies. Thence, idealistic scheme of education, by and large, pay less attention to the physical industrial, social and electronic environment of today.

In light of the above, both idealists and realist have influence on the philosophy of education, however, they have different approaches. As it has evidenced in this writing that idealists believes that ideas are the only true reality, and they focuses on a subject matter curriculum that concentrate on culture, great and enduring ideas, and in idealism that teaching methods should focus on handling ideas through lecture, discussion and to help students discover and clarify knowledge and to the idealists, the aim of education is discover, develop each other individual’s abilities and full moral superiority in order to better serve the society. On the other hand, realists exist independent of human mind and that the role of a teacher is to present material systematically with a discipline demonstrating the use of criteria in decision making. Besides that, realists believe that students also demonstrate the ability to think critically and scientifically, and that curriculum should be scientifically approached, standardized, and distinct-discipline based. These are the school of thought the teacher needs to consider when executing their tasks in the 21st Century in order to facilitate the teaching and learning process.


  1. Louman, 2011. Education System; Implications of Idealism in Modern Education. Retrieved from: Accessed on 23rd September, 2019.
  2. Antony, H. 2010. Idealism and Realism in the Philosophy of Education. Retrieved from: Accessed on 23rd September, 2019.
  3. Maheshwari, V.K. (posted in 2011). Idealism in Education. Retrieved from: Accessed on 22dn September, 2019.
  4. Pak, 2014. Idealism and the Aims of Education. Retrieved from: Accessed on 24th September, 2019.
  5. Akinpelu, J.A, 1981. An Introduction to Philosophy of Education. London: Macmillan
  6. Ivory, G. 2006. Encyclopaedia of Educational Leadership and Administration. Retrieved from: Accessed on 24th September, 2019.
  7. Rockmore, T. 2007. Some Critics of Idealism. Retrieved from: Accessed on 24th September, 2019.
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