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Philosophy of Education: A Critical View of a Researcher

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Introduction

Philosophy is a search for a general understanding of values and reality of chiefly speculative rather than observational means. It signifies a natural and necessary urge in human beings to know themselves and the world in which they live and move and have their being. Western philosophy remained more or less true to the etymological meaning of philosophy in being essentially an intellectual quest for truth. Hindu philosophy is intensity spiritual and has always emphasized the need for practical realization of truth. Philosophy is a comprehensive system of ideas about human nature of the reality we live in. It is a guide for living because the issues it addresses are basic and pervasive, determining the course we take in life and how we treat other people. Hence we can say that all the aspects of human life are influenced and governed by the philosophical consideration. As a field study philosophy is one of the oldest disciplines. It is considered as a mother of all the sciences. In fact it is at the root of all knowledge. Education has also drawn its material from different philosophical bases.

Education, like philosophy is also closely related to human life therefore, being an important life activity education is also greatly influenced by philosophy. Various fields of philosophy life the political philosophy social philosophy and economic philosophy have great influence on the various aspects of education like educational procedures, processes, policies, planning and its implementation, from both the theoretical and practical aspects. In this research paper researcher discussed critically the concept of Philosophy of Education.

Study:

Although it has been left to the last, philosophy of education is unsurpassed in importance and an area of philosophical investigation. If each person has been molded, either creatively or destructively, formally or informally, by educational policies, little can be more significant to his self-knowledge than insight into the philosophies underlying these policies. The relative importance of philosophies of education as compared with other phases of philosophy will depend upon how narrowly or broadly education is conceived. Some, who interpret it wholly in terms of local, mechanical, stimulus-response events, may consider education to be little more than a somewhat complicated and intimate example of mechanistic behavior. If the individual is held to be an eternal soul, education may be designed to test its fitness for, and to prepare it for, eternal life, or to purify it by helping to free it from the evil temptations of bodily existence. If the individual is considered a member of a species with specific but limited innate potentialities which deserve development, realization of these potentialities becomes the educational goal. If the individual is conceived as a growing organism with not only innate capacities but also with the ability to acquire new potentialities, educational goals come to include development of both inherited and acquired capacities.

In addition to those philosophies that limit the scope of education to individuals, there are those which treat education a primarily a social process, a means whereby a group or culture perpetuates itself, either exactly or with variations, through fashioning new citizens to’ carry on its existence, much as a body must have new cells to replace old ones if it is to survive. Still others find education to be an interactive process between persons and their groups, understandable only by insight into the nature of both as they influence and modify each other. However, the foregoing conceptions are still too narrow for those who propose the following. Dewey appears willing to expand philosophy of education to include all philosophy when he says that “philosophy may even be defined as; general theory of education.” Since all fields of philosophical investigation have their significance ultimately only in terms of their bearing upon individual development, philosophy of education is inadequate when it stops short of considering all of the factors influencing the individual, Finally, we may lift our eyes to glimpse the cosmic nature of education. “Education is a world-process; it is the world at work developing a man into the fullness of his stature.” Education may be looked upon as part of the process whereby nature, for naturalists, or God, for theists, molds itself through creating mankind, in which it is immanent, and through which it expresses itself as personal.

We shall not here propose limitations upon how extensively education should be conceived. Each view deserves its hearing. Two dangers, however, need to be avoided. The first is the inclination of those persons who derive their educational philosophy solely from a study of educational practices, without ‘considering its relation to other philosophical fields. Secondly, there is the, tendency of philosophers whose primary interests lie in other fields to deduce and recommend a philosophy of education without having considered all the relevant facts, which can be observed ad generalized only by those persons actually acquainted with practical teaching difficulties. This latter is especially serious when the philosopher is satisfied with sectarian assumptions and convinced of their exceptional truth. Whoever is able to evade both dangers may find in philosophy of education a most suitable starting point for induction into broader philosophical studies.

Risking the second danger, we may point out some of the contributions which each philosophical area and its conflicting viewpoints make to the problems constituting philosophy of education. To be fully adequate, a philosophy of education has to decide between all the major issues which have been raised in this book. “Since knowledge is the stock and trade of education, it is easy to understand that a philosophy of education must be based on an adequate consideration of epistemology.” Whether one considers the aims of education to lead primarily to reflective (think before you act) or unreflective (good habits or automatic reactions) knowledge, or how much of each, will make a difference in his teaching methods. Likewise, whether one favors subjectivism or realism, rationalism or empiricism, dogmatism or scepticism, and exact or intuitive knowledge, will largely determine his goals and methods. The educator has to decide how far he shall emphasize “intellectual training” versus “character building,” or knowledge of facts versus valuational attitudes. He will have to deal with the problem of which is more important: “first-hand experience” or “second-hand experience.”

Turning to ‘metaphysics, “nearly all arguments to settle fundamental conflicts in educational practice, if continued long and penetratingly enough, will be found to have an important source in the fact that the parties to the argument differ in their metaphysical assumptions.” Spiritualists must emphasize the spiritual, materialists the material, dualists both separation and interaction between spirit and matter. Those who consider the spiritual as higher than the material must teach how to subordinate flesh to spirit, whereas those who see spirit as emerging from matter must instruct how best to create, nurture, and evolve higher spirits. If spirit and matter are independent, some will separate sacred and secular education in different schools, but if they are interdependent, only limited separation seems possible. If there are two worlds, the’ natural and the supernatural, instruction fails if it does not take both into account. If only nature exists, the educator’s duty is to dispel superstitious illusions about the alleged supernatural. If the next life is more important, education must be directed toward preparation for it, but if this life is all, one must seek to learn how to get all his enjoyment here.

“The importance of theory of values will probably be much more readily accepted by educators than will the importance of theory of knowledge or a theory of reality.” Some will emphasize ends and others means. Some will see values as subjective and primarily a matter of attitude, others as objective and, thus, to be sought after outside of self, while still others accept the more difficult job of inter-relating each to the other. Some teach optimism, even too much optimism (e.g., “Pippa Passes”), some pessimism, even too much pessimism (e.g., Schopenhauer’s attitude toward women), whereas others are either neutral or melioristic. The sciences of aesthetics and ethics contribute to educational goals by helping decide how to appreciate, discriminate, evaluate, and how to choose between right and wrong, both in general and in specific situations. The absolutist and relativist, egoist and altruist, aristocrat and utilitarian, all face different tasks as educators. The influences of religious, social, political, and economic philosophies upon educational philosophies are even more obvious. Individualists must train for self-reliance, how to succeed competitively, how to maintain one’s rights. Totalitarians must teach self-control and submission to the will of God or “silent obedience to authority and joy of responsibility” to the state. Organicists must show when it is best to assert oneself and when to accept one’s lot.

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Controversies

If we turn from philosophy of education, understood in terms of contributions of different philosophical fields, to the actual controversies embittering contemporary American teachers and school administrators, we find snarl of confusion and misunderstanding coming to focus in the opposition of two uneasy groups of alliances under the banners of “progressivism” versus “essentialism” Not only do fights about supernaturalism versus naturalism, reflected both in conflicts over parochial versus public school support and in public school policies, continue, but they become sharpened around problems of curriculum planning and teaching methods guided by different assumptions concerning whether human nature is primarily static or dynamic and whether the primary sources of educational development lie inside or outside the learner.

This latter controversy is, perhaps, the basis for the others, though it cannot be isolated. Externalists believe that the individual begins as practically nothing, or, at most, as a simple soul or blank tablet or empty cabinet waiting to be furnished. All that happens to the developing person, either for good or ill, comes from the outside, Those who conceive the external as ultimately static and perfect, either as an eternal God or a completely rational nature, believe the task of the educator to be that of molding the individual securely into the righteous pattern of the universe. Truth is known, at least in part; so the educational aim is to discipline the recalcitrant person into conformity with pre-existing truth. Those who believe the external to be dynamic, still see the individual as a subordinate member of a group which nurtures him and protects him and therefore should mold him for his own good. Internalists, on the other hand, tend to believe that human nature is essentially good and that if left alone it will develop naturally, wholesomely, and happily. Evil appears either in the way of temptations of the flesh, the illusion of material reality, the frustration of desires, or tyrannical control. If a person is thought of as an eternal soul whose perfection is assured unless it yields to external evils, the job of the educator is to help to protect the sacred spirit by aiding its flight from the world to monastic or yogic asylum. If souls have static potentialities which must flower into perfected actuality before they can reap their reward, then not flight from the world but stubborn and steeled resistance to it is the educational goal of those who would pass a fitness test before entering heaven. If personalities are conceived as dynamic centers of cosmic creativity, then each must blossom in its own way, so then originality, not uniformity, should be encouraged by educators. In extreme form, this latter means that a child should always do exactly as he pleases without anyone’s inhibiting his actions. The disastrous attempts of those misled by such extreme individualism are too well known to need comment here.

Pressures of practice bring educational philosophy closer to organic conceptions, wherein the sources of growth are recognized as both inner and outer and such that development can take place only through interaction between inner and outer. This view is represented best by Dewey and his “progressive” followers, though a plethora of misunderstandings has resulted more in confusion and heated tempers than in enlightened practices. Says Dewey: “The history of educational theory is marked by opposition between the idea that education is development from within and that it is a formation from without; that it is based upon natural endowments and that education is a process of overcoming natural inclination and substituting in its place habits acquired under external pressure.” “In its contrast with the ideas both of unfolding of latent powers ‘from within, and of formation from without, the ideal growth results in the conception that education is a constant reorganizing or reconstructing of experience.” “To imposition from above is opposed expression and cultivation of individuality; to external discipline is opposed free activity; to acquisition of isolated skills and techniques by drill, is opposed acquisition of them as means of attaining ends which make direct vital appeal; to preparation for a. more or less remote future is opposed making the most of opportunities of present life; to static aims and materials is opposed acquaintance with a changing world.”

Although Dewey was apparently seeking a middle path, the fight in his time was primarily against the static and externalized extremes. When his fight began to prove effective, many different kinds of disgruntled teachers, from .the lazy to the vicious, jumped on his band wagon and, although they did not wreck it, succeeded in making it seem so silly that it no longer appears in many places under the name progressivism.” Dewey warned that “there is always the danger in a new movement that in rejecting the aims and methods of that which it would supplant, it may develop its principles negatively rather than positively and constructively.” Too rapid expansion of the progressive movement resulted in trying to ‘teach old dogs ‘new tricks” when too many teachers were incapable of reconstructing their whole life outlook and keeping up with day-to-day drudgery at the same time, The occasion offered opportunity for many. Crackpots to seize upon misunderstandings to promote many varieties of radicalism—rejecting all discipline, all preparation, all essential skills, all demands for cooperation–which made much educational practice a farce, all in the name of “progressivism.”:. The failure of “progressives” to fight with complete success on both fronts has brought sufficient entrenchment of misunderstanding to warrant abandonment of the name in many places. But the fight continues and, in Bode’s words, “If democracy is here to stay, then the spirit of Progressive education can never become obsolete.”

However, recent excesses have caused many varieties of opponents of “progressivism” to gather together as “essentialists,” all claiming that it is “the duty of educators to develop in the young the fundamental attitudes, appreciations, skills, and information, the value of which has stood the test of the history of civilization and which therefore can be regarded as constant, unchanging fundamentals in the education of man, citizen, and world inhabitant.” “Convinced of what are the essentials of education, he firmly and resolutely insists that the child experience them. If he does not believe that the whole curriculum should be prescribed, he at least believes that a considerable part of it should be. In the traditional curriculum he finds certain classics in literature, mathematics, religion, history, science, and others whose value is independent of the place and time they are studied. These, educated men ‘must ‘know. They are essentials. They must be learned even though their significance is not made clear in the fulfillment of some present purpose. Till such occasion arises later, they are to be learned and stored away.” However, many disagreements exist among “essentialists” as to precisely what are the essentials and which are the frills. The reader must seek elsewhere for fuller accounts of essentialists and their continuing controversies with both the progressives and the varieties of radicals. Enough has been said, surely, to illustrate the significance of philosophical issues in educational practices.

The foregoing general considerations leave untouched many more specific areas where philosophical differences determine disagreement. Shall education be primarily vocational or primarily liberal and what, then, constitutes a liberal education? Should public schools be considered specialized institutions aiming solely at “preparing” for living in the future, or thought of as integrative agencies in which the current happiness of the, child “living today” is the primary concern? Should educational responsibility pertain only to intellect or also to emotions; only to facts or also to attitudes; only to understanding or also to appreciation; only to subject-matter or also to problem-solving adaptability; only to attendance records or also to wholesome personality; only to “passing on the wisdom of the elders” or also to “learning for oneself”; only to individual resourcefulness or also to social cooperation. How much of one’s education should be formal and how much from the school of hard knocks? Should educational opportunities, standards of achievement, and teacher-attentiveness be equal for all or do morons and geniuses deserve special consideration? Does education aim primarily at peace and contentment or at motivating desires and ambitions, at faith in mankind or at distrust with existing conditions, at dogmatic faith or at doubt and disillusionment?

Ought children be taught to believe that the world owes them a living, or that each is somehow responsible for the welfare of them whole world? Can one get enough education in early years to last a lifetime or does each age or stage involve its own level of development before readiness for dealing with problems is possible, and require its own kind of schooling which cannot be achieved at earlier ages? Is the training in democratic living acquired at home or kindergarten sufficient for all later groups or must the educator reintroduce his pupils to. the duties of citizenship at each new level of public achievement? How specific shall the school’s responsibility be regarding preparation for marriage or job, readjustment after divorce, unemployment rehabilitation, keeping teeth clean, or psychiatric hospital parole? Finally, who is responsible for a person’s philosophical development and to what extent should people be encouraged to devote themselves to general knowledge as compared with specific skills, problems, prides, and embarrassments?

Conclusion:

All these, and more, are questions not only for the professional philosopher of education, but questions which every teacher and student, every administrator and voter, must settle if he is to be freed from confusion. A man cannot understand himself fully until he has gained some insight into the different philosophies of education. Only if he, can reconstruct the policies of those persons who have guided his own upbringing will he be able to understand fully how he came to be as he is. The influences of philosophy of education are all-pervasive, observable not only elsewhere, i.e., in childhood experiences, school board meetings educational textbooks but at each moment of experiences.

References:

  1. Archie J. Bahm, ‘What is a liberal Education’? in school and society, July 26, 1947, pp. 63–64
  2. Boyd H. Bode, ‘Is progressive Education Obsolete?’ school and society, Sept. 29, 1947, p. 416
  3. Chandra S.S., R. Sharma, Rajendra K. (2002) ‘philosophy of Education’. New Delhi, Allantic Publishers.
  4. Chakraborty A.K. (2003), ‘Principles and Practices of Education.’ Meerut, Lal Book Depot.
  5. Gupta S. (2005), ‘Education in Emerging India, teacher role in society.’ New Delhi, Shipra Publication.
  6. Herman H. Horne, ‘The philosophy of education, p. 259, the Macmillan Co., New York, 1904.
  7. John Dewey, ‘Democracy and Education’, p. 383, the Macmillan Co., New York, 1916.
  8. John Dewey, ‘Experience and Education, p. 1, the Macmillan Co., New York, 1938.
  9. John S. Brubacher, ‘Modern Philosophies of Education’, p. 53, Mc Grow Hill Book Co., New York, 1939.
  10. Michael Demiashkevich, ‘An Introduction to the philosophy of Education’, Chs. V and VI. American Book Co., New York, 1935.
  11. Seetharamu, A.S. (1989), ‘Philosophy of Education’, New Delhi, Ashish Publishing House.
  12. Taneja, V.R. (2000), ‘Education thought and practice,’ New Delhi Sterling Publishing House.
  13. Thomas Verner Smith (1926, 1939), ‘The Memocrater way of life’, p. 199, University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

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Philosophy of Education: A Critical View of a Researcher. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/philosophy-of-education-a-critical-view-of-a-researcher/> [Accessed 28 Jan. 2023].
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