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Reflective Essay on Different Philosophies of Education

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Did any of the varied philosophies surprise you? Did you find that any components ‘spoke’ to you although you didn’t initially think you would agree with that philosophy? Do you think any philosophies spark changes in educational practice or instructional models over time?


I spent quite some time this week going over the various reading material and philosophies in quite some detail to broaden my understanding of what we are referring to as “philosophy in education”, the impact of this upon the educational system itself and to establish whether or not I find myself in agreement with any of the aforementioned educational philosophies, or not.

I came to the realization that I believe that there is no educational practice which has not in some way been informed by theory or “philosophy”. We as teachers always have an idea of how and what we want to achieve, these ideas are derived from theory somewhere along the line, be that during our training to become a teacher, or from external forces such as our personal experience of the educational journey, our belief system, social surroundings or otherwise. (Kassahun, 2018) stated that;

“one of the roles of philosophy of education is to construct a norm, which when applied to educational problems, will be frequently concerned with establishing standards and formulating goals. Such goals and standards are influenced by philosophical assumptions a person has. Every teacher, for instance, approaches teaching from a philosophical position whether consciously or unconsciously.”

I think the point about this perhaps being an unconscious choice is certainly an interesting one, because if the choices are in some ways unconscious, then they are externally influenced, not simply intrinsic personal beliefs. This poses the question of just how much influence the extrinsic circles we move within have upon our conscious train of thought.

(Dewey, My Pedagogic Creed, 1897) proposes that the main purpose of philosophy is, “to bring to consciousness, in an intellectualized form, or in the form of problems, the most important shocks and inherent troubles of complex and changing societies” (p. 30). In Dewey’s mind, philosophy should motivate change and not simply “preserve” existing social order. (Dewey, My Pedagogic Creed, 1897) specifically argued the necessity for a philosophy of education. In his essay, “The Need for a philosophy of Education,” Dewey theorises that, “while the educator must use results that have already been accomplished [she or] he cannot, if he is truly an educator, make them his final and complete standard. Like the artist he has the problem of creating something that is not the exact duplicate of anything that has been wrought and achieved previously,” (p. 7). In his 1899 book entitled School and Society, Dewey wrote, “Democracy must be reborn with every generation and education is the midwife,” (p. 81, 87). This reinforces his idea that change or the maintenance of the status quo both stem from education and I find myself nodding vigorously in agreement. If we give the youth the tools to critical thinking, they will decide themselves whether to effect change or to accept the norms prescribed by current society, but they must be free to make this choice.

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John Locke (1632-1704) was an English-born philosopher who was himself influenced by the Pilgrims in the Netherlands and their Paganistic beliefs. In his work, “An Essay Concerning Human Understanding,” Locke eschewed that the mind was in fact a blank slate and thus, according to him, we learn primarily from external forces. While I cannot entirely agree with this idea since I do feel that we are born with intrinsic ability at the very least, I do agree that children are not born with a predisposition to either good or evil and that ideas such as racism are learnt/taught beliefs, thus philosophy based on external influence. Locke’s ideas are certainly child-centred and he stresses that teachers should teach by example rather than relying on punishment which he felt to be unhealthy.

In contrast, Kant decreed that children should be obedient and dutiful stating that, “above all things, obedience is an essential feature in the character of a child…” and that this obedience should be enforced by the use of punishment. I find myself at logger-heads with this immediately since I firmly believe that “you catch more bees with honey” so to speak than simply by trying to “scare” students into the desired behaviour or response. This has been proven time and time again by researchers such as (Ebbens & Ettekoven, 2013) who, in their book “Effectief Leren” (Effective Learning) explain that there are six steps to effective learning:

  • What must you learn (and WHY)
  • How should you approach this (and WHY)
  • Who can you ask for Help
  • How much time do you have
  • What will happen with the results
  • What are you going to do when you are Finished

Effective learning is a process during which the learner requires help and support, not reprimanding and punishment.

Surprisingly to me, even the Islamic concept of education emphasizes balance, both physical and spiritual between everything. That man is by definition a rational being with the capacity for comprehension, rational deduction and making the distinction between good and bad. I had expected the Islamic education to lean more (or perhaps even solely) towards religious and spiritual educative theories, but it seems clear that the purpose of Islamic educational philosophy is to encourage the student to grow, not only physically, and spiritually, but also mentally and emotionally.

My understanding of it is that revealed knowledge (Naqli) is knowledge which can be acquired either by the student themselves (child-centred) or, rather more effectively, in the eyes of Islamic educators, by the educators themselves transmitting this knowledge to the learner since they are the “expert”. Logical and intellectual knowledge (Aqli) means the logical interpretation of something using inductive or deductive reasoning. While I can see the logic in both of these arguments for teaching, where I find myself recoiling is the idea that these powers of critical thinking and reasoning where somehow ‘bestowed’ upon mankind as a gift from Allah. According to the philosophy of Islamic education, the needs of the student can only be truly met if they are given the opportunity to learn to love Islam and, therefore, they will practice Islamic moral values and integrate into society as a balanced, knowledgeable and educated being as this is the duty of man; to learn and pass on this knowledge to others. In Islam the acquisition of knowledge is obligatory as is the pursuit of balance and rationalism.

As I reflect upon these discoveries, I realize that I too may have been unconsciously biased, because while I do not personally believe that religion has the answers to socio-political problems we find in today’s society, perhaps I was guilty of thinking that it may have caused some of these problems. When we hear about Islam in the news for example, it is mostly in a negative way referring to extremist, radicalized behaviours. The Koran and “Allah” are often blamed for this in the media. However, if you read into their educative philosophies and beliefs, it is clear that there is nothing extremist about it, in fact it extolls balance, morals, and rationality as key virtues along with the pursuit of knowledge which are no different to so-called Western ideals.

This has given me a whole new perspective on things and, while I considered myself to be open-minded, in the future, I must be mindful that my own ‘unconscious’ choices are not externally influenced, but internally monitored and reviewed.


  1. Dewey, J. (1897, September 6). My Pedagogic Creed. The School Journal Volume LIV, Number 3, 77-80. Retrieved from Wikisource:
  2. Dewey, J. (1899). School and Society. Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago Press.
  3. Ebbens, S., & Ettekoven, S. e. (2013). Effectief Leren. Nederlands: Noordhoff.
  4. Kassahun, B. (2018). How is your work as a teacher influenced by philosophy of education? Retrieved from

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