Philosophies of Education Reconstructionism Perennialism Existentialism Progressivism

Today’s educational society is riddled with various philosophies on how students should be taught, how teachers should be teaching, and even the overall classroom environment. This is a result of over a hundred years of philosophers, teachers, and even administrators constantly thinking about ways to further enrich the education of the youth. Some philosophies are more popular than others while some are just outdated and aren’t used much anymore. Here is a list of some of the main philosophies.

Perennialism is the philosophy that calls for absolute principles. This includes that human nature is the same everywhere, one should use their rationality to direct instinctual nature, the instructor has the responsibility to impart knowledge of eternal truth, education is a preparation of life rather than an imitation, students should be taught certain basic subjects to acquaint them with the world’s permanencies, and students should study the great works of literature, philosophy, history, and science to gain insight to some of the greatest achievements and aspirations this world has to offer. Perennialists insist that permanence, which is the state of being permanent, is much more valuable than living an ideal. In a world of increasing precariousness and uncertainty nothing can be more beneficial than steadfastness of educational purpose and stability in educational behavior.

Progressivism rebels against the excessive formalism of traditional education. This philosophy takes the pragmatist view that change, not permanence, is the essence of reality. It declares that education is always in the process of development. John Dewey, American philosopher, psychologist and education reformer, states that, “We… reach a technical definition of education: it is that reconstruction or reorganization of experience which adds to the meaning of experience, and which increases the ability to direct the course of subsequent experience.” (Democracy and Education, pg. 89) Progressivism has some assertions of its own: education should be life itself and not a preparation, learning should be directly related to the interests of the child, learning through problem solving should take precedence over the inculcating of subject matter, the teacher’s role is to advise rather than direct, the school should encourage cooperation rather than competition, and only democracy permits and even encourages the free interplay of ideas and personalities that is a necessary condition of true growth.

Essentialism is not as directly opposed to other philosophies as progressivism is to perennialism. Rather, it is only opposed to certain aspects of progressivism. It maintains that there are certain essentials that students should be required to learn about in order to become well-rounded, educated people of society. Essentialists devote their main efforts to reexamining curricular matters, distinguishing the essential and the nonessential in school programs, and reestablishing the authority of the teacher in the classroom. Similarly to perennialism, essentialism stands for the reinstatement of subject matter at the center of the educational process. However, it doesn’t agree with the perennialists’ view that the true subject matter of education is the “eternal verities” preserved in the “great books” of Western civilization. There is no front on the essentialist philosophy, as most essentialists hold their own philosophies. However, agreement is reached across the board on four fundamental principles: 1) learning involved hard work and often unwilling application, 2) the initiative in education should lie with the teacher rather than with the pupil, 3) the heart of the educational process is the assimilation of prescribed subject matter, and 4) the school should retain traditional methods of mental discipline.

Reconstructionism focuses on schools committing themselves to specific social reforms. There are five main ideas that reconstructionism embraces: 1) education must commit itself here and now to the creation of a new social order, 2) the new society must be a genuine democracy, whose major institutions and resources are controlled by the people themselves, 3) the child, the school, and education itself are conditioned inexorably by social and cultural forces, 4) the teacher must convince his pupils of the validity and urgency of the reconstructionist solution, but they must do so with scrupulous regard for democratic procedures, and 5) the means and ends of education must be completely refashioned to meet the demands of the present cultural crisis and to accord with the findings of the behavioral sciences.