Section III - Philosophical Perspectives in Education   Part 1

Philosophy begins with wonder    -Socrates


Philosophy means "love of wisdom." It is made up of two Greek words, philo, meaning love, and sophos, meaning wisdom. Philosophy helps teachers to reflect on key issues and concepts in education, usually through such questions as: What is being educated? What is the good life? What is knowledge? What is the nature of learning? And What is teaching? Philosophers think about the meaning of things and interpretation of that meaning. Even simple statements, such as "What should be learned? Or What is adolescence?" set up raging debates that can have major implications. For example, what happens if an adolescent commits a serious crime? One interpretation may hide another. If such a young person is treated as an adult criminal, what does it say about justice, childhood, and the like? Or if the adolescent is treated as a child, what does it say about society's views on crime?

Your educational philosophy is your beliefs about why, what and how you teach, whom you teach, and about the nature of learning. It is a set of principles that guides professional action through the events and issues teachers face daily. Sources for your educational philosophy are your life experiences, your values, the environment in which you live, interactions with others and awareness of philosophical approaches. Learning about the branches of philosophy, philosophical world views, and different educational philosophies and theories will help you to determine and shape your own educational philosophy, combined with these other aspects.

When you examine a philosophy different from your own, it helps you to "wrestle" with your own thinking. Sometimes this means you may change your mind. Other times, it may strengthen your viewpoint; or, you may be eclectic, selecting what seems best from different philosophies. But in eclecticism, there is a danger of sloppy and inconsistent thinking, especially if you borrow a bit of one philosophy and stir in some of another. If serious thought has gone into selection of strategies, theories, or philosophies, this is less problematic. For example, you may determine that you have to vary your approach depending on the particular learning needs and styles of a given student. At various time periods, one philosophical framework may become favored over another. For example, the Progressive movement led to quite different approaches in education in the 1930s. But there is always danger in one "best or only" philosophy. In a pluralistic society, a variety of views are needed.

Branches of Philosophy

There are three major branches of philosophy. Each branch focuses on a different aspect and is central to your teaching. The three branches and their sub-branches are:

Branch Metaphysics: What is the nature of reality? Epistemology: What is the nature of knowledge? How do we come to know? Axiology: What values should one live by?
Educational Examples –Do you think human beings are basically good or evil?
–What are conservative or liberal beliefs?
–How would an anthropologist look at this classroom? A political scientist? A biologist?
–How do we know what a child knows?
–Is morality defined by our actions, or by what is in our hearts?
–What values should be taught in character education?
Sub-branches Ontology
What issues are related to nature, existence, or being? Is a child inherently evil or good? How might your view determine your classroom management?
What is the nature and origin of the cosmos or universe? Is the world and universe orderly or is it marked by chaos? What would one or the other mean for a classroom?
Knowing based on:
Scientific Inquiry
Senses and Feelings
From authority or divinity
Empiricism (experience)
Reasoning or Logic
       What reasoning processes yield valid conclusions?
       –Deductive:  reasoning from the general to the particular All children can learn. Bret is a fifth grader. He has a learning disability. Can Bret learn?
       –Inductive:  reasoning from the specific to the general. After experimenting with plant growth under varied conditions, stu-dents conclude plants need water and light
What is good and evil, right and wrong?
Is it ever right to take something that does not belong to you?
What is beautiful?
     How do we recognize a great piece of music? Art?
     Can there be beauty in destruction?

Think about it:

  1. Why might the study of philosophy be particularly important to educators?

  2. Which branch or branches of philosophy would you want to emphasize in your classroom? Why?

  3. Do you learn better deductively or inductively? Why do you think?

  4. Can you think of other school-based examples for each of the branches and sub branches?

Continue to Part 2

© 1999 LeoNora M. Cohen, OSU - School of Education