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Four Philosophies: Idealism, Realism, Pragmatism, Existentialism

The education philosophy can be broken down into four main schools of thought: Idealism, Realism,
Pragmatism and Existentialism. Each school of thought has at least one philosopher who would be
considered the forerunner of the school. Idealism, for example, is based on the early writings of Plato.
Realism is based on the thinking of Aristotle. Pragmatism s based on the thoughts of a number of
nineteenth-century American philosophers. Existentialism is based on the writings of Jean-Paul Sartre.
Each school also discusses what and how we should teach students.

Idealists stress the importance of learning ideas and concepts. They believe in reasoning but question
the use of scientific method and sense perception. They have the most confidence in ideas that remain
constant through time and place. When it comes to teaching students, idealists believe in sharing ideas
and great works that are universal, as well as long-lived. They believe all students should have at least
one teacher who they look up to, so they can learn cultural norms. In the classroom, idealists put a lot
of focus on lecture, discussion and imitation.

Unlike idealists, realists highly recommend the use of scientific investigation and senses in order to
learn. They put focus on the physical world, arguing that reality, knowledge and value exist
independent of the mind. This physical world is composed of matter. Realists believe that schools
should promote human rationality through observation and experimentation. A lot of responsibility is
placed on the teacher to have the right background and information. Realist teachers believe in the
importance of experimental learning. In order to learn, students have to take a hands-on approach.

Pragmatists place their focus on the idea of change. This constant change results in people having to
understand what it means to know. Pragmatists believe that knowing represents an exchange between
the leaner and the environment. They also believe that truth and values are always changing because
the people who have those values change with the surrounding environment. For pragmatists, the most
important thing for schools to teach is how to question what we know and how to reconstruct what we
know to match the changing world (92). They put more focus on carefully solving problems and less
on large amounts of information. They encourage problem solving through learner-centered problems
such as student investigations and activities, providing technology and other resources, and
encouraging students to collaborate with others.
Existentialists place their focus on the ideas of existence and essence. Individuals create their own
meaning. Finding ones purpose becomes a lifelong goal for existentialists. They believe in the
importance of personal choice and reflection of knowledge. In school, they place importance on
developing a free, self-actualizing person (94). This means having students discuss their lives and
decisions they make. In the classroom, teachers place emphasis on asking questions and discovering
ones purpose in life. Students are given the chance to define themselves through how they live their

After reading these sections, I find myself to be a combination of two: realism and pragmatism. As a
realist, I believe it is important for students to learn while doing. I also enjoy environments that are
organized and logical. I agree that students should learn to recognize the pros and cons of different
ideas. Realists understand the importance of these within the classroom. One aspect of pragmatism that
appeals to me is the idea of how things are always changing. Ignoring this fact would have a negative
effect in classroom. Teachers should take advantage of the changes that are occurring. It makes it easier
for students to connect what they are learning to what is happening in the real world.
Posted by homer_dog2 at 11:37 AM

Student-Centered and Teacher-Centered Philosophies

Teachers are bound to have different ideas in the areas of classroom management, teaching
styles, motivation, etc. The eight education philosophies are broken down into two categories:
teacher-centered and student-centered. The eight philosophies are perennialism,
essentialism, behaviorism, positivism, progressivism, humanism, reconstructionism, and

Teacher-Centered Educational Philosophies

Perennialism is a theory focused on humans and ideas. Ideas are relevant and meaningful
throughout time. Little importance is placed on what students are interested in. They believe
in the importance of ideas that are universal to everyone. There is a strong focus on scientific
reasoning and mathematics because they never change.

Essentialism is a theory that wants to achieve a common core of information and skills for all
individuals in a given culture. Essentialists believe in working hard and mental discipline. They
put more focus on basic core information that will help students survive today, and therefore
spend less time on ideas of the past. They accept that the core information will change as
time goes on. Subject matters include literature, history, foreign languages, and religion.
Teachers use a variety of methods: required reading, lectures, memorization, repetition and

Behaviorism is a psychological theory and educational philosophy that holds that ones
behavior is determined by environment, not heredity (Johnson et al., 110). One argument of
this theory is that the classroom environment can have a large effect on how students will
behave. The most effective environment is one that is organized. Reinforcement plays
another important role in behaviorism. This includes both positive (praise, privileges, good
grades) and negative (reprimands, extra homework, low grades) reinforcers. The way a
teacher reacts to the action of a student determines whether or not that student will repeat the

Positivism rejects any information that cannot be formally measured. It limits knowledge to
statements of observable fact based on sense perceptions and the investigation of objective
reality (111-12). It is the teachers job to make sure directions are clear and students
understand what and how they will be learning. Through repetition and practice with different
media, students are expected to have a clear understanding of the topic studied. Heavy focus
is placed on testing students to ensure that all criteria have been met.

Student-Centered Educational Philosophies

Progressivism is a more developed version of pragmatism, emphasizing that ideas should be

tested by experimentation and that learning is rooted in questions developed by learners
(114). They believe that human experience is far more important than authority when it comes
to learning. Like pragmatists, progressivists believe that change is occurring and should be
embraced rather than ignored. Progressivism is all about organized freedom that allows
students to take responsibility for their actions in the classroom.

Humanism is concerned with enhancing the innate goodness of the individual (115). Its
focus is on individual development through a process of developing a free, self-actualizing
person. Education should start with the individual and the choices made by the individual. The
humanistic classroom is welcoming and caring. Students feel comfortable to share their
thoughts, feelings, beliefs, fears, and aspirations with each other.

Reconstructionism is a philosophy that centers on the idea of constant change. The world is
always changing and we need to change in order to adapt to the changes that are occurring.
Reconstructionists like to focus on reconstructing one area of society. Curriculum is focused
on student experience and taking social action on real issues such as violence, hunger,
inequality, etc. Students are taught how to deal and ultimately fix these issues.
Constructivism emphasizes developing personal meaning through hands-on, activity-based
teaching and learning (117). Teachers are responsible for creating effective learning
situations rather than constantly lecturing students. Personal meaning is the best way for
students to connect to the material being taught. Constructivist theorists encourage the
development of critical thinking and the understanding of big ideas rather than the mastery of
factual information (117). They believe that students will be more prepared for the ever-
changing world if they learn how to develop critical thinking skills. Unlike traditional ways of
learning, the constructivist classroom focuses on the way a learner internalizes, shapes, or
transforms information.

Although I see a small piece of most of these philosophies within myself, I think the one I can
connect to the most is constructivism. I strongly believe in hands-on, activity based learning
that is focused on the students as individuals. It is important for students to learn in a way that
is interesting to them. I also like the idea of creating learning situations instead of lecturing
students. This gives students the chance to learn the same material in a much more personal
and interactive way. Another philosophy I find myself relating to is progressivism. It is very
similar to pragmatism (which is another theory I connect to) in the sense that theorists in this
philosophy are always moving forward. I agree that it is important for students to take part of
the responsibility in the classroom.