Historical Philosophies of Education

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Historical Philosophies of Education
The following, summarized from Gutek, G. L. (1997). Philosophical and ideological perspectives on education (2nd ed.). New York: Allyn & Bacon, is an overview of the major philosophical principles underlying education.

The purpose of schooling in the colonial era was to promote religious beliefs and ethics. After the American Revolution, schools trained political leaders and developed a national culture. Horace Mann believed schools should instill common political ideas to maintain political order. The idea or philosophy behind the Common School was to educate all children regardless of race or social class in a common education. The Nineteenth Century looked to schools to prepare students for factory work, order and drills, and routine. The Twentieth Century saw K-12 public schools matching students’ education, abilities and interests to occupations. And the Twenty-first Century strives to prepare students for global markets.

There are three major traditional philosophies: idealism, realism, and naturalism.

Idealism is reality-based on the mental, spiritual and generalized ideas and the will of the individual. Idealism can be traced back to the Greek philosopher Plato. The theory believes that parts of the individual are related to the whole individual. Idealism focuses on developing the potential in students, views learning as a discovery process, and suggests teachers should be cultural and moral models. The Socratic Method, which is the teaching strategy that includes asking probing questions, evolved from idealism.

Realism suggests that we live in a reality that exists independent and external to our minds and therefore believes the purpose of education is for the discovery, transmission and use of knowledge. Realism can be traced back to Aristotle. At the primary level, realism focuses on instruction in reading, writing and mathematics. The focus at the secondary level is on departmentalized curriculum....
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