"In modern times there are opposing views about the practice of education. There is no general agreement about what the young should learn either in relation to virtue or in relation to the best life; nor is it clear whether their education ought to be directed more towards the intellect than towards the character of the soul.... And it is not certain whether training should be directed at things useful in life, or at those conducive to virtue, or at non-essentials.... And there is no agreement as to what in fact does tend towards virtue. Men do not all prize most highly the same virtue, so naturally they differ also about the proper training for it." Aristotle wrote that passage more than 2,300 years ago, and today educators are still debating the issues he raised. Different approaches to resolving these and other fundamental issues have given rise to different schools of thought in the philosophy of education. We will examine five such schools of thought: Essentialism, Progressivism, Perennialism, Existentialism, and Behaviorism. Each has many supporters in American education today. Taken together, these five schools of thought do not exhaust the list of possible educational philosophies you may adopt, but they certainly present strong frameworks from which you can create your own educational philosophy. Essentialism
"Gripping and enduring interests frequently grow out of initial learning efforts that are not appealing or attractive." William Bagley Essentialism refers to the "traditional" or "Back to the Basics" approach to education. It is so named because it strives to instill students with the "essentials" of academic knowledge and character development. The term essentialism as an educational philosophy was originally popularized in the 1930s by the American educator William Bagley (1874Ä1946). The philosophy itself, however, had been the dominant approach to education in America from the beginnings of American history. Early in the twentieth century, essentialism was criticized as being too rigid to prepare students adequately for adult life. But with the launching of Sputnik in 1957, interest in essentialism revived. Among modern supporters of this position are members of the President's Commission on Excellence in Education. Their 1983 report, A Nation at Risk, mirrors essentialist concerns today.
Underlying Philosophical Basis
(American) essentialism is grounded in a conservative philosophy that accepts the social, political, and economic structure of American society. It contends that schools should not try to radically reshape society. Rather, essentialists argue, American schools should transmit the traditional moral values and intellectual knowledge that students need to become model citizens. Essentialists believe that teachers should instill such traditional American virtues as respect for authority, perseverance, fidelity to duty, consideration for others, and practicality. Reflecting its conservative philosophy, essentialism ten(tends to accept the philosophical views associated with the traditional, conservative elements of American society. For example, American culture traditionally has l)placed tremendous emphasis on the central importance of tile physical world and of understanding the world through scientific experimentation. As a result, to convey important knowledge about our world, essentialist educators emphasize instruction in natural science rather than non-scientific disciplines such as philosophy or comparative religion.
The Essentialist Classroom
Essentialists urge that the most essential or basic academic skills and knowledge be taught to all students. Traditional disciplines such as math, natural science, history, foreign language, and literature form the foundation of the essentialist curriculum. Essentialists frown upon vocational, lift-adjustment, or other courses with "watered down" academic content. Elementary students receive...