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Philosophy of education

The industrial revolution in the 19th century transformed schools into production houses for what was called "social efficiency." According to this model, the purpose of schooling was to overcome cultural diversity and personal uniqueness in order to create an effective workforce for the growing industrial system.

Since then, several experimental schools have challenged the assumptions made by this educational model, all of them advancing different philosophies and pedagogical methods. In philosophy of education, this is what is known as 'normative educational philosophies,' which try to combine philosophical discoveries with educational techniques.

Wikipedia states:

In a full-fledged philosophical normative theory of education, besides analysis of the sorts described, there will normally be propositions of the following kinds:

  1. Basic normative premises about what is good or right;
  2. Basic factual premises about humanity and the world;
  3. Conclusions, based on these two kinds of premises, about the dispositions education should foster;
  4. Further factual premises about such things as the psychology of learning and methods of teaching; and
  5. Further conclusions about such things as the methods that education should use.

Within this, various colourful philosophies and methodologies have been explored: Perennialists believe that students should be taught about principles and reasoning rather than facts; proponents of Classical education such as Charlotte Mason believed children should be taught through 'living books,' which meant writings that spark the imagination of the child through subject matter. Educational progressivism, which emphasised that learning is fundamentally a social process, advocated the following approach, which they called the 'pattern of inquiry:'

  1. Become aware of the problem.
  2. Define the problem.
  3. Propose hypotheses to solve it.
  4. Evaluate the consequences of the hypotheses from one's past experience.
  5. Test the likeliest solution.

A thinker within this movement called Jerome Bruner advocated a number of methods which are said to have been revolutionary, in particular the spiral method, which "posited the idea that a curriculum should revisit basic ideas, building on them until the student had grasped the full formal concept."

He also believed that interest in the learning material was the best stimulus for learning rather than external motivation such as grades, and developed a concept called discovery learning which promoted learning as a process of constructing new ideas based on current or past knowledge.

Experimental efforts are also branched within pedagogy. According to wikipedia, the main focuses of the subject include:

  • Hidden curriculum: what information is learned without being opening intended, such as the transmission of norms, values and beliefs.
  • Learning space: what is the physical surrounding, such as a classroom, and how does it impact learning.
  • Learning theories: how is knowledge absorbed, processed, and retained during learning

One of the most famous examples of this is critical pedagogy, which is exemplified by Pedagogy of the Oppressed, and seeks to build critical and democratic thinkers as well as challenging typical student teacher hierarchies. Still, this cannot be achieved by a simple denial of the power structures that exist.

According to Joe Kincheloe: "Critical teachers, therefore, must admit that they are in a position of authority and then demonstrate that authority in their actions in supports of students... [A]s teachers relinquish the authority of truth providers, they assume the mature authority of facilitators of student inquiry and problem-solving. In relation to such teacher authority, students gain their freedom--they gain the ability to become self-directed human beings capable of producing their own knowledge."

According to Bell Hooks, "Teachers must be aware of themselves as practitioners and as human beings if they wish to teach students in a non-threatening, anti-discriminatory way. Self-actualisation should be the goal of the teacher as well as the students."

Interestingly, students often demonstrate a resistance to critical pedagogy, apparently due to differing political opinions that it expounds. According to Karen Kopelson, "many if not most students come to the university in order to gain access to and eventual enfranchisement in 'the establishment,' not to critique and reject its privileges."

As a highly politicised schooling method, it has been challenged by academics who believe that it offers a singular outlook and interpretation of history, as well as a fixed set of ethical norms.

Wardorf schools

The philosophical foundation of the Waldorf approach, anthroposophy, underpins its primary pedagogical goals: to provide an education that enables children to become free human beings, and to help children to incarnate their "unfolding spiritual identity," carried from the preceding spiritual existence, as beings of body, soul, and spirit in this lifetime.

Waldorf preschools employ a regular daily routine that includes free play, artistic work (e.g. drawing, painting or modeling), circle time (songs, games, and stories), and practical tasks (e.g. cooking, cleaning, and gardening), with rhythmic variations. Periods of outdoor recess are also usually included.[54]:125 The classroom is intended to resemble a home, with tools and toys usually sourced from simple, natural materials that lend themselves to imaginative play.

The philosophical foundation of the Waldorf approach, anthroposophy, underpins its primary pedagogical goals: to provide an education that enables children to become free human beings, and to help children to incarnate their "unfolding spiritual identity," carried from the preceding spiritual existence, as beings of body, soul, and spirit in this lifetime

Waldorf schools frequently have striking architecture, employing walls meeting at varied angles (not only perpendicularly) to achieve a more fluid, less boxed-in feeling to the space. The walls are often painted in subtle colors, often with a lazure technique, and include textured surfaces.

The schools primarily assess students through reports on individual academic progress and personal development. The emphasis is on characterization through qualitative description. Pupils' progress is primarily evaluated through portfolio work in academic blocks and discussion of pupils in teacher conferences.

Waldorf schools are autonomous institutions not required to follow a prescribed curriculum.

Many subjects and skills not considered core parts of mainstream schools, such as art, music, gardening, and mythology, are central to Waldorf education. Students learn a variety of fine and practical arts. Elementary students paint, draw, sculpt, knit, weave, and crochet. Older students build on these experiences and learn new skills such as pattern-making and sewing, wood and stone carving, metal work, book-binding, and doll or puppet making. Fine art instruction includes form drawing, sketching, sculpting, perspective drawing and other techniques.

Music instruction begins with singing in early childhood and choral instruction remains an important component through the end of high school. Pupils usually learn to play pentatonic flutes, recorders and/or lyres in the early elementary grades. Around age 9, diatonic recorders and orchestral instruments are introduced.

Certain subjects are largely unique to the Waldorf schools. Foremost among these is eurythmy, a movement art usually accompanying spoken texts or music which includes elements of drama and dance and is designed to provide individuals and classes with a "sense of integration and harmony." Although found in other educational contexts, cooking, farming, and environmental and outdoor education have long been incorporated into the Waldorf curriculum. Other differences include: non-competitive games and free play in the younger years as opposed to athletics instruction; instruction in two foreign languages from the beginning of elementary school; and an experiential-phenomenological approach to science whereby students observe and depict scientific concepts in their own words and drawings rather than encountering the ideas first through a textbook.

The Waldorf curriculum has always incorporated multiple intelligences.

The main academic subjects are introduced through up to two-hour morning lesson blocks that last for several weeks.[48]:18 These lesson blocks are horizontally integrated at each grade level in that the topic of the block will be infused into many of the activities of the classroom and vertically integrated in that each subject will be revisited over the course of the education with increasing complexity as students develop their skills, reasoning capacities and individual sense of self. This has been described as a spiral curriculum.

Bans the use of technology in young children and is inordinately popular with the kids of Silicon Valley high tech professionals.

Professor of educational psychology Clifford Mayes said "Waldorf students learn in sequences and paces that are developmentally appropriate, aesthetically stimulating, emotionally supportive, and ecologically sensitive." Professors of education Timothy Leonard and Peter Willis stated that Waldorf education "cultivates the imagination of the young to provide them a firm emotional foundation upon which to build a sound intellectual life."

"In response I would say, first, that while I'm not on board with all of Waldorf philosophy, I am absolutely on board with parts of it -- and those, are I think, the most important parts. I would rather have my nine-year-old learn about gnomes, by a long shot, than spend his school days preparing for a multiple-choice test designed by some distant bureaucrat. I love that recess and flopping about in the mud in all weather and movement (that's Waldorf for "gym") are considered not discardable extras, but central parts of learning. And I really love that his gym teacher is not encouraging him -- as my public school gym teacher encouraged me -- to pick on the kids in the class who were weaker, or, in one case, on the kid who had to wear braces on his legs.

And there are plenty of other examples. I love the arts education -- my son, in third grade, can really and truly draw in a way that I still can't, because no one cared to teach me. I love that he knows how to knit. I love that his school took him on a camping trip where he learned to tap maple trees and went ice fishing. I love that when he gets sick, he cries because he can't go to school. I love that, if he is ever having any problem in class or with other students, I call his teacher, and the teacher listens carefully -- and then she fixes it.

Thus, on the one hand, I have a bright, kind, loving, cultured, energetic, active child who adores school and his classmate and his teachers. On the other hand, he sort of thinks gnomes exist. To me, that seems like a good bargain."

Role of Waldorf schools in connecting polarised communities (such as mixed racial schools that existed under the apartheid regime in South Africa, The first Waldorf school in West Africa was founded in Sierra Leone to educate boys and girls orphaned by the country's civil war. The school building is a passive solar building built by the local community, including the students. In Israel, a jewish and arab school, and many other examples.

Montessori schools

A constructivist or "discovery" model, where students learn concepts from working with materials, rather than by direct instruction. Specialized educational materials developed by Montessori and her collaborators often made out of natural, aesthetic materials such as wood, rather than plastic.

(Wardorf school also has this model. Also Illich puts emphasis on material objects and the ability to interrogate/ deconstruct them: see anecdote on TV and tape recorders)

Montessori education, also called scientific pedagogy, is fundamentally a model of human development. It has two basic principles:

First, children and developing adults engage in psychological self-construction by means of interaction with their environments. Second, children, especially under the age of six, have an innate path of psychological development.

(Use of tactile materials, children are taught to read using sandpaper letters, taught to count using beads)

Democratic education

The history of democratic education spans from at least the 1600s. While it is associated with a number of individuals, there has been no central figure, establishment, or nation that advocated democratic education

Characteristics of democratic schools:

  • Voluntary class attendance
  • “The tutor must not lay down precepts, he must let them be discovered,”
  • Students are involved in the decision process of deciding what and how they learn
  • There is no mandatory curriculum
  • Democratic schools often have meetings open to all students and staff, where everyone present has a voice and sometimes an equal vote.
  • All lessons are optional, and pupils are free to choose what to do with their time.

In summer hill school, one of the more famous examples of a democratic school, teachers were forbidden to use charisma in the belief that it weakened a child's autonomy.

It is described as “an open-ended and continuous learning process in which the roles of both ‘teacher’ and ‘curriculum’ are missing. In other words, what is to be learned is a matter that we must settle in the process of learning itself."

Research on hunter-gatherer societies indicates that free play and exploration were effective transmitters of the societies' culture to children

The concept of the hidden curriculum includes the belief that anything taught in an authoritarian setting is implicitly teaching authoritarianism. Thus civic education, if taught in a compulsory setting, undermines its own lessons in democracy. A common belief in democratic schools is that democracy must be experienced to be learned.

Many criticisms exist- if children entirely develop the curriculum they can overlook subjects that they haven't been exposed to, or make decisions based on trend. This is more acute with teenagers who tend to act impulsively. School did badly for other reasons, kids and student relations, and general chaos


Unschooling encourages exploration of activities initiated by the children themselves, believing that the more personal learning is the more meaningful, well-understood and therefore useful it is to the child.

Unschoolers sometimes state that learning any specific subject is less important than learning how to learn. "Since we can't know what knowledge will be most needed in the future, it is senseless to try to teach it in advance. Instead, we should try to turn out people who love learning so much and learn so well that they will be able to learn whatever must be learned"

Progressive education

  • Emphasis on learning by doing – hands-on projects, expeditionary learning, experiential learning
  • Integrated curriculum focused on thematic units
  • Integration of entrepreneurship into education
  • Strong emphasis on problem solving and critical thinking
  • Group work and development of social skills
  • Understanding and action as the goals of learning as opposed to rote knowledge
  • Collaborative and cooperative learning projects
  • Education for social responsibility and democracy
  • Highly personalized learning accounting for each individual's personal goals
  • Integration of community service and service learning projects into the daily curriculum
  • Selection of subject content by looking forward to ask what skills will be needed in future society
  • De-emphasis on textbooks in favor of varied learning resources
  • Emphasis on lifelong learning and social skills
  • Assessment by evaluation of child's projects and productions

Consistently performed better, were happier and more engaged, etc

The late 1960s and early 1970s saw a rise and decline in the number of progressive schools. There were several reasons for the decline:

  • Demographics: As the baby boom passed, traditional classrooms were no longer as over-enrolled, reducing demand for alternatives.
  • The economy: The oil crisis and recession made shoestring schools less viable.
  • Times changed: With the ending of the Vietnam War, social activism waned.
  • Co-optation: Many schools were co-opted by people who didn't believe in the original mission.
  • Centralization: The ongoing centralization of school districts
  • Non-implementation: Schools failed to implement a model of shared governance
  • Interpersonal dynamics: Disagreement over school goals, poor group process skills, lack of critical dialogue, and fear of assertive leadership

Theories of knowledge

Multiple intelligences:

  • musical-rhythmic,
  • visual-spatial,
  • verbal-linguistic,
  • logical-mathematical,
  • bodily-kinesthetic,
  • interpersonal,
  • intrapersonal,
  • naturalistic

Henri Wallon argues that "We can not distinguish intelligence from its operations".[33] Yves Richez distinguishes 10 Natural Operating Modes (Modes Opératoires Naturels - MoON).[34]

Richez's studies are premised on a gap between Chinese thought and Western thought. In China, the notion of "being" (self) and the notion of "intelligence" don't exist. These are claimed to be Graeco-Roman inventions derived from Plato. Instead of intelligence, Chinese refers to "operating modes", which is why Yves Richez does not speak of "intelligence" but of "natural operating modes" (MoON).

The premise of the multiple intelligences hypothesis, that human intelligence is a collection of specialist abilities, have been criticized for not being able to explain human adaptation to most if not all environments in the world.

In this context, humans are contrasted to social insects that indeed have a distributed "intelligence" of specialists, and such insects may spread to climates resembling that of their origin but the same species never adapt to a wide range of climates from tropical to temperate by building different types of nests and learning what is edible and what is poisonous. While some such as the leafcutter ant grow fungi on leaves, they do not cultivate different species in different environments with different farming techniques as human agriculture does. It is therefore argued that human adaptability stems from a general ability to falsify hypotheses and make more generally accurate predictions and adapt behavior thereafter, and not a set of specialized abilities which would only work under specific environmental conditions.