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Philosophy and Aims of Education Chapter 6

February 18, 2014 Leave a comment Go to comments

Developing the Curriculum by Oliva

I love that the UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) has these three aims of education:

  1. fostering international understanding among all peoples of the world
  2. improving the standard of living of people in various countries
  3. solving continuing problems that plague humanity, such as war, disease, hunger and unemployment

Should we assimilate values or should we keep them separate? This is the big Salad Bowl vs Melting Pot question. Multicultural is important in today’s flat society, but how can education teach character when we have a salad bowl. In 1916, Dewey stated, “the aims of education are (1) to socialize the young, thereby transforming both youth and society; and (2) to develop the individual in all his or her physical, mental, moral, and emotional capacities.” page 123 Mortimer J. Adler states :”the ultimate goal of the educational process is to help human beings become educated persons. Schooling is the preparatory stage; it forms the habit of learning and provides the means for continuing to learn after all schooling is completed.” p 124. But I disagree with this. Does that mean a student who dies at age 14 has not lived? We need to prepare them for their life now. Not their life after schooling.  John Goodlad’s division of school into four categories: academic, vocational, social and civic, and personal is a very creative way to talk about their lives, but it needs to be present tense.

The section entitled “Statements from the Federal Government” infuriates me with this idea that these goals are in our control. As teachers, what do we control? What do you want your students to leave school with? I want students to leave with a passion for learning and reading and creating.

The four prevalent philosophies of education discussed in the book are reconstructionism, progressivism, essentialism, and perrenialism. Reconstructionism in education is when schools “become an agency for solving political and social problems. Perrenialism is seen as the theory to develop the ability to reason and pursue the truth. Neither of these philosophies are very popular in the US. Both are seen as too extreme. Essentialism has the aim of conforming students to society. The technique of “Assign-Study-Recite-Test” is the norm. The progressive philosophy is based on “education is life” and “learning by doing”. The progressive is when they talk about teaching to the whole child. The book only delves into the Essentialism and Progressive Philosophies.

After reading this chapter, I used to be a progressivist educator. I was all about teaching to the whole child.  After teaching with IB/PYP planners, I have become a reconstructionist educator. IB/PYP emphasizes the relationship the student has with the subject matter. PYP also asks students to act on their knowledge outside of school. For instance, if you are studying the water cycle, we want students to think about how they use water and can they use less water.  For elementary students, these conversations might seem basic. But if we empower our students to see that they can make a difference, in the future they can solve  problems throughout the world. We also ask students to reflect on their learning which helps them connect it to their own lives.


I look back at my own education which was very “Essentialistic”. I don’t remember most of what I was supposed to learn. I was a good student. I excelled in Math, but what did I retain from everything else. I remember building Boo Radley’s house in 10th grade after reading “To Kill A Mocking Bird”. When I read historical books now, I think about how I don’t remember much from history class. I think the essentialist philosophy makes sense on the surface, but do we know if students really can retain information when they don’t form a relationship with the information. We need students to make the connections.

A friend works at the new Waldorf school in Colorado Springs. I love the Waldorf philosophy of whole child, but I don’t like that they have no technology. Technology is part of our lives whether we want it or not. We need to embrace it. I don’t think that means our schools need to be 1-1 environments, but it needs to be available.

Today, we were creating “Dream Flags” (dreamflags.org) with 1st graders and I witnessed 1st graders get in a philosophical discussion about whether one of the girls should dream that people should never drive. The other two children were arguing that too many babies are being born if no one died, we would be squished together because we would run out of room at our school. I was very proud of the critical thinking about this issue.  I believe I would always want to work at an IB school or a school that is action  and inquiry based. Students need to be in control of their learning. There are “Reggio Emilia” schools for  primary-age students which is very similar.

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