Philosophies of Education-A critical evaluation


Dr. V.K.Maheshwari, M.A. (Socio, Phil) B.Sc. M. Ed, Ph.D.

Former Principal, K.L.D.A.V.(P.G) College, Roorkee, India

Mrs Sudha Rani Maheshwari, M.Sc (Zoology), B.Ed.

Former Principal, A.K.P.I.College, Roorkee, India

Since philosophy is the art which teaches us how to live, and since children need to learn it as much as we do at other ages, why do we not instruct them in it? But in truth I know nothing about the philosophy of education except this: that the greatest and the most important difficulty known to human learning seems to lie in that area which treats how to bring up children and how to educate them. – (de Montaigne, on teaching Philosophy of Education)

Before analyzing the educational implications of general philosophy, we should know the concept of “Philosophy” and “Education”. Each one of us has a personal philosophy which we apply consciously and unconsciously in our daily life

Interdependence of philosophy and education is an essentiality for human development .both represents two side of a coin, both are equally important. PHILOSOPHY DETERMINES THE VIEW OF LIFE WHILE EDUCATION DETERMINES THE WAY OF LIFE.. They are so interlocked that without the one the existence of the other is beyond comprehension.


Idealism is a philosophical approach that has as its central tenet that ideas are the only true reality, the only thing worth knowing. In a search for truth, beauty, and justice that is enduring and everlasting; the focus is on conscious reasoning in the mind.

The main tenant of idealism is that ideas and knowledge are the truest reality.  Many things in the world change, but ideas and knowledge are enduring.  Idealism was often referred to as “idea-ism”. Idealists believe that ideas can change lives.  The most important part of a person is the mind. It is to be nourished and developed.

From this very general philosophical position, the Idealist would tend to view the Learner as a microscopic mind, the Teacher as a paradigmatic self, the Curriculum as the subject matter of symbol and idea (emphasizing literature, history, etc.) The educational approach of this philosophy is of a holistic nature.  In which self-realization and character development is strongly supported.  The idealist feels that with the growth of a fine moral character as well as personal reflection, wisdom is gained.  Information across curriculum

Idealism has been influential in education for a considerable amount of time. It is considered a conservative philosophy because of its emphasis in preserving cultural traditions. The strengths of idealism include encouraging thinking and cognition, promoting cultural learning, and providing for character development of students. Teachers are considered valuable parts of the educational process who should strive to provide a comprehensive, systematic, and holistic approach to learning that stresses self realization.

Idealism justifiably makes the reality of the self the focal point of philosophizing. The fact that the basic intuition that the self is real is so strong in every one of us makes it essential that any philosophy to beat all adequate must do justice to this intuition. Sometimes can be said for the focal points of the other philosophies, each one has as a focal point a basic intuition common to most men.. However none of the other focal points are as immediate to each individual person as the self is real.

Idealism is a comprehensive philosophy. It deals with both metaphysics and epistemology as equally primary considerations; there is a consistency and inter-relationships of principles found necessary in both of these fields; the same consistency also follows through into matters of logic and into various realms of value; and the comprehensive system, of thought resulting has been richly and fruitfully practiced in such important area as education.This comprehensiveness is a quality which contrasts with the other philosophies.

Critics of the idealist philosophy of education have been vocal and consistent, and there is, indeed, no lack of arguments opposing the position both philosophically and educationally. Here are the most common criticisms of this philosophical school.

One weakness of idealism, which may be unavoidable, is the great difficulty with which it is correctly understood. This difficulty is made evident by the abundance of misconceptions concerning idealism.

A-Probably the most common one is that idealism is a visionary utopianism, either individual or social both.

B- Another probably not so much a misconception as a mistaken identity, is the occasional identification of philosophy of idealism with some of the occult groups which luxuriate in a vague spiritualism, removed from the quite out of joint with empirical and social processes.

C- A third misinterpretation is the version of idealism which makes it a subjectivism holding that nothing exists except in the mind of the individual.

D- The last misconception here is the version that idealism teaches that the conceptions or ideas which a given mind, or which the social mind, forms concerning reality are identical with reality. This again is a kind of subjectivism and also an identification of specific ideas with reality.

Idealism is  linked with traditional religion. The weakening of religion has led to the weakening of idealism as a philosophy.  Through Plato’s ruler kings, and Augustine’s emphasis on the monastic life, it has been said that idealism leads to intellectual elitism. In the past, education was considered important for the upper classes of society, marking education as a luxury.   Vocational and technical studies were considered good enough for the general public.

Idealistic education was considered bookish and lacking relevance. It is argued that the character development aspect of the philosophy involved conformity and subservience on the part of the learner. This type of character development was considered to stifle creativity and self direction, making students gullible and ready to accept ideas without serious examination.

Lack of emphasis on the importance of science and technical education. James Madison’s quote that knowledge is power, which sits front and center on my class webpage, seems to agree with this premise.  Because I believe strongly in project based education as a way to have students discover and learn new information, I also began to view the idealism in my thinking. However, as much as I value these things and continue to believe in the importance of continually gaining knowledge, the fact that I view science and technology as a valued part of all education, sets me apart from the philosophy. While the idealist considered science and technical studies good enough for the general public, I consider them an integral part of any education. However I do believe in the importance of teaching children to think, for not doing so results in children with book learning and no common sense.

Idealism sets Unobtainable Goals for education .For the educator who is concerned with having the child reach out and grasp the Ideal there are two significant problems. First, if perfection is unreachable there is very little desire on the part of most to become perfect. For the idealist student the goals are often too far away. Second, the idealists have set up a final goal: to know the Ideal and become part of it. This implies a finite tend and as such means that we have a final end in view. It argues strongly against those who take the point of view that man is infinitely perfectible.

Idealism ignores the Physical Self .The body cannot be ignored. If we try to ignore the body it soon intrudes itself upon us. We do, whether we like the idea or not, react to and fake into our mind an deal with, on the intellectual level, such question as whether or not we are hot, cold, hungry, tired, happy, or sad. We will often give our greatest thought to changing or modifying our physical realm, particularly where we are trying to avoid discomfort. In the classroom the teacher who would forget that the student has a body as well as a mind will soon be faced with discipline problem as youthful spirits react to bodily demands. Thus, to try to separate mental activity from the physical and to try to place Ideas in a realm unrelated to the existent world becomes nothing more than an exercise in futility.

Idealism reemphasizes experience . Many ideas cannot have meaning apart from experience. The ideas of heat and cold are not simply logical constructs, but ways of describing certain sensations found only in experience. This is not meant to imply that all things must be rooted in experience. If this were true, we would have great difficulty in dealing with the study of sub-atomic particles, and the whole field of mathematics might well be called into question. But, most ideas do find their roots in experience, and to deny the validity of this experience is to make the universe sterile.

Idealism leads to totalitarianism. Some of the critiques of idealism is that is discourages the progress of science and our modern discovery.  It also serves as somewhat of an elitist view in that although the classics have merit for use in the classroom, they are not necessarily the choice for all students.  To only concentrate on the classic writings is to waste a vast amount of wonderful knowledge that has been gained through contemporary writings and art.    Further more; creating a society in which students are taught to be docile and accept without challenging those areas held to be absolute could essentially be creating an environment in which students are subservient and quick to confirm. The whole doctrine of idealism may lead to a rigid and often totalitarian social order. It may become the very antithesis of Democracy since it argues that the best equipped for leadership are those who are closest to the Ideal. Plato, in the Republic, sets up a perfect society in which the leaders are the Philosopher-Kings; of the Ideal. Gentile, in twentieth century Italy, provides another example of the dangers of what can happen when the social theory inherent in the idealistic philosophy is put into practice in the ruling of nations.

Idealism emphasizes humanities. Science today has challenged idealism .Science is based on hypothesis and tentativeness, but idealism promotes a finished and absolute universe waiting to be discovered The idealist philosopher demands that all must conform to the laws which are the immutable working of the Ideal. There is, in idealism, the assumption of a universal morality which will lead to the perfect moral and ethical order. Since much, if not all, of this has an optimistic, humanities oriented outlook, it may lead to a rejection of the whole concept of a technological society which is mechanistic and “scientifically” oriented.

Idealism overlooks possibility of error .Perhaps the greatest failing of any philosophical system is that it fails to take into account the possibility that it may be in error. This is especially true of idealism since its truth is immutable and unchanging. Even were the Ideal to change, as long as the notion of the Ideal is accepted as such then idealism has built into it its own verification.

One final comment seems called for before moving on to the next philosophical –educational system. Idealism, like many other systems, is dependent at any given time for its definition of truth upon certain spokesmen who would seen to be better able to know the Ideal. This can often lead to conflict as to the Truth of one world system as opposed to another. The whimsical sight of two idealist scholars standing off and yelling at each other, “My Truth is right, your truth is wrong,” is tempered somewhat by the picture of two hydrogen bomb holding despots standing off and yelling the same thing at each other.


Naturalism is a concept that firmly believes that ultimate reality lies in the nature of the matter. Matter is considered to be supreme and mind is the functioning of the brain that is made up of matter. The whole universe is governed by laws of nature and they are changeable. It’s through our sense that we are able to get the real knowledge. The senses works like real gateways of knowledge and exploration is the method that helps in studying nature. Naturalism is a term loosely applied in educational theory to systems of training that are not dependent on schools and books but on manipulation of the actual life of student. Naturalism is an artistic movement advocating realistic description: in art or literature, a movement or school advocating factual or realistic description of life, including its less pleasant aspects. In literature, the doctrine rejecting spiritual explanations of world: a system of thought that rejects all spiritual and supernatural explanations of the world and holds that science is the sole basis of what can be known. a belief that all religious truth is derived from nature and natural causes, and not from revelation

In naturalism, perhaps the most controversial from the point of view of many philosophers is the absence of any permanent goals for education. Without some permanence of aims education can easily become a haphazard, day to day activity without any central focus.

By designating experience as the sole source of knowledge naturalism limits itself to one methodology and to a narrow curriculum divested of much of the knowledge acquired by past generations as well as of the many artistic production of the human race.

From various points of view naturalistic epistemology is too limited. To reduce knowing to experience preludes many possibilities of knowing about ethical and aesthetic values and the realm of the metaphysical.

The somewhat naïve view that human nature is essentially good resulted in the elevation of pupil freedom to the detriment of even the minimal order and discipline essential from optimal learning.

On the other hand the most significant educational reform proposed by the naturalists flows from their belief that the natural growth pattern of children should determine the content and method of education. The modern concept of “readiness,” accepted by educators of all persuasions, is a result of this principle.

A corollary of this generalization reminds the educator that content and method should be adjusted to the individual differences of the pupils. Naturalists recognized the failure of traditional education in regard to this rather obvious fact and offered both theoretical and practical means for adapting content and method to individual differences.

Another principal advocated by the naturalists and generally accepted by all modern educators stresses the pedagogical value of “learning by doing.” Much of traditional teaching was highly verbal and abstract, even when the occasion did not call for such an approach. The naturalist reminds all educators to utilize direct experience whenever possible to insure meaningful and lasting learning.

One final contribution suggested by naturalistic theory which has been a value to all educators can be traced to the dictum that “learning is naturally pleasurable.” Too often, the traditionalists preached that learning was pleasant, but their practices belied their principles. In many traditional schools, especially at the lower levels, it was assumed that “good education” must be unpleasant because children were unwilling to learn. But the naturalist argued that if education utilized the natural interests of student as the starting point for learning even the most difficult tasks could become pleasant. If nature itself contains those ingredients necessary for the improvement of the species, it behooves the educator to formulate his aims, devise educational methods and procedures, create a curriculum, and strengthen educational agencies according to the natural tendencies found within man. Then and only then can one be assured of the continued progress of the human race. Any appeal to sources outsider nature for improvement of the educative process is miseducative since it violates the very foundations upon which education should be built. Nature must be accorded free play if there is to be improvement in the child. Nature itself experiences seems to guarantee progress .

One final comment will be made concerning naturalism in education. As to naturalism as a philosophy of education, the chief criticism is that, it is not sufficiently complete and comprehensive, although what it does say is said quite well. It is rather earthbound to define objectives of education, as those activities for which the study of science can equip us. This becomes evident in relation to the objective that the study of science can equip us for leisure activities. Geometry, perspective, and mathematics may have some connection with the appreciation of art, for example, but they are a small part of this flight from the earthbound, and it is likely that there are many people who have rather rich aesthetic experiences without benefit of the rites of science. Secondly, the student is not done justice when he is conceived of as a little animal; he is more than this, and any education will be inadequate which does not propose to deal with something more than little animals. The call to design the educative process more in harmony with the rhythms of Nature, to make still another comment, is a call; which still needs to be heard today. But such a design for education needs to be supplemented by harmonizing it with personal and spiritual rhythms as well.

However, evaluations of naturalism from  other than the supernaturalism point of view are possible. The notion that man is innately good appears too optimistic in the light of events of the past century. One might argue that man has become less human as he becomes more advanced in his evolutionary development. The cruel wars, injustice toward minorities, and many of the ills of modern man hardly suggest such optimism.


Pragmatism in education came into prominence to fulfil an obvious need in the educational thought of America. With education becoming available to all men rather than to a select few, the country was searching for a way of viewing the educational process other than through the framework provided by the older “elitist” philosophies of You see by his what I meant when I called pragmatism a mediator and reconciler……. She has in fact no prejudices whatever, no obstructive dogmas, and no rigid canons of what shall count as proof. She is completely genial. She will entertain any hypothesis, she will consider any evidence. It follows that in the religious field she is at a great advantage over both positivistic empiricism, with its anti-theological bias, and over religious rationalism, with its exclusive interest in the remote, the noble, the simple, and the abstract in the way of conception.— William James

The pragmatic philosophy of education has probably been subjected to more criticism, both valid and invalid, than any other education philosophy. This is, in part, because of its liberal orientation. Social, economic, political and educational conservatives have found it a useful target for the pointed finger and the cry of “anathema.” To some extent the criticisms have been justified, but for the most part the pragmatists have simply stood as a convenient scapegoat for the demagogues. Even today, in many parts of the nation, conservative candidates for political office are expected to swear their eternal opposition to “progressive education” and the prime devil of the movement, John Dewey. In None Dare Call It Treason by John Stormer, a book which  became a major campaign document for conservatives during the political wars of 1964, John Dewey is characterized as “Denying God, he held to the Marxist concept that man is without a soul or free will.” His educational experiments in Chicago are dismissed in the following tow sentences. “They were dismal failures.” “Children learned nothing.” As for Dewey’s philosophy orientation toward education, Stormer describes is as follows.

Taken to a logical conclusion. Dewey’s theory would have the child who finds himself in the company of thieves become a thief also. The tendency to justify immoral or unethical conduct by rationalizing that “everybody dose it” is rooted in Dewey’s teaching.

Strict acceptance of Dewey’s theories would eliminate teaching world geography unless the child can take a trip around the world. History would be eliminated from the curriculum, because it is past and will not be relived by the student.

While it would be impossible to refute all of the fallacious criticisms to which John Dewey and his philosophical statements have been subjected, it is perhaps worth noting that John Stormer’s book, between February and July of 1964, went through eleven printings with a total of 1,400,000 copies coming off the presses. The author was, as that time, chairman of the Missouri Federation of Yong Republicans and as member of the Republican State Committee of Missouri. Thus, because of the author’s political position, the strategic time of publication, and the subject matter, the book received widespread publicity and was widely read. Unfortunately many Americans received their basic introduction to John Dewey and his philosophy in its pages. How accurate it may be can perhaps be determined through use of the following quote form John Dewey’s most popular book on education, democracy and Education, which sets forth his view on the subject of history and geography. “……..geography and history supply subject matter which gives background and outlook, intellectual perspective, to what might other wise be narrow personal actins or mere forms of technical skill. With every increase of ability to place our own doings in their time and space connections, our doings gain is significant content. We realize that we citizens of no mean city in discovering the scene in space of which we are denizens, and the continuous manifestation of endeavor in time of which hw ear heir and continues. Thus our ordinary daily experiences cease to be things of the moment and gain enduring substance”.

Aside from the criticisms of those who seek to make political or social capital from Dewey and his educational theories, there are a number of critics and a variety of criticisms which need to be heard with regard to the pragmatic position in both philosophy and education.

Pragmatism has weak ontology.It has been argued that the whole structure of the pragmatic position is relatively unstable due to its lack of a sound ontological base. The contention that eh pragmatist do not concern themselves with the clarification of their ontological assumptions is valid. Because of their general orientation, the pragmatic movement has emphasized concerns of an epistemology nature.

Pragmatism is considered anti-Intellectual .Another criticism often leveled at he pragmatic movement is that it is essentially anti-intellectual. While this is perhaps an perhaps an overstatement, it is true that the main area of concern for pragmatists is the marketplace of daily life. Thus, those philosophies oriented toward a rather rationalistic a priori type of though will find the pragmatists empirical and anti-intellectual.

Theory of Truth of Pragmatism seems quite weak. One of the seemingly weakest points in the pragmatist’s chain of though, and the one that has probably subjected the pragmatists to more valid and invalid criticism than any other theory of truth. If truth is seen as constantly being changed and tested, rather than as a stable body of knowledge, the whole stability of the universe is previous experience, which has been oriented toward finding and cataloging such truths, will go for naught. All other major philosophical systems are concerned with the nature of truth, and historically the vast majority have found a core of stable, unchanging, absolute values on which they could rely. The very fact that pragmatism challenges the existence of this core makes it, for many, a dangerous and radical philosophy.

Pragmatism  treats School as Instrument of Social Change. For school men the idea that there are no absolute and unchanging truths offers another dangerous challenge that many feel unable or unwilling to accept. Traditionally the school has been viewed as society’s instrument for the preservation and continuation of our cultural heritage. While the pragmatists would not argue with this, they would carry it a step further. The school and the whole process of education should be an instrument of social change and social improvement. Not only should students be taught  (and even here the pragmatists would probably prefer to say “not only should students be helped to learn….”) factual materials, they should deal with social problems. More conservative school men will argue that this is not the function of the school and that if the school and the classroom become instrument of inquiry and of social change, we are moving away from stability and toward anarchy.

Pragmatism is more theoretical than practical .Perhaps the greatest criticism that can be leveled at the pragmatic philosophers in the field of education is that while they have madder great inroads in educational theory, and some inroads in educational practice in the elementary schools, they are, from most educators, a group of thinkers largely ignored beyond the payment of ritual lip-service. This should be especially painful to those who would support a philosophy that measures much in terms of the practical consequences of a course of action. In fact, pragmatism in education is for the most part nothing but a straw man set up by the critics so they may knock it down. While preached loudly in the classroom of institutions of teacher education, it is not practiced in these very same classrooms or very many others around the country.

Pragmatism develops cult of Personality. Pragmatism has had a wide appeal to the mind of educators despite its general failure to emerge into practice. Because of this, and because of the many years of teaching by such pragmatists as John Dewey, Boyd Bode, William Heard Kilpatrick, and others, a whole cult grew up calling themselves progressive educators. For inspiration they largely turned toward Teachers College, Columbia University; but while turning in the direction of this fount of educational wisdom, they too often took as the gospel of progressive education third, fourth and fifth-hand accounts of what the intellectual leaders of the movement said and meant. This cult of personality and hero worship, coupled wit the failure or inability of many progressive educators to either read or understand the thinking of the educational theorist, too often led to a warmed over form of laissez-fair freedom in the classroom. The progressive education movement was, in fact, guilty of what must have been for the leaders of the pragmatic movement the greatest of all sins, reliance on authority as absolute. Because of this, and because of the burden of cliches the progressive movement has had to bear, it has had little opportunity to try its wings in the arena of public education.

Pragmatism as a philosophy of education has not totally been used correctly.Many schools have used certain parts of the philosophy, but not many use it consciously. Most people were interested in using the practical parts than focusing on the philosophy. Pragmatism as an educational belief does not have everyone agreeing. Some believe that it is too vague and others believe it is too watered down.

After analyzing pragmatism, we feel that this philosophy best describes our teaching style. This philosophy was easier to understand and make connections. Pragmatism reminds teachers to individualize their instruction to meet the needs of each learner. One must remember to keep old traditions, but incorporate new idea.


From this very general philosophical position, the Realist would tend to view the Learner as a sense mechanism, the Teacher as a demonstrator, the Curriculum as the subject matter of the physical world (emphasizing mathematics, science, etc.), the Teaching Method as mastering facts and information, and the Social Policy of the school as transmitting the settled knowledge of Western civilization. The realist would favor a school dominated by subjects of the here-and-now world, such as math and science. Students would be taught factual information for mastery. The teacher would impart knowledge of this reality to students or display such reality for observation and study. Classrooms would be highly ordered and disciplined, like nature, and the students would be passive participants in the study of things. Changes in school would be perceived as a natural evolution toward a perfection of order.

For the realist, the world is as it is, and the job of schools would be to teach students about the world. Goodness, for the realist, would be found in the laws of nature and the order of the physical world. Truth would be the simple correspondences of observation. The Realist believes in a world of Things or Beings (metaphysics) and in truth as an Observable Fact. Furthermore, ethics is the law of nature or Natural Law and aesthetics is the reflection of Nature

In educational theory and practice, the scientific realists might be criticized for the following reasons:

Realism treats metaphysics as meaningless. The realists make no provision for the world of supernature and takes an agonistic view towards it. Most  of the propositions of traditional metaphysics are relegated to the realm of irrelevancy.

There is no role for functions as creative reason in realism.  One reason for  this flows from the monoistic assumption that the known and the knower are of the same nature. There is no role for such functions as creative reason- in the sense that reason can form abstractions from sense data.

The epistemology of the realists is inadequate. In realism only empirical knowledge is recognized as valid with in their system. The passive aspects of the knowing process are overemphasised by realists.

There is too much emphasis on the individual in realism .Some of them place too much emphasis on the individual in the educational program. Such preoccupation with the individual flouts the reality of the complexity and interdependence of modern society.

Stress on content much more than the methods:  The scientific realists with the exception or Russell stress content much more than the methods of acquiring knowledge. This emphasis often leads to rote memorization one of the major weaknesses of the traditional school. Thus lip service may be paid to the goals of developing critical thinking understanding and other complex intellectual functions but little is done by the student to attain these goals.

In realism there is little attention for developing an educational theory. Most of the philosophical realists of this school pay little or no attention to developing an educational theory consistent with their basic philosophical beliefs as Dewey, broody, Adler, And Martian have done

There is too much emphasis on sense experience in realism .The realist does not accept the existence of transcendental ( not based on experience or reason ) being. How could be know the non-existence of that which does not exist? Has non-existence got  no existence ?  Void ness and non-existence also are the parts of existence. Here the realist is dumb completely.

The realist recognizes the origin of knowledge from the datum achieved by senses and asserts that only objects are main and it is through their contact that knowledge is acquired. Then how does our illusion arise ? How does knowledge become fallacious? Where does the external object go in dream ? The realist is unable to answer these questions satisfactorily.

The curriculum proposed by most realist is one-sided. Today the effect of realism has given rise  to the wave of science. It is right, but there should be no indifference towards art and literature. The realist supports this negligence The curriculum proposed by most scientific realists is one-sided since empirical knowledge holds a position superior to that of the humanistic studies. This neglect is evident in the absence of a well defined theory of age and art education.

There is no place to imagination ,pure thoughts  and sentimentsin realism. Realism admits real feelings and needs of life on the one hand, gives no place to imagination and sentiment, on the other. What a contradiction? Are imaginations, emotions and sentiments not real needs of human life? Is emotionless life not almost dead life? Can life be lead on the basis of facts only?

The realist claims to be objective. Objectivity in knowledge is nothing but the partnership of personal knowledge. Knowledge is always subjective.”

Realism recognizes only the real existence of the material world. This recognition remains not objected to unless he says that only material world really exists. The question arises- Is there no power behind this material world? Does it have its own existence? What is the limit of the universe? The realist does give reply to these questions but these replies are not found to be satisfactory. The real existence of material world may be admitted but how can the existence come to an end in the world itself.

Realism enthuses disappointment in students and teachers. No progress can be made by having faith in the facts of daily life and shattering faith in ideals. Life is but full of miseries and struggles. Sorrow is more predominant than joy in the world. A person becomes disappointed by this feeling. That is why realists often appear to be skeptics, Pessimists and objectionists,

Realism encourages formalism. The Herbartian movement in the United States reached its peak in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Because of its formalism it allowed a teacher to substitute technique for knowledge a long distance. It became a popular technique to impart to future teachers in normal schools and in other institutes for teacher preparation. Its very formalism was also its greatest weakness since it allowed a teacher slavishly to develop a lesson with allowed the rigid teacher to teach rigidly. Herbart himself would probably have shuddered at the misuse of what he conceived of as creative method for teaching children.

Both the New Realists and the Critical Realists failed to provide a satisfactory answer to the problem of error. The New Realist position is the weaker of the two since direct cognition does not permit error and the rationale employed by Wild, that “Error is the creation of the erring subject” is most unsatisfactory if the mind is viewed purely as relational with no contents of its own with which to create error. The Critical Realists have solved the problem of error, but in doing so through the use of an intermediary or vehicle of knowledge; they have created a whole new host of problems in terms of defining and explaining the nature of the vehicle. Whether it is of the substance of mind, matter, or some neutral substance is unclear and varies with the particular philosopher one is reading. Both positions, despite their differences, create problems for the educator. The New Realist position with regard to error is manufacture unable, and the

There is danger of encouraging elitism. Finally, the same criticism of absolutes applies to the realists as applied to the idealists. There is the constant danger that there will arise a class of persons who be the ones with the responsibility of identifying and arbitrating questions concreting absolutes. These may be priests in an idealist society or scientist in a realist society, but whatever they are, they become an external source of authority in an area in which people should be speculating and the danger of an inquisition is always inherent in such a social structure. Whenever we allow any person or group of persons to tell us what is Truth and what is not Truth, and permit them the authority to force this point of view on us, we are in danger of losing the very essence of the truly democratic society.

Realism depends on cause- effect  relationships. The next criticism deals directly with the philosophical underpinnings of the realist position. Almost all the laws of nature that the realists stress are dependent upon cause- effect relationships. Most philosophers and scientists are chary of such absolutes. They prefer to deal in the realm of probability. Past activity is no guarantee of future activity. Because the sun rises in the East every day is no guarantee that it will rise there tomorrow, although the probability is ridiculously high.. Thus, to teach moral absolutes and natural laws is a highly questionable procedure.

Realism fails to deal with social change. Like the idealists, the realists are basically conservative in education. Rather than concern themselves with social change and educational progress they are most concerned with preserving and adding to the body of organized truth they feel has been accumulated. In a period when there was little social change occurring this type of philosophy may have been adequate. But in an increasingly automated society operating on an ever-expanding industrial base, many educators feel that education must be a creative endeavour, constantly looking for new solutions to problems. This role appears to be incompatible with the realist’s fundamental conception of the role of education in the society.

In short realism rejects or disregards the supernatural, and likewise denise duality in man’s nature or any distinction of cognitive powers into sensory and intellectual. Realists hold that man can know reality, and that he does so through inductive experience.


Just as its namesake sprang from a strong rejection of traditional philosophy, educational existentialism sprang from a strong rejection of the traditional, essentialist approach to education. Existentialism rejects the existence of any source of objective, authoritative truth about metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics. Instead, individuals are responsible for determining for themselves what is “true” or “false,” “right” or “wrong,” “beautiful” or “ugly.” For the existentialist, there exists no universal form of human nature; each of us has the free will to develop as we see fit.

Existentialism is the most individualistic of all modern philosophies. Its overriding concern is with the individual and its primary value is the absolute freedom of the person, who is only what he makes himself to be, and who is the final and exclusive arbiter of the values he freely determines for himself. Great emphasis is placed on art, on literature, and the humanistic studies, for it is in these areas that man finds himself and discovers what values he will seek to attain.

Existentialism represents a protest against the rationalism of traditional philosophy, against misleading notions of the bourgeois culture, and the dehumanizing values of industrial civilization. Since alienation, loneliness and self-estrangement constitute threats to human personality in the modern world, existential thought has viewed as its cardinal concerns a quest for subjective truth, a reaction against the ‘negation of Being’ and a perennial search for freedom..

The evaluation of existentialism has been quite negative. Some even view it as an anti philosophical movement. Others, however, do not take such a dismal view of it. James Collins believes that it is a challenging and instructive philosophy

After studying the philosophy of Existentialism, the question will arise in anybody’s mind: how can the aims, curricula and methods in a school depend upon the individual’s choice and freedom.The teacher’s individual relationship and close understanding of every pupil’s personality would require a great deal of time and effort.

The concepts of ‘Being’, ‘meaning’, ‘Person’ are not very clear and appear nebulous. It is not easy to build up an educational programmed when the terminology for the objectives of the educational process is not clear…

There are some major areas of conflict between atheistic existentialism and traditional. The former’s complete denial of any forces outside the “human situation” and its rejection of any essential characteristic in man are contrary to traditional metaphysical beliefs. The radical subjectivity of existentialist epistemology, ethics, and aesthetics is also not in harmony with both traditional and many modern views of these issues.

Other limitations of existentialism lessen the acceptability of this school of thought as a philosophy for modern man. The most glaring one seems to be the naïve view the existentialists take of the “social realities” of the modern industrial, urban world. They offer no social theory for solving the complex problems of our scientific age Thus proposals for “individual living “ might appeal to the hermit or the frontiersman but they are of little help to the people who must spend their lives in large cities, work for large companies, worship in large congregations, and even recreate in crowds.. Man is responsible, not only for himself but for his fellowmen.

Yet another weakness might be noted in existentialist philosophy which limits its application to the modern world, namely, the neglect of the scientific mode of knowing in their general theory of knowledge. After all, this is the “age of science” and complete philosophy of life cannot relegate the philosophy of science to a position of minor importance.

As an educational philosophy, existentialism, at least in its present form, does not provide an adequate basis for educational theory. Perhaps this state of affairs is due to the fact that most existentialists have given no serious consideration to the development of the educational implications of their fundamental philosophical tenets.

There is no place in existentialist philosophy for social theory as developed within the other philosophies The existentialist often is accused of being “antisocial” in his behavior as well as in his philosophy. If existentialists have no theory of society, it might be more accurate to ask how they view other men. First, they would grant to others the same existential freedom which they demand for themselves. That is, man is never to be viewed as a means but rather as an end.

The school itself has become a place where the individual is “socialized” so that he can be a good group member, a good citizen rather than a good person. If existentialism does nothing else but bring about a proper balance between the individual and society, it will have merited the praise of educators.

In contrast, existentialism’s protagonists see it as the only hope for human survival as in existentialism.   Since existentialism is optimistic, the preaches the doctrine of action and emphasizes the concept of freedom, responsibility and choice, it has exerted an increasing appeal to the educator, who has been shown the new horizons

Interest is directed on the ‘man’ – his genuine or authentic self, his choices made with full responsibility of consequences, and freedom. It describes and diagnoses human weaknesses, limitations and conflicts

In short Existentialism is the most individualistic of all modern philosophies. Its overriding concern is with the individual and its primary value  is the absolute freedom of the person, who is only what  he makes himself to be, and who is the final and exclusive arbiter of the values he freely determine for himself. Great emphasis is placed on art, on literature, and the humanistic studies, for it is in these areas that man finds himself and discovers what values he will seek to attain.


Perennialists philosophers, despite a variety of minute distinctions, generally feel that they are advocates of the True Philosophy and with it the True Philosophy of Education. They are often unwilling to concede the possible validity of different interpretations of the same data. Adler, in his article aptly titled, “In Defense of The Philosophy of Education,” has this to say about the possible validity of any other system of philosophical inquiry:

Education is a preparation for life, not an imitation of life; or as the progressive insist it is not “life itself.” Education should be basically the same for all men.

Perennialism philosophy of education is a very conservative and inflexible philosophy of education. Students are taught to reason through structured lessons and drills. They are stressing reading, writing and arithmetic in education but the decline of the music and art. Perennialism philosophy of education is what helps in educators is to equip them with “universal knowledge

Perennialists believe in acquiring understandings about the great ideas of civilization. These ideas have the potential for solving problems in any era. The focus is to teach ideas that are everlasting, to seek enduring truths which are constant, not changing, as the natural and human worlds at their most essential level, do not change. Teaching these unchanging principles is critical. Humans are rational beings, and their minds need to be developed. Thus, cultivation of the intellect is the highest priority in a worthwhile education. The demanding curriculum focuses on attaining cultural literacy, stressing students’ growth in enduring disciplines. The loftiest accomplishments of humankind are emphasized– the great works of literature and art, the laws or principles of science

The perennialists, despite their many claims to the contrary, are advocates of a regressive social philosophy. They would have us solve our twentieth century problems by turning back the clock to a system of belief prevalent in the thirteenth century. They would have us turn the clock back to a time when the source of authority was external to man an when man stood in the very center of the universe;  to a time when, the perennialists would have us believe, man was at a moral and spiritual peak from which he has since declined. The moral, intellectural, and spiritual reaction that the perennialists advocate is seen as coming, of necessity, from the church and the university. The lower schools have little to do with social change, since the school must transcend society and deal wit the teaching of first principles, the permanent base of Eternal Truth which is true in all times and in all places.

Perhaps the most openly peresonalistic philosophy we have discussed, perennialism is subject to a variety of criticisms. Certainly there has been a great deal of criticism which can only be categorized as rooted in religious bigotry and which is violently anti – Catholic in nature. On the other hand, there are many criticisms which are valid whether on is discussing lay or ecclesiastical perennialism.

Whenever the question of immutable Truth is raised it is a proper response to ask, “Whose immutable Truth?” The perennialists rely on intuition, revelation and dogma of the Church and at time all three of these have been found wanting. If they were absolute and accurate guides to knowledge and Truth then surely the advocates of other position would long since have been convinced of the futility and error of their positions, and would have been become either lay or ecclesiastical perennialists.

It is not that who have rejected the perennialist position are stupid, this would be the easy answer. Even the most convinced perenniailst would not label an Einstein, an Oppenheimer, a Freud, a James, or a Dewey ignorant because they questioned the validity of the revelations or intuitions of the perenniaists.

There is reliance on Intermediaries in perennialism. Aside from the question of whether or not we can trust immutable truth, the perennialist philosophy relies on an intermediary of some sort to explain the supernatural. Thus, the perennialists are dependent upon authority. The authority, whether lay or ecclesiastical, is not open to question. Catholics rely for their authority no the dogma of the church and the body or revelation which the church has sanctioned. But the very fact that the church has argued and fought over what constitutes “correct” dogma raises doubts as to the validity of its absolute authority. One can only remember how close Galileo came to flames of ta heretic’s death for supporting a position which subsequently became the accepted norm in the civilized world. The lay perennialist, on the other hand, is somewhat less susceptible to the hierarchical authority of the Church. Nonetheless, he too finds his sources of authority in the great thinkers of the past and their statements as to the body of knowledge and Truth.

For perennialism knowledge as an end in itself. Finally, many educators would argue that knowledge as an end in itself is not a sufficient rationale for education. As we shall see in the next section, pragmatists would take immediate exception to statement such as Maritain’s that “Knowledge is a value in itself and an end in itself; and truth consists in the conformity of the mind with reality.”

Perennialism focus on past. In an increasingly technological society the perennialist philosophy is quite openly regressive. It is a longing not just for the status quo, but rather a desire to return to the good old days. The whole social theory of the perennialist has tended to ignore progress and has, for the most part, focused on a social order which has not existed since the middle ages.

In a simpler society there may be no danger is such a regressive social policy, but in an age of automation, over-production, over-abundance for some and starvation for others, in an age of atomic and hydrogen over-kill, and an age of red buttons that could destroy all human life leaving this planet nothing more than a charred ember in the universe, we cannot risk looking only into the past to find solution to problems of the present and the future




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