Idealism in Education


An idealist is one who on, on noticing that a rose smells better than a cabbage, concludes that it is also more nourishing.

Mencken H. L.

On Ideals and Idealism

Idealism as a philosophy had its greatest impact during the nineteenth century.  Its influence in today’s world is less important than it has been in the past. Idealism is the conclusion that the universe is expression of intelligence and will, that the enduring substance of the world is the nature of the mind, that the material is explained by the mental. Idealism as a philosophy stands in contrast with all those systems of thought that center in nature (naturalism) or in man (humanism).” According to idealism “to be” means to be experienced by a person. Idealism holds that the order of the world is due to the manifestation in space and time of an eternal and spiritual reality.

 Definition of Idealism 

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.

Idealism is any philosophy which argues that the only things knowable are consciousness or the contents of consciousness – not anything in the outside world, if such a place actually exists. Indeed, idealism often takes the form of arguing that the only real things are mental entities, not physical things

Etymologically Its origin is: from Greek idea “form, shape” from weid- also the origin of the “his” in his-tor “wise, learned” underlying English “history.” In Latin this root became videre “to see” and related words. It is the same root in Sanskrit veda “knowledge as in the Rig-Veda. The stem entered Germanic as witan “know,” seen in Modern German wissen “to know” and in English “wisdom” and “twit,” a shortened form of Middle English atwite derived from æt “at” +witen “reproach.”

 In short Idealism is a philosophical position which adheres to the view that nothing exists except as it is and idea in the mind of man, the mind of God, or in a super – or supra-natural realm. The idealist believes that the universe has an intelligence and a will; that all material things are explainable in terms of a mind standing behind them.

 Historical Retrospect of Idealism

 Pre-Christian Origins: Plato

 The beginnings of the idealist philosophical position are generally attributed to Plato, but may be traced back to the thought of his teacher, Socrates. Plato, father of Idealism, espoused this view about 400 years BC, in his famous book, The Republic. Plato believed that there are two worlds. The first is the spiritual or mental world (World of Ideas ), which is eternal, permanent, orderly, regular, and universal. There is also the world of appearance, the world experienced through sight, touch, smell, taste, and sound, that is changing, imperfect, and disorderly. This division is often referred to as the duality of mind and body.  

 In his writings Plato is most concerned with separating the permanent from the temporary, the real from that which is merely illusory. To this end, Plato separates the day to day reality of things seen and felt from the eternal reality which can only be known through the thought processes. Those things that we see and feel and experiences are simply temporary, they are merely reflections as Plato points out in his allegory of the cave.

 a. There is a cave in which men are chained facing a wall. On a ledge, behind those who are chained, another group of men walk carrying things. Behind the men on the ledge is a fire which casts their shadows on the wall for the chained men to see.

 b. Plato’s analogy indicates that he world we know, the world of our senses, is like the shadows. It is unreal but we believe it to be the true reality because of habit and because it is the only reality with which we are familiar. The Real World, the World of Ideas, is of a different order, just as the men on the ledge are of a different order than their shadows.

 c. Plato distinguished between the use of reason and the use of the senses. His position was that in order to know something of the Real World (the realm of pure Ideas) we need to withdraw from the use of our senses and rely on a purely intellectual approach. Plato, then, was the first philosophy to lay the logical groundwork necessary to support a theory of immaterial reality.

 Plato argued that only concepts are real since they do not change over time as do the objects they represent. Nothing exists until the idea of it exists, hence some supreme power must have conceived of the universe before it came into existence. Real objects are the concepts in one’s mind, which must be delivered by the teacher, a kind of mental midwife (see “maieutics” in the Archives). This was the original, philosophical meaning of “idealism,” seldom used any more outside the philosophy classroom

 Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century: Berkeley and Hegel

 From this movement came the development of the modern idealistic views of Descartes, Berkley, Kant, Hegel and Royce.

 Rene Descartes -Modern idealism in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries is largely defined by a group of philosophers who were writing at the time. In his Discourse on Method and Meditations on First Philosophy, Descartes arrived at his Cartesian first principle Cogito, ergo sum, “I think, therefore I am.”  Descartes decided that he could throw all things into doubt except that he was thinking and doubting. This supports the concept of idealism because it emphasizes the centrality or importance of the mind.  Descartes, divided his world into two areas. For Descartes the two areas were the cogito and the Deity Descartes was a true doubter.  He attacked his thought processes by challenging the existence of every idea including his own existence.  The one truth that he proved was that in doubting everything he arrived at the consensus that even if one doubted every issue – the truth that couldn’t be denied was that one was thinking. 

 George Berkeley -Berkeley is commonly considered the father of modern idealism. He argues that what we experience does exist in a real physical sense, but only because it exists in the mind. A thing is the sum of our ideas of it. Common sense would indicate the absurdity of this position. If we held to the idea that a thing did not exist unless we were thinking of it we would too easily fall into a position philosophers call solipsism. Solipsism says that nothing has an existence beyond the individual’s mind and what appears to have an existence is simply in the mind of the beholder.

 Berkeley carefully avoided the pitfalls of this variant of idealism and with it the problem of things winking in and out of existence. Instead, he suggested that ideas exist n the mind of God as well as in our more finite minds, thus allowing for the continuity of existence by making the universe the product of God’s thoughts. The great value in this form of idealism is that it allows for stability, complexity, and sophistication. Man may only be able to think or conceive of a limited number of dimensions; God can think of them all.

 Immanuel Kant -In writing his Critique of Pure Reason, and Critique of Practical Reason, Kant tried to make sense of rationalism and empiricism within the idealist philosophy. In his system, individuals could have a valid knowledge of human experience that was established by the scientific laws of nature.. He believed in the importance of treating each person as an end and not as a means. He thought that education should include training in discipline, culture, discretion, and moral training.  Teaching children to think and an emphasis on duty toward self and others were also vital points in his philosophies. The desire to grow in ones understanding of being is supported through knowledge.  His views were influenced by his strong religious beliefs.  He held the existence of God to be the Idea and without belief in God then things would not exist.  Kant supported the idea of human thought as his idealism.  He held to the belief that real knowledge could be found though teaching a child to think both morally and ethically. 

 Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel -Three of Hegel’s most famous books are Phenomenology of Mind, Logic, and Philosophy of Right. In these readings, Hegel emphasizes three major aspects: logic, nature, and spirit. Hegel maintained that if his logical system were applied accurately, one would arrive at the Absolute Idea, which is similar to Plato’s unchanging ideas. Nature was considered to be the opposite of the Absolute idea. Idea and nature together form the Absolute Spirit which is manifested by history, art, religion, and philosophy. Hegel’s idealism is in the search for final Absolute Spirit. Examining any one thing required examining or referring to another thing.  Hegel’s thinking is not as prominent as it once was because his system led to the glorification of the state at the expense of individuals. Hegel thought that to be truly educated an individual must pass through various stages of the cultural evolution of mankind.  Additionally he reasoned that it was possible for some individuals to know everything essential in the history of humanity

 Josiah Royce. -Royce’s Ideas were best desired as plans of actions.  It was his belief that the strongest things for a person to develop is loyalty and to be of a high moral character.  He supported the idea that education should be more than just a literal qualifying of information, that the moral lessons held high merit for creating a good society

Royce conceived of ideas as purposes or plans of action. He considered purposes as incomplete without an external world, and the external world as meaningless unless it was the fulfillment of these purposes. Royce believed in the importance of developing a sense of morals. This thought influences education that involves teaching about our purpose in life and how we become active participants in these purposes.

 The post-Kantian German idealism of J. G. Fichte and Friedrich von Schelling, which culminated in the absolute or objective idealism of G. W. F. Hegel, began with a denial of the unknowable thing-in-itself, thereby enabling these philosophers to treat all reality as the creation of mind or spirit. Forms of post-Kantian idealism were developed in Germany by Arthur Schopenhauer and Hermann Lotze and in England by Samuel Coleridge; forms of post-Hegelian idealism were developed in England and France by T. H. Green, Victor Cousin, and C. B. Renouvier. More recent idealists include F. H. Bradley, Bernard Bosanquet, Josiah Royce, Benedetto Croce, and the neo-Kantians such as Ernst Cassirer and Hermann Cohen

 Forms of Idealism

Idealism comes in several forms:

Subjective Idealism, only ideas can be known or have any reality (also known as solipsism).

Critical or transcendental idealism in which the phenomenal world, constituted by the human understanding, stands opposed to a world of things-in-themselves developed by Kant, this theory argues that all knowledge originates in perceived phenomena which have been organized by categories.

Absolute Idealism, all objects are identical with some idea and the ideal knowledge is itself the system of ideas. It is also known as Objective Idealism, and is the sort of idealism promoted by Hegel. Unlike the other forms of idealism, this is monistic – there is only one mind in which reality is created.

Platonic Idealism, there exists a perfect realm of Form and Ideas and our world merely contains shadows of that realm.

Objective Idealists, such as Plato, think that ideas are essences, which have an independent existence.

Religious idealism, Augustine approached the idea that learning comes from within and that a person is responsible for his learning. 

 Philosophical Rationale of Idealism

 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 Universe (Ontology or Metaphysics)

 To the idealist, the nature of the universe is mind; it is an idea. The real nature of the position is idea-ism. For the idealist the universe has two aspects. The first is the sensory aspect, that part of life open to empirical or sensory exploration and verification. This is a sham world; a world of illusion. This second aspect, the Real World, lies beyond the sensory world and can only be reached through the intellect. This is the World of Ideas.

 The idealist traditionally turns away from nature in his speculation an bases his philosophical beliefs on the assertion that there are certain timeless truths about the universe. These truths provide us with certainty, and it is always easier to begin to think clearly and logically from a solid base of certainty. We can know that the world operates in a reasonable way (although we may; never be able to quite fathom just what that “reasonable way” may be). For Hegel, for example, the order of the universe – history – is God thinking. More recent idealists have focused on the self as a spiritual phenomenon.

 Idealism as a philosophy presents an ontological framework compatible with religion. Wherever order is externally imposed, wherever there is an Ideal, it is a simple step to bring in God an intermediary or intermediary class between God or the Ideal and man. The intermediary class (whether prophet, teacher, or priest) is composed of those better able to understand or communicate with the Ideal. These intermediaries, in some societies, soon become a privileged class.

 Plato also believed that the soul is fully formed prior to birth and is perfect and at one with the Universal Being. The birth process checks this perfection, so education requires bringing latent ideas (fully formed concepts) to consciousness In Idealism, all of reality is reducible to one fundamental substance: spirit. Matter is not real; it is rather a notion, an abstraction of the mind. It is only the mind that is real. Therefore, all material things that seem to be real are reducible to mind or spirit. On the universal level, finite minds live in a purposeful world produced by an infinite mind. It is as though the entire universe is made up of an infinite mind or spirit; which is, in effect, everything, and we are small bits and pieces of that mind. Because man is a part of this purposeful universe, he is an intelligent and purposeful being

 Knowledge and Truth (Epistemology)

 As to knowledge, idealism holds that knowledge is man thinking the thoughts and purposes of this eternal and spiritual reality as they are embodied in our world of fact.

 The idealist attempts to find in the universe general principles which can be given the status of universal truths. In order to do this, it is necessary for the idealist to turn inward; to see, as it were, the ocean in a drop of water and the universe  in a grain of sand. Most idealists will accept that notion that man’s being and absolute mind are qualitatively the same, but while we have all the attributes of the Absolute we are like the drop of water and the sea. Just as the drop of water is not the whole ocean, man does reflect, albeit dimly, the Absolute, we can look inward to see the true nature of reality. Idealists believe that all knowledge is independent of sense experience. The act of knowing takes place within the mind. The mind is active and contains innate capacities for organizing and synthesizing the data derived through sensations. Man can know intuitively; that is to say, he can apprehend immediately some truth without utilizing any of his senses. Man can also know truth through the acts of reason by which an individual examines the logical consistency of his ideas. Some Idealists believe that all knowledge is a matter of recall. Plato was one who held this notion. He based this conclusion upon the assumption that the spirit of man is eternal. Whatever he knows is already contained within his spirit. Existence depends upon mind. Every stimulus received by the mind is derived ultimately from God. God is the Infinite Spirit.

 Idealists assume, that Truth does exist. Since Truth does exist and is not merely a creation of the individual or society but exists independent of man or of man’s knowledge of it, it can be found. And when, it is found, it will absolute and binding.

 For the idealist the search for truth is a major emphasis.  Although for each the Idea of “truth” may have varied; the goal seems to be constant Idealists search to challenge students to think and to learn from their schools of thought.    

 Values (Axiology)

What is Good (Ethics) – As to ethics, idealism holds that the goodness of man’s individual and social life is the conformity of the human will with the moral administration of the universe. Idealists generally root all values either in a personal God or in a personal spiritual force of nature. They all agree that values are eternal. Theistic Idealists assert that eternal values exist in God. Good and evil, beauty and ugliness are known to the extent that the idea of good and the idea of beauty are consistent with the absolute good and the absolute beauty found in God. Pantheistic Idealists identify God with nature. Values are absolute and unchanging because they are a part of the determined order of nature

 In ethics it implies a view of life in which the predominant forces are spiritual and the aim is perfection For the idealist the good life in living in harmony with the universe. If the Absolute is viewed as the final and most ethical of all things and persons, or as God, who is by definition perfect and it thus perfect in morals the idealist’s epitome of ethical conduct and morality will lie in the imitation of Absolute Self. Man is mot moral when his behavior is in accord wit the Ideal and Universal Moral Law which we can and do recognize. Even if we do not recognize it as individuals, there are in not societies those whose special function it is, either as teachers or as ministers, to instruct, clarify, and inform us as to what behavior is in accord wit the Universal Moral Law. We must do right simply because it is right* It is indeed a lofty ideal of morality that suggests we do right simply to be more perfectly in tune wit the universe.

 Concept of beauty (Aesthetics) – Idealist sees as beautiful the approximation of the Ideal. That which in finite terms attempts to express the Absolute is categorized as aesthetically pleasing. This would appear to leave little ground for creativity since there must be an absolute standard against which all art can be measured. Again, we have the teachers and the ministers defining that which as special intermediaries they recognize as closest to the nature of the Absolute. Thus are art critics  born.

 In art idealism is the tendency to represent things as aesthetic sensibility would have them rather than as they are When we enjoy a work of art, say the idealists, it is because, on the one hand, we see it as a true representation of the Ideal; and on the other hand, it serves to bring us closer to contract wit the Ideal.

 Music is considered by some idealists as the highest from of aesthetic creation since it does not represent any thing in the phenomenal or existent world, but instead cuts across it to the heart of the Absolute. The artist should, according to his school for thought, attempt to idealize e world to us, that is , to present its inner meaning rather than to portray it as it appears to the senses, to capture its inner essence, its oneness with the Ideal.

 The Logic

 The idealist take a rationalistic approach to the knotty problems of knowledge and truth and relies heavily on deductive logic (the process of reasoning from the general to the more specific) Although some idealist thinkers have carefully denied reliance on empirical or sense data, such data usually serve as the basis for the premises of deductive logic.

 The Society

 Plato described a utopian society in which “education to body and soul all the beauty and perfection of which they are capable” as an ideal.

Plato believed in the importance of state involvement in education and in moving individuals from concrete to abstract thinking. He believed that individual differences exist and that outstanding people should be rewarded for their knowledge. With this thinking came the view that girls and boys should have equal opportunities for education.  In Plato’s society there were three social classes of education; workers, military personnel, and rulers. He believed that the ruler or king would be a good person with much wisdom because it was only ignorance that led to evil.

 The idealist relies for much of his social view on the accumulate wisdom of the past. Particularly that wisdom which is either symbolic of , or representative of, the Ideal. In genera, therefore, the idealist stresses an intellectual pattern for conservation of the cultural heritage. This is a conservative position, typical of any system based on the belief that reality has a coercive order of its own and that we must wait to progress until we have this order made clear to us.

 Idealism in Education

 The Idealist believes in a world of Mind (metaphysics) and in truth as Idea (epistemology). Furthermore, ethics is the imitation of the Absolute Self and aesthetics is the reflection of the Ideal. 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 Teaching Method as absorbing Ideas, and the Social Policy of the school as conserving the heritage of  civilization

 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.  The holistic approach is supported instead of a specialized concentration on a specific targeted area.  By combining experiences gained through critical thinking and dealing with broader topics, the idealist creates an environment in which a learner can rationalize information across curriculum

 Aims of  Education

 The purpose of education is to contribute to the development of the mind and self of the learner. The education-imparting institute should emphasize intellectual activities, moral judgments, aesthetic judgments, self-realization, individual freedom, individual responsibility, and self-control in order to achieve this development. 

 In an idealistic education system emphasis should be placed on developing the mind, personal discipline, and character development. A person should be literate and of good moral character

 The aim of education is to brings the child as close to Absolute Truth as possible. All of the aims of the idealist as educator find their ground in the conception of Ultimate Reality and the students’ relation to this Reality.

 More specifically, the school can take a leading role in defining and refining our knowledge of Truth an the Absolute. The school ha a responsibility to find and to train future leaders. As will be seen, much of the curriculum for the idealist is based on the study of earlier leaders.

 In idealism, the aim of education is to discover and develop each individual’s abilities and full moral excellence in order to better serve society The school, as one of the social institutions concerned with the Absolute must make judgments as to what is right and what is wrong; thus, one of the aim of education would be to develop morality.

 Another aim of education is the maintenance and transmission of the established values of the past. Once we have established that something is good, or true, or beautiful, it is a responsibility of the school to pass it one to succeeding generations.

 The Concept of Student

 There is much in idealism of the “personality cult.” As Horne has pointed out, “No civilization or culture of a people surpasses that of its greatest leader.”

 The learner is a spiritual being in the process of becoming. His is a finite personality which, with prober molding and guidance, might more like the Ideal or the Absolute. Man is, in a sense, a small representation of the Absolute Self. The student must bring himself closer to the Absolute through imitation of the exemplar (the teacher) and through study of those subjects (the humanities) which best represent or symbolize the true ideas of which the human race has knowledge.

 The learner, if the is an idealist himself, or if the idealist philosophy can be inculcated into his being, tries to do the very best he can, striving constantly toward perfection. Horne has described the “Idealistic Pupil” as follows:

 The Idealistic pupil is characterized by that admirable trait, the will to perfection. Whatever he does as well as he can. He is ambitious to deserve honors in scholarship. He wants to grow in knowledge and wisdom, to appreciate the aesthetic things in life to deserve approbation, and to be a worthy person…. He strives for perfection because the ideal person is perfect.

 The Concept of Teacher

 Idealists have high expectations of the teacher. The teacher must be excellent, in order to serve as an example for the student, both intellectually and morally. No other single element in the school system is more important than the teacher. The teacher must excel in knowledge and in human insight into the needs and capacities of the learners; and must demonstrate moral excellence in personal conduct and convictions. The teacher must also exercise great creative skill in providing opportunities for the learners’ minds to discover, analyze, unify, synthesize and create applications of knowledge to life and behavior. 

 The idealist holds the role of the teacher to be that of an important position.  The teacher serves as a model for the student by teaching through example and guidance the lifelong habits of patience, tolerance and perseverance towards a goal.  It is the teacher’s responsibility to encourage the students and to provide them with materials to encourage them to work to achieve higher goals

Just as personality is a major factor in the idealist view of the student, it plays a major part in the idealist view of the teacher. The teacher is seen as having perhaps the most important single role in the educative process. The teacher serves as a living ideal or model for the student and represents, to some degree, what the student can become.

 The idealist teacher “tries to be the right sort of person himself and to develop the right sort of personality in his pupils. The teacher should be close to the Absolute and should be, in a very real sense, a co-worker with the Absolute in developing the pupil’s capacities and guiding him closer to knowledge of the Ideal. The teacher should be close to the Absolute in developing the pupil’s capacities and guiding closer to knowledge of the Ideal. The teacher should set an example that the student will follow. This is, of course , compatible with the notion that the real world (the world of the senses) is a copy of the Absolute. Thus, the closer we are to come to the Absolute, the more we must model our behavior upon those persons that we know are paradigm cases.

 Since idealists believe in character development, they also believe that the teacher should be a role model for students to emulate.  Teaching is considered a moral calling.  The teacher’s role is to be a skillful questioner who encourages students to think and ask more questions in an environment that is suitable for learning

 The curriculum

 The important factor in education at any level for idealists is teaching children to think.  Teachers should help students to explore texts for ideas about the purposes of life, family the nature of peer pressures, and the problems of growing up.  Idealists believe that ideas can change lives and that classical literature can be used and explored to help solve problems in today’s world.  Creativity will be encouraged when students immerse themselves in the creative thinking of others and when they are encouraged to reflect

 The idealist curriculum which places a considerable emphasis on the study of history and the reading of biographies. Both of these are evidently reflections of the Hegelian influence on American education. Certainly it is assumed by the idealists that through the study of the past, we can find appropriate truths around which to model our present behavior.

 Along with history and biography, the idealist curriculum emphasizes the study of the humanities. Underlying the selection of materials is the concern for selection of subject matter that deals wit ideal man and ideal society. Thus, we find the idealists strong in their belief that the “proper study of mankind is man” and interpreting this to mean the history of the human race.

 Books are the source of this subject matter, the subject matter of ideas. To understand society and life we must study history. To understand man we must study literature and the humanities. The idealist wants to see the entire and absolute pattern of life and, in order to do this, history and the humanities are the most important subjects. The curriculum is based upon the idea or assumption of the spiritual nature of man. This idea in turn leads to an idea of the nature of the larger units of family, community, state, earth; the universe, and infinity. In preserving the subject matter content, which is essential for the development of the individual mind, the curriculum must include those subjects essential for the realization of mental and moral development. These subjects provide one with culture, and they should be mandated for all pupils. Moreover, the subject matter should be kept constant for all. 

 The idealist tradition of subject matter is basically literary and places its primary emphasis on the subject matter of books, especially hose literary pieces considered the masterworks of information about ideas. Because of the idealist’s reliance on the world of the mind, their curriculum calls for little contact with the experiential universe. The idealist educator has little place in his curriculum for field trips and empirical or sensory data.

 Instructional Methodology

 Plato’s idealism suggested moving from opinion to true knowledge in the form of critical discussions, or the dialectic.  All thinking begins with a thesis. The dialectic looks at all points of view. At the end of the discussion, the ideas or opinions will begin to synthesize as they work closer to truth. Knowledge is a process of discovery that can be attained through skillful questioning.Idealist education involves depth of learning, a holistic approach that involves teaching the whole rather than its parts. The best method of learning for Plato was the dialectic, a process where ideas are put into battle against each other, with the most significant idea winning the battle.  Knowledge was not important just for the material needs that it met.  Idealists would feel that much of the great literature of the past would be useful in the solving many of today’s problems. The idealist is not concerned with turning out students with technical skills so much as having students with a broad view and understanding of the world in which they live. Idealism emphasizes the role of the teacher, a skillful questioner, who should be a model for the person we want children to become. While the lecture method is still important in an idealist’s education system, it is considered more of a way to convey information and to help students comprehend ideas.  Self realization and self education are very important in idealism.  While teachers cannot always be present when learning occurs, they must attempt to stimulate students so that learning occurs even when they are not present.  Project based learning is on example of a self directed learning activity where learning can occur without a teacher’s presence

 As the curricular emphasis is subject matter of mind: literature, history, philosophy, and religion. Teaching methods focus on handling ideas through lecture, discussion, and Socratic dialogue (a method of teaching that uses questioning to help students discover and clarify knowledge). Introspection, intuition, insight, and whole-part logic are used to bring to consciousness the forms or concepts which are latent in the mind. Character is developed through imitating examples and heroes

 The classroom structure and atmosphere should provide the learners with opportunities to think, and to apply the criteria of moral evaluation to concrete within the context of the subjects. The teaching methods must encourage the acquisition of facts, as well as skill in reflecting on these facts. It is not sufficient to teach pupils how to think. It is very important that what pupils think about be factual; otherwise, they will simply compound their ignorance. Teaching methods should encourage learners to enlarge their horizons; stimulate reflective thinking; encourage personal moral choices; provide skills in logical thinking; provide opportunities to apply knowledge to moral and social problems; stimulate interest in the subject content; and encourage learners to accept the values of human civilization.

 The methods preferred by the idealists are the logical outgrowth of their acceptance of the doctrine of the primacy of ideas. If experience, as he have seen, is an inferior of the primacy of ideas. If experience, as we have seen, is an inferior reflection of Reality, the only purpose experience has for the idealist is to distort the Truth. Since the Truth can be reached through the abstract activities of the mind, it is in these that method must lie.

 Methodology, for the idealists then, consist for the most part of lectures, discussion, and imitation. Learning is an exercise in stretching the mind to its fullest so that it can absorb and handle ideas. Imitation should be of some exemplary person or persons who by their behavior give evidence that they are close to the nature of reality.

 All three methods employed by the idealists are open to criticism. All rely on ideas that are already know and allow little or no opportunity for the student to explore new ideas and new areas of interest. Because of this there is a tendency to reinforce the cultural lag between education and the society.

 Concept of Discipline

As for the discipline, majority of Idealists finds sheer discipline which is separated from the constructive teaching process as undesirable. According to him, discipline should be considered as an end product instead of an input and at the same time is a part of the teaching process and should b& in the personality of the teacher. One should achieve discipline through freedom not  behavior should have internal control rather than external control. For them authority begins by being external, but should end in becoming internal through habit formation and self-control.

 Thus in brief it can be said that in idealism, the aim of education is to discover and develop each individual’s abilities and full moral excellence in order to better serve society. The curricular emphasis is subject matter of mind: literature, history, philosophy, and religion. Teaching methods focus on handling ideas through lecture, discussion, and Socratic dialogue (a method of teaching that uses questioning to help students discover and clarify knowledge). Introspection, intuition, insight, and whole-part logic are used to bring to consciousness the forms or concepts which are latent in the mind. Character is developed through imitating examples and heroes

 Critical Appraisal of Idealism  

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.

 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.

 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.

 Sets Unobtainable Goals ;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.

 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.

  Deemphasizes 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.

 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.

  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.

 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.


  •  ANDERSON, R. N., et al. 1968. Foundation Disciplines and the Study of Education. Toronto: Macmillan.
  • ARCHAMBAULT, REGINALD D., ed. 1965. Philosophical Analysis and Education. New York: Humanities Press.
  • FRANKENA, WILLIAM K., ed. 1965. Philosophy of Education. New York: Macmillan.
  • JARRET, JAMES L., ed. 1969. Philosophy for the Study of Education. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
  • LUCAS, CHRISTOPHER J. 1969. What Is Philosophy of Education? New York: Macmillan.
  • MORRIS, VAN CLEVE. 1969. Modern Movements in Educational Philosophy. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
  • O’CONNOR, DANIEL JOHN. 1957. Introduction to the Philosophy of Education. London: Routledge.
  • PARK, JOE. 1968. Selected Readings in the Philosophy of Education, 3rd edition. New York: Macmillan.
  • SCHEFFLER, ISRAEL, ed. 1966. Philosophy and Education, 2nd edition. Boston: Allyn and Bacon


 Mrs. Sudha Rani Maheshwari for being scribe for this article.

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