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Philosophy of Education versus Theory and Practice of Education.

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Philosophy of Education versus Theory and Practice of Education.

The aim of this topic is to critically examine education theories and practices in the field of

Learning outcomes
After working through this topic, you should be able to;
Define an educational theory and a philosophical school of thought.
State examples of educational theory.
Describe underlying principles of specific educational theories/ philosophical schools of
thought such as; Idealism/Rationalism, Realism/Empiricism, Pragmatism and
Describe the educational practices espoused by the ancient Greek Education,
Idealism/Rationalism, Realism/ Empiricism, Pragmatism and Existentialism in regard to
the role of the teacher, learner’s activities, methods of teaching, subject (content) to be
taught, discipline of the learners among other activities.

8.1.1 Meaning of a theory and the Greek educational ideals

What is a theory?
A theory is a set of interrelated concepts that represent a systematic view of a phenomenon. Philosophical theories of learning include Idealism, Realism, Pragmatism and Existentialism. These theories are also referred to as schools of thought. 

An educational theory look at certain items that one has to consider when constructing an educational curriculum. It reflects on issues like the role of the teacher, learner’s activities, methods of teaching, subject (content) to be taught, discipline of the learners among other activities.

What is then an educational theory? 
We can define an educational theory, as a product of a particular system of thinking which is out to achieve an intellectually designed objective(s) in the field of education. Therefore, an educational theory involves critical and thorough understanding of academic issues, with an aim of revealing what should take place in the education institutions.
It is derived from philosophical thinking, which has a primary concern with issues of education, teaching and learning. That is, an educational theory represents a world view or a system of thinking or a school of thought such as Idealism, Realism, Pragmatism and Existentialism that attempts to define the nature of education and its values.
We can further observe that an educational theory is an explanation about education that results from a critical examination of the grounds or evidence, policy and ideologies as they are reflected on education. On this basis we can argue out that philosophy of education is actually an educational theory since it reflects on the same issues mentioned above (in the definition of educational theory). An educational theorist needs to be conversant with what exactly an educational activity is supposed to be. For this reason an educational theorist is expected to prescribe, speculate and analyse educational activities appropriately.

Philosophy refers to a process or activities involving analytic and critical thinking, that is, search for truth, a struggle for wisdom. On the other hand philosophies point to a product that is, the outcome of the philosophical process. The philosophers philosophical thought when presented in a systematic, unified manner, is often referred to as a ‘system of thought’ or a school of thought such as Realism (Empiricism), Idealism (Rationalism), Pragmatism and Existentialism.

Within each system of thought, we have subsystems named after a particular philosopher. For instance the thinking of Aristotle, is referred to as Aristotelianism. Others include Plato- Platonism, Thomas-Thomism, Marx-Marxism, and Dewey-Deweyism. Each systems and subsystems presents a coherent set of ideas on a number of philosophical issues. Human beings are still in search of truth and that is why we have varied philosophies and educational theories.

Suppose all philosophers were to agree about everything there would be no need for philosophy.
Since it is clear that man is not in the possession of the whole truth, the search must continue.
Philosophy has no end, it is an ongoing process.

Theories and practices of Greek Ancient Education.
The Greek educational ideals were centered on:
a) Exercising the body, mind and spirit.
b) Provision of education for personal advancement,

individual excellence and success.
c) Emphasized rationality.
d) Allowed democratic atmosphere to encourage development of educational principles. The school of thoughts in Greek education included the sophist, the Epicureans and the Stoics.
The sophist: they were moving teachers and were paid for their teaching services. Lived in a period when Athenian life shifted from agrarian to commercial base. They taught boys how to argue, how to talk in public. Sophists became the first lawyers of modern civilization. They believed that the best thing in life is wisdom and also believed in the relativity of truth and challenged any absolute standards of morality.
The Epicureans: they thought that the best thing in life was pleasure.
The Stoics: believed in wisdom and pleasure as the best things in life.

The kinds of schools established by the Greeks were partially informal and included the academy, the Lyceum, the Epicurean and the Stoic. The academy is where Plato taught and he stressed mathematics and literary studies. The Lyceum is where Aristotle taught and he stressed Biological sciences (generally natural sciences). Epicurus founded the Epicurean school and he stressed ethics and insisted that the highest pleasure was that of mind. The stoic school was started by Zeno and stressed the importance of resignation and self-control. The Greek education products were workers, the soldiers and the rulers/ philosopher kings.

The general types of training included:
a) Physical training, for the development of the body.
b) Moral training, for the development of the spirit.
c) Intellectual training, for the development of the mind.
d) Vocational training, for the laboures/slaves.
The content of Greek education depended on the level of learning and the age, and generally it was classified into three classes indicated below:
a) The primary/ elementary education, for those between 7-10 years. They were taught reading, writing, arts, gymnastics, military training, morals and music.
b) The secondary education for those between 11-17 years of age. They were taught mathematics, astronomy, geometry, music, poetry, gymnastics and military training.
c) The higher education was provided to those students above 21 years and who had shown certain abilities that could allow them to be taught philosophy and dialects.

The underlisted philosophical schools of thought (also referred to educational theories) are going to be examined in detail.
Idealism / Rationalism.
Realism / Empiricism.

The major proponents of idealism are Plato (427–347 BC), Rene Decartes (1596-1650), Augustine of Hippo (354-430 AD), Kant (1724-1804 AD) George Berkeley (1685-1753 AD) and others. 
For the idealists, reality is beyond what you can see, notice or touch. Ideas are real, of cosmic importance or significance and are the ultimate realities. 
They asserted that matter is possibly known through the senses but its principles can only be understood by the mind. Therefore, ideas are eternal and unchanging. For them realities are fixed and unchanging in spiritual realms, hence the physical world of experience is a mere copy. 
They maintain that ultimate reality, that is, the world of ideas is mental and spiritual. The physical world of our everyday experience is a shadow of the real. 
They maintain that values are absolute and constant no matter the situation. 
They assert that idea is inborn; this inborn idea is to be illuminated by education. 
Plato and other idealists recognized the existence of ideas which is perfect world and the physical world which is the world of shadow. The former constitutes the ultimate and absolute reality, which is perfect, permanent and immortal, while later is imperfect manifestation of the real world or ultimate realities.
They believe that the spiritual nature of man is more important than the physical. 

 Educational Implications
The Idealists greatly believe that education should not only be a process of developing the individual consciousness but also the spiritual self.
Education should encourage people to focus attention on lasting values or universal values. 
As far as moral order is fixed or universal, education must be for character development, the search for truth demands personal discipline.
Idealists emphasize self-realization through educational process. 
Education should eliminate the impediments for the possession of truths and goodness. It is the process of illuminating that which the child’s mind already possesses.
The teacher carefully presides over the birth of ideas without really introducing any new idea but illuminates the minds. The teacher guides in bringing to light the ideas already inborn in the child. 
He is mature and nearer to the perfect ideal of personality by the virtue of his position, experience and knowledge and, therefore worthy of emulation.
 He is rightly regarded as a model of all that is sound, good and upright. 
They believe that school/institution should provide proper direction, the right atmosphere and suitable environment for effective learning. 
Methods of teaching: The idealists recommended dialectic method of learning, which emphasises effective and critical thinking. This should encourage in depth knowledge, and understanding.
Froebel kindergarten method – songs, role-playing.
Aristotle - inductive – deductive method.
Others are discussion, storytelling, drama and lecture methods.
 It encourages activity method for the development of self-realization. The child is expected to participate in all learning activities and ask questions about society, people, events and ideas.
The idealist curriculum embodies those subjects that can improve the learner’s intelligence and understanding and also enable him realise his spiritual potentialities. They recommends subjects, which include: Mathematics Creative arts Language skills Scientific skills Normative skills and Aesthetic skills.
Idealism influences current educational practices on the freedom of the child, the development of characters and personality development in modern education.

Realism (Empiricism)
The proponents of realism are Aristotle (156 – 162 BC), Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274 AD), Francis Bacon (1561-1626), John Locke (1632-1704), David Hume (1711-1776), Alfred Whitehead (1864-1947), Bertrand Rusell (1872-1970) to mention a few. There are four types of realism namely: 
The realists believe that the world is real. What you see and touch is real. This reality is not only fixed but also unchanging and is directed by definite laws. 
The world is governed by its own laws which the human mind has no control whatever. Matter is all things. It is the real and beyond it nothing else is or can be. Hence ideas exist only in so far as they are situated in matter. 
Values are absolute, fixed and unchanging. 
The realists believe that the mind at birth is blank or empty (tabula raza) but as the child grows various sense impressions are made to his mind. The sense experience is emphasized as the major source of knowledge. Therefore, it is an individual responsibility to discover thing or truth, hence they believe in fundamental scientific discoveries. 

Educational Implications
Realism is in education because of the need for factual data and subject matter.
Education should enable learners discover the world and get as much knowledge as possible.
Their emphasis in education is placed in the acquisition of good habits and to live according to moral order, maintaining absolute moral value.
All educational enterprise should try to polish and write on the tabula raza or blank mind with the real things. Education therefore, should introduce knowledge got from without not within. The mind of the learner is like an empty tank in a new motor car which must be filled with fuel from a filling station with bundles of knowledge by education. 
The teacher transmits and transports knowledge into the learner. Education is to transmit accumulated and verified body of knowledge as subject matter through the teacher who transmits it to the pupils to assimilate. 
The realists recommend authoritative method of teaching and learning. 
The child is meant to cultivate self-discipline in his attitude to enable him absorb the truths contained in the subjects taught by the teachers. 
Education is discipline centered and teacher oriented. The teacher is the representative of culture, the custodian of knowledge and hence the transmitter of basic truth to the child.
Realists propose that the learner’s abilities, needs and interests should determine the content of learning. They focus on the teaching of science subjects such as physics, chemistry, biology, agriculture, zoology, botany, etc. however, they also recommend the teaching of activities that involve the learners such as music, drama, art and drawing.. 
They emphasized broad based curriculum with some core subjects to which children are required to offer. These core subjects should be the same at all levels of education except in the progression of basic principles from the known to the unknown and simple to the complex.


Pragmatism is the philosophical idea that asserts that change is dynamic and belongs to the essence of reality. Proponents of pragmatism are Francis Bacon (1561-1626) also in Realism, John Locke (1632-1704) also in Realism, William James (1842-1920), Charles Sanders Pierce (1839-1914) and John Dewey (1959 – 1952) to mention but a few.
The pragmatists refused the idea of any fixed and unchanging world of realities. They assert that change is dynamic and belongs to the essence of reality. They also believe that no value is absolute but all are relative and cautioned that man must not take anything for granted; rather he should critically examine everything by the use of intelligence. The sum total of what man experiences in the process of interaction between man and his environment is the genuine reality. The pragmatists assert that values are changing and changeable not constant or fixed. What might be valuable today might be valueless in future.
The pragmatists are also known as the experimentalists or instrumentalists. 
Pragmatism is not only an essential method of solving problems, but is also interested in the material benefits. Oroka (1990) summarises the basic elements of the pragmatic theory as follows:
Pragmatism is a utilitarian ideology which holds that the reality of a principle lies in its
usefulness or utility. An idea or thing which is useful to us is proper and right. In case it is of no use, it is improper, wrong and untrue
That there is reality in change. It does not believe in absolute and eternal ideas and values found in idealism, nor in the sense experience of matter as in realism. Rather pragmatism maintains that ideas and values change with situations, time and place.
That man is essentially social and biological in nature. Reality or truth results from the “interaction” of the human being with his environment.
That there is relatively goodness and truth to be judged by the end result. It is the result and consequence of an action, which determines its goodness or truth conditions.
That there should be the use of critical intelligence. The subjection of issues to critical analysis is inevitable in man’s ability to identify problems and find relevant solution to them.
That the critical use of intelligence thrives best in an atmosphere permeated with democratic ideas. 

Educational Implications
Pragmatism assert that change is dynamic and constant. They maintain that education should prepare the learner to cope with the changing modes of reality. 
They believe that it is the learner’s dynamic life that enables him to face the problem created by constant interaction with the environment. Education is therefore seen as life. So teaching in education becomes a teaching that leads to good life. 
This emphasises exploration and a discovery by the learner about his environment. 
Education develops in the learner the ability to make decisions in a dynamic world. Thus, the teacher’s responsibility is to construct learning situations that are conducive and suitable to a solution of problems that will help the child to better the understanding of his social and physical environment. 
That education should be planned as to make the learner active in class while the teacher serves as a guide who assists to facilitate the process of discovery in an exploration by the learner. 
Pragmatism is opposed to the traditional methods of teaching. It favors child centered,
scientific, psychological and active learning methods. The child in educational process should learn to depend on his personal interest and needs and be ready to provide solution to his problems. 
The teacher should provide rich experience that assists, guides and motivates the learner.

The proponents of existentialism are Soren Kierkegaara, Martin Heidegger, George Knellwe, Martin Buber, Ven Cleve Mori and Jean Paul Sartre to mention a few. 
Existentialism could be described as philosophy of existence, holding that existence precedes essence. 
It is concerned with the development of human conscious state considering man as thinking, feeling and acting individuals in the world. Man owes nothing to nature apart from his existence since the physical world has no meaning and no purpose outside man.
The individual discovers his destiny and explores his own feeling and coordinates ideas to his existence. He is responsible to himself. 
Freedom of choice is his major responsibility and also his greatest problem. 
Man is seen as alienated, lonely and also caught up in an absurd and meaningless world.
However, man is said to be a free and self-determining individual, unidentical, with unique personality and unpredetermined existence. His existence preceded essence implying that man will first exist before defining or conceptualizing himself.

Educational Implications
Education endeavours to enable man to ask and answer questions such as Who am I? Why am I here? Where am I going to or where am I going from here?
Education primarily helps man to identify himself in all his frustration, fears, joy and hopes. It should make the individual accept responsibility for his own action. 
The teacher should impose any form of discipline so as to assist the learner prepare for self-development and self-fulfillment. 

Education should enable the child to develop his ability, to decide correctly, to discover himself and to acculturate the attitude of self-reliance. 
The teacher assists the child to develop his unique potentials, act in his own unique way and learn according to his interest and desire. The teacher should liaise with the child’s parents and thereby act as a counselor and an instructor. 
The school should be the child’s home extension which can create a conducive atmosphere for cultural and development of past experience. 
The curriculum should create critical mind and freedom of choice. All subjects are equally important depending on child’s interest. Therefore, the curriculum should include disciplines that guarantee freedom, needs and individual differences as he experiences them.
Existentialism advocates for inclusion of subjects that creates room for dialogue. Subjects that require a learner to make personal and subjective choices and those that are emotional, aesthetic and poetic e.g. Literature, drama, films are highly recommended for the purpose of enhancing the child’s direct experience of the situation. 
Existentialists believe that the most important kind of knowledge is about human condition and the choices that each person has to make, and that education is a process of developing consciousness about the freedom to choose and the understanding the meaning of responsibility for ones choices. Hence, the notions of group normal like school rules, authority and established order and religious moral doctrines are rejected by existentialists.
Existentialists education is child centered that gives full freedom to the child. The role of the teacher in the learning process is to help the child to know himself and recognize his being.
Education should be according to an individual’s needs, abilities and preferences, Existentialists prefers learners to choose what to study and also determine what is true and what criteria to determine these truths. Existentialist curriculum must avoid systematic or structured knowledge.
The most appropriate teaching methods according to existentialists‟ are self-learning, self-direction.

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