The most basic problem of philosophy of education is that concerning aims: what are the proper aims and guiding ideals of education?
Other important problems involve the authority of the state and of teachers, and the rights of students and parents; the character of purported educational ideals such as critical thinking, and of purportedly undesirable phenomena such as indoctrination; the best way to understand and conduct moral education; a range of questions concerning teaching, learning, and curriculum; and many others.
These issues require careful articulation and defense. Both contemporary and historical philosophers of education have devoted themselves, at least in part, to defending a particular conception of education or to criticizing the conceptions of others.
And for much of the history of Western philosophy, philosophical questions concerning education were high on the philosophical agenda. From Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, to major figures in the history of philosophy such as Augustine, Aquinas, Descartes, Locke, and Mill, to twentieth-century philosophers such as Bertrand Russell, John Dewey, R.S. Peters, and Israel Scheffler, philosophers have addressed questions in philosophy of education along with their treatments of core issues in epistemology, metaphysics, philosophy of mind and language, and moral and social/political philosophy.
This should not be so surprising the pursuit of philosophical questions concerning education is partly dependent upon investigations of the more familiar central issues in philosophy. For example, questions concerning learning, thinking, reasoning and belief typically draw on epistemology, ethics, and philosophy of mind: Under what conditions is it desirable or permissible to change students' fundamental beliefs? Can reasoning be taught independently of the advocacy, inculcation, or indoctrination of particular beliefs?
Questions concerning schooling frequently depend on ethics, social/political philosophy, and social epistemology: Is it permissible for schools to be in the business of the formation of student's character, given liberalism's reluctance to endorse particular conceptions of the good? Should schools be constituted as democratic communities? Do all students have a right to education?
Questions concerning the curriculum routinely depend on epistemology and the philosophical issues inherent in the curriculum subject matters: Should science education emphasize mastery of current theory or the 'doing' of science? Should art be included in the curriculum? If so, why? Should all students be taught the same content? These sorts of inquiries make vivid the philosopher of education's need to appeal to other areas of philosophy, to other disciplines like psychology, anthropology, and sociology, and to educational practice itself.
All educational activities, from classroom practice to curriculum decisions to the setting of policies at the school, district, state, and federal levels, inevitably rest upon philosophical assumptions, claims, and positions. Consequently, thoughtful and defensible educational practice depends upon philosophical awareness and understanding. To that extent, the philosophy of education is essential to the proper guidance of educational practice. Its relevance, reach, and potential impact make it perhaps the most fundamental and wide-ranging area of applied philosophy.
This site is organized and edited by Mark Warren; please send questions and comments firstname.lastname@example.org. Special thanks to Harvey Siegel; a great deal of the written material on this website is borrowed (with significant changes) from his Britannica Online Encyclopedia entry: Education, Philosophy of . (2007). In Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved September 10, 2007, from Encyclopadia Britannica Online: http://search.eb.com/eb/article-36386
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