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A nations response to the philosophy of education

Problems in delineating the field There is a large—and ever expanding—number of works designed to give guidance to the novice setting out to explore the domain of philosophy of education; most if not all of the academic publishing houses have at least one representative of this genre on their list, and the titles are mostly variants of the following archetypes: The overall picture that emerges from even a sampling of this collective is not pretty; the field lacks intellectual cohesion, and from the perspective taken in this essay there is a widespread problem concerning the rigor of the work and the depth of scholarship—although undoubtedly there are islands, but not continents, of competent philosophical discussion of difficult and a nations response to the philosophy of education important issues of the kind listed earlier.

On the positive side—the obverse of the lack of cohesion—there is, in the field as a whole, a degree of adventurousness in the form of openness to ideas and radical approaches, a trait that is sometimes lacking in other academic fields. Part of the explanation for this diffuse state of affairs is that, quite reasonably, many philosophers of education have the goal reinforced by their institutional affiliation with Schools of Education and their involvement in the initial training of teachers of contributing not to philosophy but to educational policy and practice.

Some individuals work directly on issues of classroom practice, others identify as much with fields such as educational policy analysis, curriculum theory, teacher education, or some particular subject-matter domain such as math or science education, as they do with philosophy of education. It is still fashionable in some quarters to decry having one's intellectual agenda shaped so strongly as this by concerns emanating from a field of practice; but as Stokes 1997 has made clear, many of the great, theoretically fruitful research programs in natural science had their beginnings in such practical concerns—as Pasteur's groundbreaking work illustrates.

It is dangerous to take the theory versus practice dichotomy too seriously. However, there is another consequence of this institutional housing of the vast majority of philosophers of education that is worth noting—one that is not found in a comparable way in philosophers of science, for example, who almost always are located in departments of philosophy—namely, that experience as a teacher, or in some other education-related role, is a qualification to become a philosopher of education that in many cases is valued at least as much as depth of philosophical training.

The issue is not that educational experience is irrelevant—clearly it can be highly pertinent—but it is that in the tradeoff with philosophical training, philosophy often loses. And this is exacerbated by the absence of philosophy of education from the list of courses offered by many philosophy departments and of faculty members claiming it as an area of specialization or competence, so much so that far too many philosophy graduate students are unaware of the basic character of the subject or even that it constitutes a part of the parent discipline's portfolio [Siegel 2009b].

But there are still other factors at work that contribute to the field's diffuseness, that all relate in some way to the nature of the discipline of philosophy itself. For example, although there are some internal differences in opinion, nevertheless there seems to be quite a high degree of consensus within the domain of quantum physics about which researchers are competent members of the field and which ones are not, and what work is a strong or potential contribution.

If this bifurcation presents a problem for adequately delineating the field of philosophy, the difficulties grow tenfold or more with respect to philosophy of education. What follows is an informal and incomplete accounting. While these topics certainly can be, and a nations response to the philosophy of education been, discussed with due care, often they have been pursued in loose but impressive language where exhortation substitutes for argumentation—and hence sometimes they are mistaken for works of philosophy of education.

In the following discussion this genre shall be passed over in silence. Second, there is a corpus of work somewhat resembling the first, but where the arguments are tighter, and where the authors usually are individuals of some distinction whose insights are thought-provoking—possibly because they have a degree of familiarity with some branch of educational activity, having been teachers, school principals, religious leaders, politicians, journalists, and the like. While these works frequently touch on philosophical issues, they are not pursued in any philosophical depth and can hardly be considered as contributions to the scholarship of the discipline.

Huxley, and the writings on progressive schooling by A. Neill of Summerhill school. Some textbooks even include extracts from the writings or recorded sayings of such figures as Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, and Jesus of Nazareth for the latter three, in works spanning more than half a century, see Ulich 1950, and Murphy 2006. Third, there are a number of educational theorists and researchers whose field of activity is not philosophy but for example human development or learning theory, who in their technical work and sometimes in their non-technical books and reflective essays explicitly raise philosophical issues or adopt philosophical modes of argumentation—and do so in ways worthy of careful study.

Problems, issues, and tasks

Their work might be subjected to scrutiny for being educationally important, but their conceptual or philosophical contributions are rarely focused upon. Philosophers of the physical and biological sciences are far less prone to make this mistake about the meta-level work of reflective scientists in these domains. The educational theorists and researchers who are relevant as exemplars here are the behaviorist psychologist B.

Fourth, and in contrast to the group above, there is a type of work that is traditionally but undeservedly given a prominent place in the annals of philosophy of education, and which thereby generates a great deal of confusion and misunderstanding about the field. These are the books and reflective essays on educational topics that were written by mainstream philosophers, a number of whom are counted among the greatest in the history of the discipline. The catch is this: Even great philosophers do not always write philosophy!

  • The most lively contemporary debates about education research, however, were set in motion around the turn of the millennium when the US Federal Government moved in the direction of funding only rigorously scientific educational research—the kind that could establish causal factors which could then guide the development of practically effective policies;
  • If some of the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church conflict with our best theory of the ends of civic education, it does not follow that we have any reason to revise our theory; but neither does it mean we have any reason to impose these ends on Catholic schools and the families that they serve.

The reflections being referred to contain little if any philosophical argumentation, and usually they were not intended to be contributions to the literature on any of the great philosophical questions. In Russell's case the royalties were used to support a progressive school he was running with his then-current wife.

Locke, Kant, and Hegel also are among those who produced work of this genre. It should be noted that Russell also made serious contributions to philosophy of education of the technical sort discussed below.

John Locke is an interesting case in point. He had been requested by a cousin and her husband—possibly in part because of his medical training—to give advice on the upbringing of their son and heir; the youngster seems to have troubled his parents, most likely because he had learning difficulties.

Locke, then in exile in Europe, wrote the parents a series of letters in which alongside sensible advice about such matters as the priorities in the education of a landed gentleman, and about making learning fun for the boy, there were a few strange items such as the advice that the boy should wear leaky shoes in winter so that he would be toughened up! The letters eventually were printed in book form under the title Some Thoughts Concerning Education 1693and seem to have had enormous influence down the ages upon educational practice; after two centuries the book had run through some 35 English editions and well over thirty foreign editions, and it is still in print and is frequently excerpted in books of readings in philosophy of education.

In stark contrast, several of Locke's major philosophical writings—the Essay Concerning Human Understanding, and the Letter on Toleration—have been overlooked by most educational theorists over the centuries, even though they have enormous relevance for educational philosophy, theory, policy, and practice. It is especially noteworthy that the former of these books was the foundation for an approach to psychology—associationism—that thrived during the nineteenth century.

Fifth, and finally, there is a large body of work that clearly falls within the more technically-defined domain of philosophy of education.

Three historical giants of the field are Plato, Rousseau, and Dewey, and there are a dozen or more who would be in competition a nations response to the philosophy of education inclusion along with them; the short-list of leading authors from the second-half of the 20th century would include Israel Scheffler, Richard Peters and Paul Hirst, with many jostling for the next places—but the choices become cloudy as we approach the present day, for schisms between philosophical schools have to be negotiated.

It is important to note, too, that there is a sub-category within this domain of literature that is made up of work by philosophers who are not primarily identified as philosophers of education, and who might or might not have had much to say directly about education, but whose philosophical work has been drawn upon by others and applied very fruitfully to educational issues.

A volume edited by Amelie Rorty contains essays on the education-related thought, or relevance, of many historically important philosophers; significantly the essays are written almost entirely by philosophers rather than by members of the philosophy of education community.

Philosophy of education

This is both their strength and their weakness. We turn next to the difficulty in picturing the topography of the field that is presented by the influence of the last-mentioned category of philosophers. The diversity of, and clashes between, philosophical approaches As sketched earlier, the domain of education is vast, the issues it raises are almost overwhelmingly numerous and are of great complexity, and the social significance of the field is second to none.

These features make the phenomena and problems of education of great interest to a wide range of socially-concerned intellectuals, who bring with them their own favored conceptual frameworks—concepts, theories and ideologies, methods of analysis and argumentation, metaphysical and other assumptions, criteria for selecting evidence that has relevance for the problems that they consider central, and the like.

No wonder educational discourse has occasionally been likened to Babel, for the differences in backgrounds and assumptions means that there is much mutual incomprehension. In the midst of the melee sit the philosophers of education.

It is no surprise, then, to find that the significant intellectual and social trends of the past few centuries, together with the significant developments in philosophy, all have had an impact on the content and methods of argument in philosophy of education—Marxism, psycho-analysis, existentialism, phenomenology, positivism, post-modernism, pragmatism, neo-liberalism, the several waves of feminism, analytic philosophy in both its ordinary language and more formal guises, are merely the tip of the iceberg.

It is revealing to note some of the names that were heavily-cited in a pair of recent authoritative collections in the field according to the indices of the two volumes, and in alphabetical order: Although this list conveys something of the diversity of the field, it fails to do it complete justice, for the influence of feminist philosophers is not adequately represented.

No one individual can have mastered work done by such a range of figures, representing as they do a number of quite different frameworks or approaches; and relatedly no one person stands as emblematic of the entire field of philosophy of education, and no one type of philosophical writing serves as the norm, either. At professional meetings, peace often reigns because the adherents of the different schools go their separate ways; but occasionally there are intellectually violent clashes, rivaling the tumult that greeted Derrida's nomination for an honorary degree at Cambridge in 1992.

Traditionally there has been a time lag for developments in philosophy to migrate over a nations response to the philosophy of education philosophy of education, but in this respect at least the two fields have been on a par. Inevitably, however, traces of discord remain, and some groups still feel disenfranchised, but they are not quite the same groups as a few decades ago—for new intellectual paradigms have come into existence, and their adherents struggle to have their voices heard; and clearly it is the case that—reflecting the situation in 1966—many analytically-trained philosophers of education find postmodern writings incomprehensible while scholars in the latter tradition are frequently dismissive if not contemptuous of work done by the former group.

In effect, then, the passage of time has made the field more, a nations response to the philosophy of education less, diffuse. All this is evident in a volume published in 1995 in which the editor attempted to break down borders by initiating dialogue between scholars with different approaches to philosophy of education; her introductory remarks are revealing: Philosophers of education reflecting on the parameters of our field are faced not only with such perplexing and disruptive questions as: What counts as Philosophy of Education and why?

Embedded in these queries we find no less provocative ones: What knowledge, if any, can or should be privileged and why? Although such questions are disruptive, they offer the opportunity to take a fresh look at the nature and purposes of our work and, as we do, to expand the number and kinds of voices participating in the conversation.

There is an inward-looking tone to the questions posed here: Philosophy of education should focus upon itself, upon its own contents, methods, and practitioners. And of course there is nothing new about this; for one thing, over forty years ago a collection of readings—with several score of entries—was published under the title What is Philosophy of Education?

  • In developing a curriculum whether in a specific subject area, or more broadly as the whole range of offerings in an educational institution or system , a number of difficult decisions need to be made;
  • Societies that value education and desire that it be conducted in a thoughtful and informed way ignore the philosophy of education at their peril;
  • But even in the Anglo-American world there is such a diversity of approaches to the discipline that any author attempting to produce a synoptic account will quickly run into the borders of his or her competence;
  • The response may not be very extensively thought out, but it's got some element of reflection in it;
  • Notice how different this is from the conceptions of philosophy as wisdoms or ideologies.

It is worth noting, too, that the same attitude is not unknown in philosophy; Simmel is reputed to have said a century or so ago that philosophy is its own first problem. Having described the general topography of the field of philosophy of education, the focus can change to pockets of activity where from the perspective of the present authors interesting philosophical work is being, or has been, done—and sometimes this work has been influential in the worlds of educational policy or practice.

It is appropriate to start with a discussion of the rise and partial decline—but lasting influence of—analytic philosophy of education. Analytic philosophy of education, and its influence Conceptual analysis, careful assessment of arguments, the rooting out of ambiguity, the drawing of clarifying distinctions—which make up at least part of the philosophical analysis package—have been respected activities within philosophy from the dawn of the field.

These overlap and intertwine, of course. Just as analytic techniques gained prominence and for a time hegemonic influence during and after the rise of analytic philosophy early in the 20th century, they came to dominate philosophy of education in the third quarter of that century Curren, Robertson and Hager 2003.

Hardie The pioneering work in the modern period entirely in an analytic mode was the short monograph by C. Hardie, Truth and Fallacy in Educational Theory 1941; reissued in 1962.

Philosophy of Education

In his Introduction, Hardie who had studied with C. Richards made it clear that he was putting all his eggs into the ordinary-language-analysis basket: The Cambridge analytical school, led by Moore, Broad and Wittgenstein, has attempted so to analyse propositions that it will always be apparent whether the disagreement between philosophers is one concerning matters of fact, or is one concerning the use of words, or is, as is frequently the case, a purely emotive one.

It is time, I think, that a similar attitude became common in the field of educational theory. Then some basic ideas of Herbart and Dewey were subjected to similar treatment.

Hardie's hard-nosed approach can be illustrated by the following: The crucial question for such a view of education is how far does this analogy hold? There is no doubt that there is some analogy between the laws governing the physical development of the child and the laws governing the development of a plant, and hence there is some justification for the view if applied to physical education. But the educationists who hold this view are not generally very much concerned with physical education, and the view is certainly false if applied to mental education.

For some of the laws that govern the mental changes which take place in a child are the laws of learning …. Hardie 1962, 4 2. Israel Scheffler, who became the paramount philosopher of education in North America, produced a number of important works including The Language of Education 1960that contained clarifying and influential analyses of definitions he distinguished reportive, stipulative, and programmatic types and the logic of slogans often these are literally meaningless, and should be seen as truncated arguments.

Ennis edited the volume Language and Concepts in Education 1961and R. Archambault edited Philosophical Analysis and Education 1965consisting of essays by a number of prominent British writers, most notably R.

Among the most influential products of APE was the analysis developed by Hirst and Peters 1970 and Peters 1973 of the concept of education itself. A criminal who has been reformed has changed for the better, and has developed a commitment to the new mode of life if one or other of these conditions does not hold, a speaker of standard English would not say the criminal has been reformed. Clearly the analogy with reform breaks down with respect to the knowledge and understanding conditions.

The concept of indoctrination was also of great interest to analytic philosophers of education, for, it was argued, getting clear about precisely what constitutes indoctrination also would serve to clarify the border that demarcates it from acceptable educational processes. Unfortunately, ordinary language analysis did not produce unanimity of opinion about where this border was located, and rival analyses were put forward. Thus, whether or not an instructional episode was a case of a nations response to the philosophy of education was determined by the content taught, the intention of the instructor, the methods of instruction that had been used, the outcomes of the instruction, or of course by some combination of these.

First, there were growing criticisms that the work of analytic philosophers of education had become focused upon minutiae and in the main was bereft of practical import.

  • Should students be taught to tolerate those things their parents believe are immoral?
  • Wisdoms and ideologies present what they offer as absolutes;
  • And this is exacerbated by the absence of philosophy of education from the list of courses offered by many philosophy departments and of faculty members claiming it as an area of specialization or competence, so much so that far too many philosophy graduate students are unaware of the basic character of the subject or even that it constitutes a part of the parent discipline's portfolio [Siegel 2009b].

It is worth noting that the 1966 article in Time, cited earlier, had put forward the same criticism of mainstream philosophy. Second, in the early 1970's radical students in Britain accused the brand of linguistic analysis practiced by R. Third, criticisms of language analysis in mainstream philosophy had been mounting for some time, and finally after a lag of many years were reaching the attention of philosophers of education. There even had been a surprising degree of interest in this arcane topic on the part of the general reading public in the UK as early as 1959, when Gilbert Ryle, editor of the journal Mind, refused to commission a review of Ernest Gellner's Words and Things 1959 —a detailed and quite acerbic critique of Wittgenstein's philosophy and its espousal of ordinary language analysis.