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10 Modern Philosophers and their Contribution to Education

By on Jul 10, 2012 in Education | 8 comments

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The following article is a guest post from Ryan De Guzman, a fellow writer and colleague. Visit his own blog Nevermore Nonsense to read more of his posts.

Two and a half millenniums ago, Plato stated that knowledge is justified true belief, an influential notion that shaped educational theories across time. Since then, modern thinkers had never stopped seeking knowledge about the human psychology, development, and education. Here, are the ten greatest.

John Locke and the Tabula Rasa

Locke (1632-1704), an English philosopher and physician, proposed that the mind was a blank slate or  tabula rasa. This states that men are born without innate ideas, and that knowledge comes from experience and perception, as opposed to predetermined good and evil nature, as believed by other thinkers.

On his treatise “Some Thoughts Concerning Education”, he emphasized that the knowledge taught during younger years are more influential than those during maturity because they will be the foundations of the human mind. Due to this process of associations of ideas, he stressed out that punishments are unhealthy and educators should teach by examples rather than rules.

This theory on education puts him on a clash with another widely accepted philosophy, backed by another brilliant mind


Immanuel Kant and Idealism

They never lived at the same time, but history always put Locke and Kant on a dust up.

A famed German thinker, Kant (1724–1804) was an advocate of public education and of learning by doing, a process we call training. As he reasons that these are two vastly different things.

He postulated “Above all things, obedience is an essential feature in the character of a child…”. As opposed to Locke, he surmises that children should always obey and learn the virtue of duty, because children’s inclination to earn or do something is something unreliable. And transgressions should always be dealt with punishment, thus enforcing obedience.

Also, he theorized that man, naturally, has a radical evil in their nature. And learning and duty can erase this.


Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Emile

Plato said that each individual is born with skills appropriate to different castes, or functions of society. Though Rousseau (1712-1778), a Genevan intellect and writer, paid respects to the ancient philosopher, he rejected this thinking. He believed that there was one developmental procedure common to man; it was a built-in, natural process which the main behavioral manifestation is curiosity.

On his book, Emile, Rousseau outlines the process of an ideal education through a hypothetical boy of the titular name, from twelve years of age to the time he marries a woman. Critics said this work of his foreshadowed most modern system of education we have now.


Mortimer J. Adler and the Educational Perrenialism

Adler (1902- 2001) was an American philosopher and educator, and a proponent of Educational Perennialism. He believed that one should teach the things that one deems to be of perpetual importance. He proposed that one should teach principles, not facts, since details of facts change constantly.  And since people are humans, one should teach them about humans also, not about machines, or theories.

He argues that one should validate the reasoning with the primary descriptions of popular experiments. This provides students with a human side to the scientific discipline, and demonstrates the reasoning in deed.


William James and Pragmatism

William James (1842-1910), an American psychologist and philosopher, ascribed to the philosophy of pragmatism.  He believed that the value of any truth was utterly dependent upon its use to the person who held it. He maintained that the world is like a mosaic of different experiences that can only be interpreted through what he calls as “Radical empiricism”.

This means that no observation is completely objective. As the mind of the observer and the act of observing will simply just affect the outcome of the observation.


John Dewey and the Progressivism

Dewey (1859-1952), an American philosopher, psychologist and educational reformer, was a proponent of Educational Progressivism.

He held that education is a “participation of the individual in the social consciousness of the race”, and that it has two sides; the psychological, which forms the basis of the child’s instincts,  and the sociological, on which the instinct will be used to form the basis of what is around him. He postulated that one cannot learn without motivation.


Nel Noddings and the Ethics of Care

A notable American feminist, educationalist, and philosopher, Noddings (1929-Present) is best known in her work Ethics of Care .

The Ethic s of Care establishes the obligation, and the sense, to do something right when others address us. We do so because either we love and respect those that address us or we have significant regard for them. In that way, the recipients of care must respond in a way that authenticates their caring has been received.

The same goes for education. As teachers respond to the needs of students, they may design a differentiated curriculum because as teachers work closely with students, they should respond to the students’ different needs and interests. This response should not be based on a one time virtuous decision but an ongoing interest in the student’s welfare.


Jean Piaget and the Genetic Epistemology

Piaget (1896-1980), a Swiss developmental psychologist and philosopher, was recognized for his epistemological studies with children, and the establishment of Genetic epistemology. It aims to explain knowledge, on the basis of its history, its sociogenesis, and particularly, the psychological origins of the notions and operations upon which it is based.

Piaget concluded he could test epistemological questions by studying the development of thought and action in children. Because of this, he created Genetic epistemology with its own approaches and questions.


Allan Bloom and The Closing of the American Mind

American philosopher, classicist, and academic Allan David Bloom (1930-1992) is notable for his  criticism of contemporary American higher education in his bestselling 1987 book, The Closing of the American Mind.

He stresses how “higher education has failed democracy and impoverished the souls of today’s students.” For him, this failure of contemporary liberal education lead to impotent social and sexual habits of today’s students and that commercial pursuits had become more highly regarded than love, the philosophic quest for truth, or the civilized pursuits of honor and glory.

Rudolf Steiner and the Anthroposophy

Rudolf Joseph Lorenz Steiner (1 861-1925) was an Austrian philosopher and social reformer, and founder of Anthroposophy. His philosophy highlights a balanced development of cognitive, artistic, and practical skills.

He divides education into three developmental stages. Early childhood, where teachers offer practical activities and a healthy environment. Elementary, which is primarily arts-based, centered on the teacher’s creative jurisdiction. And Secondary, which seeks to develop the judgment, reasoning, and practical idealism.