While reading about Essentialism, Perennialism, Progressivism, and Reconstructionism in Module 4, I had moments of agreement and contention in each educational philosophy.
I consider myself to have been educated in an Essentialist school system and agree that its emphasis on a core curriculum of English, science, history and math is valuable. I appreciate the development of diligence, respect for authority, moral character and a sense of citizenship. However, its teacher-centered classroom and conventional instructional methods are dated and out of touch with contemporary goals. I think it is at odds with the diversity of today’s society. Especially in the context of America, citizenship and morality are difficult to define and teach in such a large and multicultural nation.
Some truths are enduring and I think studying the Great Books can provide an excellent education. The ability to think and reason is valuable in today’s society and a healthy respect for the past is important. I also think the heavy use of lecture, catechism, and books have less impact than those educational philosophies that attempt to create meaningful experiences and learning activities for students. Furthermore, the staunchly Western lens through which the Great Books are selected and discussed is limiting.
I like the student-centered, experience-based, problem-solving approach of Progressivism. I agree that society is always changing and we must equip the next generation to cope with and influence that change. Learning is inseparable from existence and it is more meaningful to learn how to think than what to think. Curriculum and activities driven by student interest help maintain motivation, drive, and relevance. However, there are basic benchmarks of skills and knowledge that I think should be met. It would be very sad to graduate from high school and not necessarily have appreciated a piece of classic literature or have mastered basic reading and writing skills. The concerns about ‘functionally illiterate’ graduates and meaningless diplomas are valid. (Simon, 2000)
I love the idea that education can be so instrumental in advancing and improving society. Through experience, discussion, and reflection, students work collaboratively to define and address societal shortcomings. I agree that the subjects and skills of an interdisciplinary curriculum have more meaning and value when they serve a purpose outside the classroom. Modern schools should prepare students to better society. But once again, I think classic literature and basic mastery of core material and skills is a valuable part of an education.
Ultimately, I concluded that it is unnecessary to select one educational philosophy that best represents me as a teacher. Certainly there may be one or two that I identify with more nearly than the others, but my personal approval of any of these educational philosophies is not particularly relevant or important. All of the educational philosophies have strengths and weaknesses, and it would be detrimental to have a world in which everyone was educated in the same manner and to the same standards. The world marketplace of education should be as heterogeneous as possible to best serve the needs of the complex and diverse communities spanning the globe. Each society has unique needs and values and its schools develop in response to the specific context and goals of the community. Some schools rely on taxpayer money and others are run purely profit. A Reconstructionist school in a liberal community could inspire social change and stir a sense of empowerment and direction in its students, while a graduate of an Essentialist school may be a well-rounded, disciplined, and competent citizen for his more traditional community. Students of either school would be considered educated, but would offer different perspectives, values, skills, and knowledge bases that benefit and develop the community in different yet important ways.
The earliest societies recognized the need for varied and distinct roles in society. Plato identified three psyches best suited to social functions of manual labor, police/martial order, and leadership or lawmaking. The various educational philosophies employed by school systems across the world ensure that there is diversity in skills, knowledge, values, and perspectives. Within a nation, I think a similar level of educational diversity is beneficial. It is within the local community that schools may become more similar because of the goals and concerns of citizens.
Interestingly, the educational philosophy I would want to learn under as a student would be the Progressive or Reconstructionist school. As a teacher, I think working in such a school would be significantly more challenging and exhausting. The Essentialist and Perennialist curriculums would be more manageable because the lessons and goals are predetermined and fixed and teachers can focus on modifying and updating previous lessons and assessments for improvement. Progressive and Reconstructionist teachers are responding to student interests in the moment, current issues, social needs, and focusing on process rather than content. Updating schools and faculty to these more modern educational philosophies of Progressivism and Reconstructionism would require a significant overhaul to the working conditions, expectations, and training for teachers.