This essay was previously published in Gary K. Clabaugh & Edward G. Rozycki Understanding Schools: the foundations of education Chapter 19, (New York: Harper Rowe, 1990) pp. 565 - 571.

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edited 5/17/13

Teaching Philosophy to Teachers: are ISM's Philosophy?

…fundamental differences in conceptions of the basic values which are to shape and direct our educational institutions are grounded in differing and incompatible myths, stories, symbols, and rituals, that is, in differing and incompatible senses of real.  -- William Vaughan [1]

            How do philosophical traditions come to bear on schooling practice? Through the professional preparation of teachers and administrators. We will see that how the school is conceived has a lot to do with what philosophy is thought to be proper to such preparation.

            Because the Temple and Factory images of the school dominate in our culture, the role of philosophy in teacher preparation has been to offer prospective teachers "philosophical systems" rather than training in pertinent critical thinking skills [2] Even philosophers of education who stress the critical training aspect of philosophy tend to do so from the perspective of their particular commitments to an ideology.[3]

            It is important to hold open the question as to whether and to what extent the theories sketched below bear on decisions in the school context. Philosophy can bear on school decisions but it is likely that the "philosophies" commonly discussed in textbooks are not, as a researcher would say, "the relevant variables." That is, they may not be the distinctions upon which the decision is based.

Point / Counterpoint: The ISM's

Philosophers of Education disagree often vehemently among themselves whether the tradition of presenting philosophies of education, Idealism, Realism, Pragmatism, Existentialism, Perennialism, Essentialism, Progressivism, Naturalism, etc. is a legitimate pedagogical and philosophical enterprise.
       The ISM's approach, as it is often called, is championed as a useful introduction to a long and complex history of educational thought. The ISM's illustrate how very central a role abstract philosophical theories have played in the educational thinking of people of historical importance. Also, there are several informative books expounding these theories in a pedagogically effective way, a useful first step into philosophy.
       Critics rejoin that such a smorgasbord approach tends to emphasize information about philosophies rather than to develop critical thinking skills in the student. In the absence of detailed study, a "school" of philosophical thought often becomes a system of slogans.
       Furthermore, what is overlooked is that these philosophies have often been the foci of social conflict. The ISM's approach tends to treat it as a matter of personal taste which philosophy one chooses, if any. By treating all the ISM's on an equal footing, they overlook the fact that some of them are generally considered to be outmoded. Also, offering philosophical theories as living options obscures the powerful role of school organizations in controlling behavior despite philosophical diversity.

Textbooks and ISM's

            Just as high school textbooks have been criticized in a variety of subject matter areas so, have college texts come in for criticism in the preparation of teachers. Tozer and McAninch [4], reviewing texts used for teacher preparation, criticize them for the following reasons:

• they fail to stimulate critical inquiry

• they present unexamined surface realities

• they fail to provide competing explanations of school and social realities

• they make authoritative declarations which lack supporting evidence or argument

From the perspective of the Temple, these are hardly criticisms. However, the fact that in our society there are many "Temples" makes for concern. From the standpoint of a community of critical practice, this hodgepodge can only create confusion.

            The next chart presents a synopsis of similar charts from a variety of sources. It shows what are conceived as philosophical schools and their proponents, together with a brief - and sloganistic - characterization of the tenets of that school. The chart demonstrates that on certain items there is lack of consensus as to

a) who belongs to what school;

b) what tenets are espoused by that school;

c) what philosophical thought is relevant for teachers

The chart was prepared from texts that ranged from general education texts, through texts on foundations of education, philosophy of education, to books and articles by philosophers and historians. The sources were the following (the chart code for each is given initially):

            • general education and foundations texts:

HW, Hessong and Weeks, Introduction to Education [5]

J, Johnson et.al., Introduction to the Foundations of American Education[6]

OL, Ornstein and Levine, An Introduction to the Foundations of Education[7]

RC, Ryan and Cooper, Those Who Can, Teach[8]

SS, Sadker and Sadker, Teachers, Schools and Society.[9]

            • texts dealing specifically with philosophy of education

G, Gutek, Philosophical and Ideological Perspectives on Education[10]

OC, Ozmon and Craver, Philosophical Foundations of Education[11]

            • general philosophical texts or articles

AK, Aiken, The Age of Ideology [12]

AC, Acton, "Berkeley, George" and "Idealism" in Edwards, The Encyclopedia of Philosophy.[13]

D, Durant, "Immanuel Kant" and "Hegel" in The Story of Civilization [14]

P, Price, "Philosophy of Education, History of" in Edwards.[15]

T, Taylor, The Empiricists [16]

W, White, The Age of Analysis [17]

In the following chart, items for which consensus exist are given without source citations. Items championed by a minority are cited by code. Items omitted by a minority are cited by code in parentheses.

Figure 19.6

The chart indicates some disagreement. Note that Plato, Berkeley, Kant and Hegel are all listed as idealists. What the chart fails to note is that the term, "idealism" means different things at different times in the history of philosophy. Plato believed that universals, designated with terms like "greenness" or "goodness", were more "real" than physical objects because they did not come in and out of existence. Berkely believed that objects of sensation were real, but that we could not know via sensation that something called "material" exists. Kant - strangely missing from many of the texts reviewed above - agreed, saying that things like space, time and causation, were basic ways the human mind organized its experience, not realities as Plato thought they were. That would make Kant a "Realist."

            Furthermore, asserted Kant, reason is not capable of bringing us knowledge of things beyond the basic categories of human experience, e.g. space, time and causality. His theories of practical reason would allow him to be categorized as a "Pragmatist," as well. Hegel, following Kant, believed that absolutes manifested themselves within human experience, not in some other world beyond it. However, the major exponents of Existentialism saw in Hegel's Phenomenology of the Spirit, the foundations of their own philosophy. The chart above obviously oversimplifies.

            There are two points to be observed:

• criticisms of the kind offered in the previous paragraph undermine the usefulness of simple slogan-terms like, Idealist, Existentialist, etc. for supporting the authority of the Temple or Factory. The consensus such terms insinuate is illusory.

• The disputes between "Realists" and "Idealists", about some "ultimate reality" need not bear on school practice any more than theoretical disputes among physicists about the ultimate nature of matter need bear on bridge construction. What, then, could be the point in introducing prospective teachers to them?

One explanation to consider is that some philosophies are, in fact, dangerous to some kinds of organizational authority. Introducing prospective teachers to apparently irrelevant philosophical "schools" may "inoculate" them against further philosophical inquiry and thus render them more accepting of organizational authority as it is. This does not mean that those who teach about philosophical schools intend to intellectually hamstring their students. Rather, we can understand the development of this approach to philosophical studies as most "adaptive" to the organizational structures in which it is found. Philosophers are no more likely than other people to bite the hand that feeds them.

            A philosophically knowledgeable person could offer similar criticism of any of the classifications in Figure 19.6. What is the use of such distinctions in the training of teachers? It may, for example, serve to reinforce the Temple and Factory images of the school, placing authority beyond the scope of critical inquiry. Is it just coincidence that Immanuel Kant, known in his own day as the great destroyer of systems[18], who hated all "dogmatism", i.e. philosophical systems accepted without critical thought, should be absent from so many of the books purporting to deal with systems of philosophy?

            By having students study systems, rather than examining how and why a choice among them might be made, authority of one kind or another gets "premised" into their thinking. But accepting authority is not necessarily a philosophical activity. We believe that philosophy is well worth studying. Not for pat systems of answers, but to develop techniques and strategies for inquiry.[19] Osmond and Craver consider the conflict between those who advocate and those who spurn an "isms" approach to philosophy of education and, echoing Resnick's earlier point, comment,

Perhaps, after all, the major role of philosophy in education is not to formulate some system or school of thought, but to help develop the educator's thinking capacities.[20]



[1] William Vaughan, "Fundamental Value Conflicts in Education: Towards Reconciliation" Philosophy of Education 1974, pp.127 - 136.

[2] Those interested in critical thinking should see John Stuart Mill, Logic, or Charles Sanders Pierce, "How to Make Our Ideas Clear" exerpted in Morton White, The Age of Analysis, (New York: Mentor, 1955) Also, see John Dewey, How We Think (Boston: D.C. Heath, 1933) and R. Bruce Raup, George Axtelle, Kenneth Benne, and B. Othaniel Smith, The Improvement of Practical Intelligence (New York: Harper, 1950). See also Richard A. Gibboney, Toward Intellectual Excellence. Some things to look for in classrooms and schools Manuscript. (Graduate School of Education, 3700 Walnut Street, Phila. PA, 19107)
            Also, see D.J. O' Conner An Introduction to the Philosophy of Education, (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1967) and Matthew Lipman, Ann Margaret Sharp and Frederick S. Oscanyan Philosophy in the Classroom (Upper Montclair, NJ: Institute for the Advancement of Philosophy for Children, 1977)

[3] Cf. James Bowen and Peter R. Hobson Theories of Education (New York: Wiley, 1974)
            Steven M Cahn The Philosophical Foundations of Education (New York: Harper and Row, 1970)
            George F. Kneller Movements of Thought in Modern Education (New York: Wiley, 1984)

[4] Steve Tozer and Stuart McAninch, "Four Texts in Social Foundations of Education in Historical Perspective" Educational Studies (Fall 1987)

[5] Robert F. Hessong, Thomas H. Weeks, Introduction to Education (New York: MacMillan, 1987)

[6] James A. Johnson, Harold W. Collins, Victor L. Dupuis, John H. Johansen Introduction to the Foundations of American Education Sixth Edition (Boston: Allyn & Bacon, 1985)

[7] Allan C. Ornstein and Daniel U. Levine An Introduction to the Foundations of Education Third Edition (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1984)

[8] Kevin Ryan and James M. Cooper, Those Who Can, Teach Fourth Edition (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1984)

[9] Myra Pollack Sadker and David Miller Sadker Teachers, Schools, and Society (New York: Random House, 1988)

[10] Gerald L. Gutek Philosophical and Ideological Perspectives on Education (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1988)

[11] Howard A. Ozmon and Samuel M. Craver Philosophical Foundations of Education (Columbus: Merrill, 1981)

[12] Henry D. Aiken, The Age of Ideology, (New York: Mentor, 1956)

[13] H.B. Acton, "Berkeley, George" Vol.1, pp. 295 - 304 and "Idealism", Vol.4, pp.110 - 118 of Paul Edwards (ed.) The Encyclopedia of Philosophy (New York: MacMillan, 1967)

[14] Will and Ariel Durant "Kant" Chapter XXI Book 10 Rousseau and Revolution, , pp.531 - 551 and "Hegel" in Chapter XXXII, "German Philosophy" in Book 11 The Age of Napolean pp. 645 - 658. of The Story of Civilization .(New York: Simon and Schuster, 1967)

[15] Kingsley Price, "Philosophy of Education, History of " Vol 6 pp.230 - 243. of Edwards, The Encyclopedia of Philosophy

[16] Richard Taylor The Empiricists Locke, Berkely, Hume Dolphin Books (Garden City,NY: Doubleday, undated)

[17] Morton White The Age of Analysis (New York: Mentor, 1961)

[18] See Michael Harrington, The Politics at God's Funeral (New York: Penguin, 1983) pp. 15 - 25.

[19] Cf. Carl Knape and Paul T. Rosewell, "The Philosophically Discerning Classroom Teacher" Educational Studies Vol 2. 1980 pp 37 - 47.
            Also, John W. Friesen, Evelina Ortega y Miranda and Henry C. Lu, "Philosophy of Education: a description of the field." Philosophy of Education 1972, p.197 - 220
            Also, Jerome A. Popp, "Philosophy of Education and the Education of Teachers", Philosophy of Education 1972, pp.222 - 229.

[20] Osmond and Craver, p. 274.

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