I recently took part in a videoconference concerning different educational philosophies including essentialism, perennialism, progressivism, social reconstruction, and existentialist education. I came into the discussion with a few questions, but one burning question: How can educators tasked with teaching a state-mandated curriculum subvert the traditional, essentialist nature of most public schools using progressive methods while still teaching to state standards? This question first led us to outline the differences in traditional vs. progressive education, and we identified their main differences: traditional education is teacher-centered, whereas progressive is student-centered. Students primarily learn through passive means such as lectures or books (though sometimes Socratic method) in traditional education, but in progressive education, students are active learners who learn by doing. In a traditional education, the end product of learning is a predetermined truth or set of objectives, while in progressive education, the end product of learning is not clearly defined, and not the most important part of education. The process of learning itself is the point of a progressive education. After delineating these differences, it became clear that even though the students in most public schools today have little to no say in the curriculum, they can still be given power over the methods of learning, the structure of the classroom, and can take part in their own evaluations as well.
Another issue that intrigued me prior to the videoconference was the existentialist philosophy of education. We touched upon how feasible an existentialist education would be for most students and how some students may abuse and misuse the power they have been given if put in the situation of freely directing their own learning with little or no limitations or structure. Dr. Dan Krutka made the point that students who have been conditioned to learn in a teacher-driven classroom may have a very difficult time adjusting to the amount of power afforded them by an existentialist learning situation. It seems that this rare form of education is most effective when started while the students are very young or when used as a component of a more structured learning environment.
I think studying and knowing the different educational philosophies is not only really interesting, but very important. As educators, we need our own educational philosophies to guide us in what we do, how we do it, and why. Being familiar with these general philosophies gives us a foundation on which to build our own.