philosophy, dr. w.a. kritsonis

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Dr. William Allan Kritsonis earned his BA in 1969 from Central Washington University, Ellensburg, Washington. In 1971, he earned his M.Ed. from Seattle Pacific University. In 1976, he earned his PhD from the University of Iowa. In 1981, he was a Visiting Scholar at Teachers College, Columbia University, New York, and in 1987 was a Visiting Scholar at Stanford University, Palo Alto, California. In June 2008, Dr. Kritsonis received the Doctor of Humane Letters, School of Graduate Studies from Southern Christian University. The ceremony was held at the Hilton Hotel in New Orleans, Louisiana


Philosophical Perspectives in EducationWilliam Allan Kritsonis, PhD

Questions for Consideration

How can philosophical inquiry aid the educational leader in examining problems and decisions facing education in general, and a district or a campus in particular?

How is it possible for educational leaders to create educational theories and even policies from examining and extrapolating from the various philosophical systems?

How can the study of philosophy, viewed from an educational focus, stimulate teachers and administrators to think about education in general terms and for the general good of students; and how will these studies help to avert empty promises of panaceas, or the lure of subscribing to propagandistic slogans which mean little to the goals of education?

The eleven educational philosophies/theories discussed in this chapter can be clustered into two major groups. The philosophies within these groups have strong parallels and the general comparisons can simplify the process of identifying them. Make a t-chart with a traditional heading on one side and non-traditional on the other. Place each of the philosophies on one side or the other as you read.

This chapter is a summary of the major philosophical perspectives in education. The purpose of this chapter is to assist the reader in relearning, classifying, comparing, contrasting, and analyzing these philosophical perspectives. Ultimately, self-analysis and self-evaluation of our own philosophies of leadership and teaching will result in more deliberate, purposeful decision making in relation to our visions and goals. The chapter is divided into the following sections: 1) Potential questions to consider for preparation for the Comprehensive exams. Our final exam for the Philosophical Perspectives class had six excellent question, of which I have included three that have the most likely application to our daily practice as educators; 2) key terms and definitions; 3) an introduction on why educators should study philosophy; 4) Idealism; 5) Realism; 6) Naturalism; 7) Pragmatism; 8) Progressivism; 9) Existentialism; 10) Essentialism; 11) Perennialism; 12) Social Reconstructionism; 13) Critical Theory; 14) suggested follow-up activities for application to your personal experiences; and 15) internet links to relevant sites for each of the philosophies.

Introduction: Why Study Philosophy?

The great philosophers have struggled with the dualistic dilemma of mind and body for thousands of years. Educators, too, have a dualistic dilemma between theory and practice: The classroom theories of professional training and thought, to the classroom practice of professional action. Gerald Gutek, in Philosophical and Ideological Perspectives on Education, writes that theory without practice is insufficient; practice unguided by theory is aimless (1). The purpose of studying philosophical perspectives in education is, ideally, to give aim to the myriad of practices that are being proposed in our current era of educational reform.

When we talk about philosophy we are talking about how one views the world. Every philosophy has an ontology (a view of what reality is), an epistemology (a view of how we know about that reality), and an axiology (those concepts that are valued within this reality). How one views reality (ontology) shapes his/her beliefs about knowledge (epistemology). A particular perspective of reality assumes, or is based on, specific conceptions of human nature. This chapters summary of philosophical perspectives in education will focus on Idealism, Realism, Thomism, Naturalism, Pragmatism, Progressivism, Existentialism, Essentialism, Perennialism, Social Reconstructivism, and Critical Theory.

Education refers to the process of enculturation of a societys young into the cultural life of the community. This enculturation happens informally in the society through the family, church, media, government, and peers. It also occurs more formally in the school setting. Therefore, philosophers have long recognized the importance of the interaction between human beings and society. Education, then, is the transmission of values. The powerful philosophies that have transcended time have also shaped our view of the world and our view of human nature, and, therefore, our view of education. The perspective of a philosophy in education must be discussed in terms other than ontology, epistemology, and axiology. It must investigate how reality is taught, how truth is taught, why schools exist, what should be taught (the curriculum), the role of the teacher, the role of the student, and the schools attitude toward change.

Two and a half years ago, Cohort VIII presented in depth self-analyses of leadership style and teaching style in terms of the major philosophical isms mentioned above. To a person, we were amazed at how our personal philosophies were actually a combination of many, if not all, of the isms in one way or another. An analysis of one class period would likely reveal many of the isms being implemented, often contradictory ones. How does this meritage of philosophical ideas survive in our supposedly rational minds? The study of philosophical perspectives as systems of thought require us to use the scientific method of analysis to pull apart the numerous world-views that have been proposed in order to understand the individual parts more clearly. It is like an inquisitive youngster who takes apart the lawnmower to understand how it works. In one pile of parts he/she investigates the workings of the ignition system. Another pile contains parts that deal with the rotation of the blade. A study of the individual parts allows for a deeper understanding of how the entire lawnmower interacts as a system when it is put back together again. Similarly, in this chapter, we will pull out the different philosophical perspectives in education with the hope of having a better understanding of ourselves when they are reassembled. It is this reflective process that creates consciousness of the theories that underpin our practices. With this awareness we can evaluate our practices as teachers and administrators within the context of the educational missions of our district, state, and nation. In this way, philosophy of education can help us avoid promises of panaceas or propagandistic slogans and encourage teachers to examine and to formulate the broad personal and professional goals that should guide educational practice (Gutek, 10). How appropriate that Platos famous line of know thyself is also the purpose of this inquiry. We must know ourselves as educators in order for our practice to have aim!


In Socrates and Platos era, those known as Sophists proposed one of the dominant theories of philosophical ethics. The word sophist stimulates thoughts of sophomore (wise fool) and sophistry (deceitful argumentation), but simply stated it was a belief in the relativity of beliefs about concepts such as truth, beauty, and good. The sophists argued for situational ethics, which means that truth, beauty, and good change based on the experiential circumstances of the individual. Therefore, ethics will change when circumstances change. The sophists believed that education could be achieved through specialized vocational or professional training that fit the individual. The emphasis was on specialization.

From a modern anthropological perspective, the sophists have much in common with our societys efforts to foster cultural understanding, religious tolerance, and even acceptance of economically influenced social behaviors. The term situational ethics stirs images of situational leadership, not so much in a consistency of beliefs but in the procedural interactions with changing circumstances. The Sophists claim that changing experiences and circumstances impacts ethics. This view hints of primordial existentialism. A strong argument can be made that the Sophists were professing a world-view similar to the more eloquent writings of later existentialists Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and Sartre.

As a student of Socrates and teacher of Aristotle, the Greek philosopher Plato is considered to be the founder of the western philosophy of Idealism. Socrates and Plato developed a philosophical system that responded directly to the dominant Sophists of the day, and created the foundation for philosophical inquiry by western civilization. Platos major works include The Republic, Protagoras, and Phaedo. Platos Cave Allegory, which has achieved icon status in western learning, defines reality as the world of the mind. Plato believed that all knowledge of the universe had an underlying unity and that through the trauma of birth humans lost memory of this universal knowledge. Therefore, the purpose of education, and LIFE, was to journey inward into ones own mind to educe, or pull out, the universal knowledge that existed within. Thus the famous mantra of know thyself. The journey inward is achieved through the Socratic method of questioning, and dialogue with others as a means to question ourselves. Through such reflective questioning, Plato believed the universal (big T) Truths could be learned.

The cave serves as a symbol for the world where people do not know themselves, but instead only see man made shadows of ideas. Because of the lack of inquiry about these shadows, people believe them to be (little t) truths. For Plato, the lack of inquiry of ones own mind results in self-deception. Such self-deception is equated to imprisonment as the people of the cave are chained. Freedom is achieved through the arduous journey out of the cave to the light where the universal Truths will be understood. At that point, the newly enlightened philosopher should return to the cave to lead, guide, and rescue others. The parallels