Philosophical influence upon educational theory

Education for Human Flourishing, Cover

In Chapter 2 of Education for Human Flourishing:  A Christian Perspective* (InterVarsity Press, 2009), Paul D. Spears and Steven R. Loomis draw attention to the importance of foundational categories and philosophical thinkers for the development of educational theory.  Furthermore, they argue modern educational theory, influenced by modern philosophy, has led to some of the pitfalls of our prestigious institutions of higher education (p.71).  Spears and Loomis begin Chapter 2 with these comments:

Educators are inundated with myriads of competing educational theories, and these theories dictate the methods and goals that are actualized in the classroom on a daily basis.  These educational theories are a product of a commitment to a certain philosophical paradigm.  Teachers are overwhelmed, understandably, with the amount of work it takes to properly manage the classroom. … This doesn’t leave a teacher much time (if any at all) to reflect on educational theory — let alone the theories’ underlying philosophical commitments.  If teachers are going to be properly equipped for their task of education, they must begin to grapple with the historical development of educational purpose.

Broadly speaking, modern education lacks a unified purpose or goal to direct its curricular and pedagogical commitments.  This lack of unity exists because education has many competing allegiances to different educational methodologies, which are driven by a variety of diverse philosophical commitments.  Education is no longer understood in terms of training that enable us to pursue a true conception of reality.  Formerly, education was conceived as a tool by which we came to properly understand our humanity, ourselves and our right role within society.  Education was about pursuing and understanding objective value, as C.S. Lewis points out:  “the belief that certain attitudes are really true, and that others really false, to the kind of thing the universe is and the kind of things we are.”  Today, education is not so much about truth or morality as it is about tolerance and contributing to the nation’s economic growth. — p.69-70.

Questions to ponder/discuss:

  • Do you feel overwhelmed by competing educational theories, whether as a student, researcher, a professor, or an administrator?
  • What do you consider the purpose/goal/end of education?
  • What training in foundational categories/philosophy is necessary for followers of Christ to work out their faith in the complex market of educational theory/practice?

*Find the title appealing?  Then check out the Preface & Precis of Book and Chapters.

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Tom Grosh IV

Tom enjoys daily conversations regarding living out the Biblical Story with his wife Theresa and their four girls, around the block, at Elizabethtown Brethren in Christ Church (where he teaches adult electives and co-leads a small group), among healthcare professionals as the South Central PA Area Director for the Christian Medical & Dental Associations (CMDA), and in higher ed as a volunteer with the Emerging Scholars Network (ESN). The Christian Medical Society / CMDA at Penn State College of Medicine is the hub of his ministry with CMDA. Note: Tom served with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship / USA for 20+ years, including 6+ years as the Associate Director of ESN. He has written for the ESN blog from its launch in August 2008. He has studied Biology (B.S.), Higher Education (M.A.), Spiritual Direction (Certificate), Spiritual Formation (M.A.R.), Ministry to Emerging Generations (D.Min.). To God be the glory!

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