Archive for the ‘Philosophy and History of Education’ category

Four Religion Based Approaches to Curriculum

August 15, 2011


 Four Religion Based Approaches to Curriculum

Lawrence P. Creedon

What curriculum is is common knowledge,

So common in fact it may not even be true


The conventional wisdom in much of the world today is that religion ought not to be a topic for consideration in public school education. The commmon belief is that religious instruction is not within the mission of the public school and that it ought to take place elsewhere at a time and place of parental choice. However, while that might seem to be self evident especially in a democratic society, in reality it is not. Religion in education is an issue in the forefront of what is the purpose and function of education. While the role of religion is of concern, seldom is much consideration given to the question: What is religion anyway?

Frequently it is assumed that what religion is, is common knowledge. However, world-wide that is not true either. As will be pointed out in this monograph what religion is  and how it influences and controls human behavior is not the same in western countries such as the United States, as it in middle eastern Muslim countries or in Asian countries with a Buddhist tradition. In the United States historically tenets of religious and moral education have been found in the Bible. In Muslim countries it has been and continues to be the Qu’ran and the Sharia law. In Buddhist countries the Eight Principles of Buddhism prevail.

What religion is has occupied the thought, study and teaching of thinkers for millenia upon millenia. And, if that be the case then it ought to be easily defined. But, still again,  that is not the case.  For example American philosopher and the commonly saluted  “father” of American psychology William James in his book Varieties of Religious Experience [1902] observed that religion defied definition. Then he went on to devote an entire book still in print to the varieties of religious experience. The point is that the defintion of religion rests in the varieties of its forms and expressions. An operational defintion of religion is that it is: EN:

a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a supernatural agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual obserevances, and often containing a moral code govern ing the conduct of human affairs”.

Contrary to conventional wisdom the world over in many societies and cultures that definition is openly operational in the public schools and if not openly operational is just beneath the surface in official practice and private beliefs of school practitioners. Today practices in many Muslim countries attest to that. In the former Soviet Union  the recent past the stern reality of the anti-religious structure and practice of education in the USSR  its satellite countries as well as in China were examples. In the United States the struggle between secularism and sectarianism has always been an issue of concen and a battle ground for never-ending litigation. For example, in the early montrhs of  2010 issues in two of the 50 states have surfaced. In Texas the elected State Board of Education issued new mandates for the conduct of public education in the state that call into the question  aspects of the traditional practice of separation of church and state. In Wisconsin a county Attorney General has advised that if teachers implement aspects of the new Student Health law they could be arrested and charged with commiting a felony. The issue is over aspects of sex education required by the law that the attorney general asserts will conflict with the religious beliefs and values of the majority of the pouplation in the county he represents.

About This Piece

The premise of this piece is that the caution about common knowledge applies to education and in particular to what is understood to be curriculum. Reality is that: 

Practitioners deal every day with what is promoted as curriculum

In international schools in particular practitioners are charged with “writing curriculum.”

Usually practitioners charged with writing curriculum have had little or no preparation for their curriculum writing assignment and seldom do they fall into the category of “scientific experts” as alluded to above by Bobbitt.

In the United States there is currently a renewed and strong initiative to estsablish for the first time a national set of curriculum standards

The idea or concept of curriculum is confused with its implementation which is through the instructional program.

There are a wide range of approaches to curriculum depending upon what is determined by curricular decisions makers to be important,  valuable and valued.

What follows is a brief synopsis of four religion based approaches to education and curriculum. The four are Judiaism, Christianity, Islam and Buddhism. As stated above, curriculum relates to the epistemological question of what is knowledge? Knowledge can be defined as that which is deemed to be true. Each of the four religious based approaches offer a specific notion of what is true. That truth expresses itself in the curriculum.


William James in Varieties of Religious Expperience considered the issue  of the origin of the truth upon which education and thus the curriculum is based. He oberved:


It is clear that the origin of the truth would be an admirable criterion of this sort, if only the various origins could be discriminated from one another from this point of view…[however]… history of dogmatic opinion shows that origin has always been a favorite test. Origin in immediate intuition; origin in pontifical authority; origin in supernatural revelation, as by vision, hearing, or unaccountable impression; origin in direct possession by a higher spirit, expressing itself in prophecy and warning; origin in automatic utterance generally,- these origins have been stock warrants for the truth of one opinion after another which we find represented in religious history.

James went onto assert that it is not the origin of “truth” that determines what is true but rather it is the way in which that “truth” works on the whole that is the final test of a belief [value].

Curriculum: What Is It?

In his rogue, deconstructivist FN:”Deconstruction attempts to demonstrate that any text is not a discrete whole but contains several irreconcilable and contradictory meanings and that any text therefore has more than one interpretation”.   Wikipedia] retelling of the feminist tale written by the Grimms Brothers [18th century Germans] of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs novelist Donald Barthelme [1931-1989] has a fictional character comment in reacting to the tale: “That is common knowledge, so common, it may not even be true.” In  the Grimms Brothers tale the seven dwarfs are portrayed  as marching off  mindlessly to work in single  file singing: Heigh-Ho, Heigh-Ho its off to work we go…. I wonder, does the shoe fit for education today?

Historically, and in strong measure today, that picture of workers marching off  “mindlessly” to mine the ore of  knowledge can ring true for education and within education the curriculum. What is considered to be curriculum and portrayed as such may not be curriculum at all. In many instances it seems to be whatever its developers, the philosopher kings of the time, and the users of what has been ordained say it is.  As a result curriculum can be many things. But one thing it is not and that is it is not synonymous with instruction.

Practitioners at all levels talk, write and implement curriculum as if it is something of universal common knowledge and understanding. It is not. All too often practitioners with little or no expertise in curriculum development and engaging in little critical reflection on what curriculum is bury themselves in writing it and implementing it all without critically asking: What is it?  In international schools it is common for a school to purchase carte blanche a commercial program or to charge practitioners not qualified to so by training or experience to write curriculum.

The United States with a long tradition of local control of education is moving toward a single set of national curriculum standards. The effort has the support of almost all of the nation’s governors, state school superintendents, teacher organizations and a host of others. The Obama Administration has signed on. The states of Texas and Alaska are the only two of the 50 states to decline participation in the initiative. Internationally many other nations have national curriculum standards. New York Times, March 11, 2010.

Be that as it may that does not lessen the need for educators to demur from considering the question of: What is curriculum? In fact the opposite is true. If uniformity is to be the way of the future, then what constitutes the “uniform” needs to be understood? To do otherwise is to join in the chorus of those mindlessly in lock-step fashion, in choral voice in single file marching off to work in the classroom singing: Heigh-Ho, Heigh-Ho its off to work we go.

Curriculum has to with knowledge and not with instruction. Philosophically knowledge relates to epistemology. The epistemological question is: What is knowledge?  Curriculum considers what is to be taught. Instruction deals with pedagogy. It considers how to teach what needs to be taught in a manner in which it can be learned.

Curriculum is not simply a synonym for instruction. Curriculum is not a term for identifying the package or box which holds a set of smaller packages or boxes each containing the content of a course. Rather, the curriculum is the articulated understanding of what constitutes knowledge.  It is an outgrowth of the epistemological question.

Knowledge is not synonymous with information. A classic example is the Internet. The Internet is a source of an extraordinary amount of information; however, the computer which provides the vehicle for accessing the information knows nothing. Internet generated information needs to be retrieved and analyzed by human beings before it can be collectively classified as knowledge. Information is not synonymous with knowledge. At a minimum to be knowledgeable requires understanding, comprehension. Benjamin Bloom’s Cognitive Taxonomy is one vehicle for understanding the structure of knowledge.

Understanding goes beyond comprehension and implies an ability to utilize or apply the knowledge possessed. Of all the things that learners can come to know what they will be exposed to through the learning community is the curriculum. What they do with it comes through the application of the instructional program. Philosophically curriculum relates to epistemology. Instruction relates to pedagogy and psychology.

Franklin Bobbitt: A Pioneer in Curriculum        

The Curriculum authored by Franklin Bobbitt in 1918was the first full length book on the topic. Bobbitt  presented curriculum as an idea or concept.Bobbitt  defined curriculum as the course of deeds and experiences through which children become the adults they should be for success in adult society.

Curriculum to Bobbitt encompassed the entire scope of formative deeds and experiences occurring in and out of school. Experience included those activities that were unplanned and undirected as well as those intentionally directed for the purposeful formation of adult members of society.

To Bobbitt, the curriculum was an example of social engineering. His curricular formulation had two notable features:

  1. That  “scientific” experts would best be qualified to and justified in designing curricula based upon their expert knowledge of what qualities are desirable in adult members of society, and which experiences would generate said qualities
  2. Curriculum ought to be defined as the deeds-experiences the students ought to have in the procedss of becoming the adult each ought to become.

Bobbitt defined the curriculum as an ideas [concepts] rather than as the concrete realities of the deeds and experiences that form people to who and what they are and are becoming.. His view was more existential than deterministic.

More than a century has passed since Bobbitt wrote The Curriculum and seldom is his pioneering work acknowledged in the contemporary professional literature dealing with curriculum. However, just a cursory familiarity of his two fundamental features cited above illustrate that his thinking of a century ago is applicable today.

Contemporary views of curriculum while not totally compatible with Bobbitt’s ground breaking treatise do “retain the basis of curriculum as the course of experience(s) that form human beings into persons.”  For example, the encyclopedic work of John Dewey is in some respects compatible with Bobbitt’s as it relates to the purpose and significance of  curriculum.

It is commonplace for pracitioners to converse about curriculum as if what it is is something of common understanding among them.It is frequently viewed as common knowledge with common knowledge ranging from the extremes of “no one knows what it is” to the prescription of explicit content mandates from those in authority to render such mandates.

Common knowledge can be so common that it may not even be true. The term Common knowledge calls to mind the maxim associated with former United States President Ronald Reagan: “Trust but verify.” President Reagan was challenging the common belief that what is offered as truth or as knowledge need not  be questioned.. However, while honoring trust he advocated verification. And so it is with the questions: What is knowledge? What ought the curriculum to be?

Common knowledge is defined by the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy as:

a phenomenon which underwrites much of social life. In order to communicate or otherwise coordinaiste their behavior successfully, individuals typically require mutual or common understandings or background knowledge. Indeed, if a particular interaction results in “failure”, the usual explanation for this is that the agents involved did not have the common knowledge that would have resulted in success.

If  a school is to speak of its curriculum then it stands to reason that all those practitioners associated with the learning community ought to have a common understanding of what is knowledge. It defies logic and common sense to license each practitioner to define, develop and implement a knowledge program [the curriculum] as he or she sees fit. However, how each professional implements what is determined to be knowledge is another matter. Implementation comes through the instructional program. While practitionsers might  not be “scientific experts”[Bobbitt] in the knowledge area of their speciality, they ought to be pedagogical experts on best practice related to how their learners come to know. The curriculum [knowledge base] deals with ideas, concepts, content. The instructional program focuses on strategies and tactics for implementation. While one relates to the other, they are not synonymous.



Religion as the Origin of and Influence in Curriculum.


Religion has always been a major force in education and thus the curriculum. Religion deals with what human beings have valued as eternal truths and those truths have been expressed in and through the curriculum. Here consideartion will be given to four approaches: Judiasm, Christianity, Islam and Buddhism..



Jewish education traditionally focused on the transmission of the tenets, principles and religious laws of Judaism. The emphasis was and remains on the study of Torah. Most often Torah refers to the  first five books of the Old Testament attributed to Moses. Also, and mostly among Orthodox Jews, it can refer to the entire corpus of Jewish law including both the written and oral law.Torah is understood by Jews to be of divine origin and is immutable. Torah is the foundation of Hebrew and Jewish religion, thought, law, and society.


The mission statement of the Hebrew school Ohr Ha Torah, affiliated with an orthodox synogue in Manitoba, Canada states that:


Ohr HaTorah offers a co-educational primary school program, emphasizing a love of Jewish life in all of its aspects, including adherence to the Torah, observance of Mitzvot, spirituality, traditional ethics including a high regard for all of mankind, participation in mainstream Jewish communal life, living Hebrew language,, and support for the State of Israel.


Related to the curriculum the mssioin statement of Ohr Ha Torah asserts:


Uncompromising commitment to excellence in both the Jewish and secular curricula is pursued in the traditional Torah u-middot (Torah and values) approach espoused by Gedolei Torah (great rabbis). Thus, the Jewish studies program aims to familiarize students with the weekly parasha cycle, original scriptural texts and commentaries, in an age-appropriate fashion. Our vision of the Judaic studies curriculum follows the well-established Torah Umesorah curriculum which is adjusted to our needs. The Hebrew language curriculum follows the curriculum of the Israeli Ministry of Education. The secular program meets or exceeds all educational standards established by Manitoba Department of Education. The inclusion of art, music music and physical education underlines the importance of these activities to the development of the whole person. [Wikipedia].

.One prominent Hebrew School in the United States promotes itself as being learner centered citing the Biblical Proverb 22.6: “Educate the child according to his own way and even when he grows old he will not depart from it.” The Proverb is interpreted to mean that:

  1. When a child’s education is tailor-made to suit his or her own needs, personality, interests and preferred learning style
  2. When a child’s physical, emotional, spiritual, creative and cognitive

development and growth is of utmost concern to his or her educators

  1. When desired behaviors are modeled by the staff at all times and not just demanded from the students
  2. When the child is consciously aware of the love, concern and acceptance of the school community then the child will be free to embark on life’s journey with confidence, optimism and joy.


Early in 2009 in New York City promoters of a Hebrew School petitioned the State Board of Regents for permission to open as a public supported Charter School. As a Charter school the school would receive government financial support but be excused from meeting all the government mandates for a regular public school. The application stated that:

students would receive hour long Hebrew language lessons and that Hebrew would be woven into some art, music and gym classes. In addition the social studies curriculum would include lessons on Hebrew culture and history in the context of both American and world history.  [New York Times, January 12, 2009].


Formal Jewish education for boys has been a priority among Jews since the first century, CE. Prior to that education was viewed as a parental responsibility. Formal Torah based instruction began when a boy was six or seven years old. The phenomenon of Jewish schools can be traced to the 19th -20th century in Germany. It came about as the need for secular subjects beyond the scope of Torah grew. The first school for Jewish girls was opened in Krakow in 1917. Today in the United States there are over 750 Hebrew schools with an enrollment ion access of 200,000.




Until the period of the 16th Century Protestant Reformation in Europe sectarian education was provided selectively by the Roman Catholic Church. Selectively provided in that it was in no way universal, its purpose was to advance the religious beliefs of the Church regarding life, how it was to be lived, and its reward of eternal salvation for having lived a good Catholic life. These purposes are consistent with other religious traditions. The curriculum focused on religion as salvation was the purpose of life.


The primary statement of Christian belief is found in the Nicene Creed promulgated by the Bishops of the Church universal during their conclave in Nicaea in the year 325. The Nicene Creed is used by Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, Calvinist, and many other Christian groups. Many groups that do not have a tradition of using it in their services nevertheless are committed to the doctrines it teaches. Another statement of basic Christian belief is the Apostles Creed. Both creeds are similar but  the t theological differences need not be explored here. Both creeds can be found at:


If the purpose of a Christian school sponsored by adherents of the Nicene Creed is to promote Christianity then it is logical that the underlying tone of the curriculum would be to support and reflect the belief statements found in the Nicene and Apostle’s Creeds.


Pope Saint Gregory the Great [540-604] is credited it codifying the work of Saint John Cassian [360-435] into what is now known as the Seven Deadly Sins and the accompanying Seven Virtues. These have served as the cornerstones of Christian ethics ever since and are at the root of not only Catholic education but also reach far beyond in other religious and secular persuasions.  The following chart cites the Seven Deadly [Cardinal] Sins, the Seven contrasting Virtues and a brief description.    .

Virtue against which it sins
Brief description
Pride Humility Seeing ourselves as we are and not comparing ourselves to others is humility. Pride and vanity are competitive. If someone else’s pride really bothers you, you have a lot of pride.
Avarice/Greed Generosity This is about more than money. Generosity means letting others get the credit or praise. It is giving without having expectations of the other person. Greed wants to get its “fair share” or a bit more.
Envy Love “Love is patient, love is kind…” Love actively seeks the good of others for their sake. Envy resents the good others receive or even might receive. Envy is almost indistinguishable from pride at times.
Wrath/Anger Kindness Kindness means taking the tender approach, with patience and compassion. Anger is often our first reaction to the problems of others. Impatience with the faults of others is related to this.
Lust (7) Self control Self control and self mastery prevent pleasure from killing the soul by suffocation. Legitimate pleasures are controlled in the same way an athlete’s muscles are: for maximum efficiency without damage. Lust is the self-destructive drive for pleasure out of proportion to its worth. Sex, power, or image can be used well, but they tend to go out of control.
Gluttony Faith and Temperance Temperance accepts the natural limits of pleasures and preserves this natural balance. This does not pertain only to food, but to entertainment and other legitimate goods, and even the company of others.
Sloth Zeal Zeal is the energetic response of the heart to God’s commands. The other sins work together to deaden the spiritual senses so we first become slow to respond to God and then drift completely into the sleep of complacency.

A second source for curriculum in a sectarian Christian school is the catechism. The catechism is frequently seen as being associated with the Roman Catholic Church, however, that is not the whole story. The word itself comes from the Greek . katecheo and means to instruct or teach. From that comes to catechize or the catechism. Lutherans, Greeks, Anglicans, Baptists and other have their forms of the catechism. In essence it is an instructional handbook or manual in question and answer format articulating the basic beliefs of a religious denomination. It can be the basis of the curriculum.

A third source for curriculum in a proclaimed sectarian school is the Bible. While basic to the beliefs of all Christians several denominations feature the Bible as the sole source of religious belief and strive to have their view influence the design, development and implementation in the public school. Examples of this are plentiful. In the United States in 2010 the Texas Board of Education voted to reinforce the belief held by many Americans that the founding fathers of the United States intended that the USA was to be  a nation founded on Christian principles. In 2010 the Texas Board decreed that the social studies curriculum in Texas public schools will emphasize that position.

In Muslim states it is not the Bible that is promoted but rather the Qu’ran and Sharia law. Unabashedly the curriculum has been used to promote political and/or Muslim religious viewpoints and to strengthen its position of civil and religious affairs.

Currently in Afghanistan a new curriculum for primary schools has been developed. It is known as the Life Skills curriculum and promotes ideals of peace and social justice inherent in Islam. Also it is influenced by Western concepts of pluralism and civil society.

 In the Netherlands with a small Muslim population of approximately 900,000 which is less than six percent of the whole there are approximately 40 Islamic primary schools and two secondary schools. The emerging influence of Muslims and their views on education and curriculum has captured national attention. Sectarian schools in the Netherlands are financed by the state. The attention is frequently fueled by discord. – Religion in the Netherlands: Trends .Author Sipco J. Vellenga.    

Christian Schools Origin and Current Status

Today a school or education program professing to follow a Christian approach to education and curriculum would reflect alternative distinguishing characteristics. However, each follows its interpretation of the Christian message. Each would agree with the position of Roman Catholic theologian, former Lutheran, and spokesman for religious “Faith-Based”  Evangelicals Rev. Richard john Neuhaus [1936-2008] that while humankind is born to die, the purpose of life is not death. Rather, life and death is prerequisite to eternal life. Among others, Rev. Fr. Neuhaus served as a spiritual counselor to United States President George W. Bush.


In the United States Christian academies experienced a growth spurt that has remained since the beginning of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s during the presidency of President Lyndon B. Johnson.


The argument for the formation of Christian academies under the leadership of Protestant Evangelical pastor Rev. Jerry Falwell  [1933-2007] is that Rev. Falwell sprang into action to resist school integration after the United States Supreme Court ruled  racial segregation unconstitutional in 1954 [Brown versus Board of Education]. At the time Rev Falwell was a strong racial segregationist. Also he taught that only “Born Again” Christians who accepted Jesus Christ as their personal savior would spend eternity with God in heaven. For example, Jews, Muslims  and a host of others would not be saved until each accepted Jesus Christ as their personal savior..


In 1966 acting on his belief in opposition to racial integration in the public schools, Rev. Falwell founded the Lynchburg Christian Academy. The Academy was described by the Lynchburg News in 1966 as “a private school for white students.” It was one among many so-called “seg-academies” created in the South to avoid racially integrated public schools.


Maintaining racial segregation is no longer the flash point for the formation of Christian academies. It is other “family values” issues such as opposition to abortion, abstinence from pre marital sex, and the alleged and bemoaned secular orientation of the public schools.


As Christian academies have grown in prominence, Roman Catholic parochial schools have retrenched due to the drop in religious vocations after the Second Vatican Council of [1962-1965]. Traditionally nuns and priests staffed Catholic schools, however that is no longer the case. Today the drop n enrollment in Catholic schools is more related to shifting demographics, cost and the absence of religious hostility towards Catholics in the public schools.


The emergence of parochial schools is attributable to deep seated racial and religious bias against Roman Catholic immigrants in the 19th century and earlier. The public schools were unabashedly Protestant in religious orientation and certainly white in race. Unable to rid or even soften the anti-Catholic bias of the public schools, the Roman Catholic American Bishops in their First Plenary Council of Catholic Bishops in 1852 adopted a resolution that every Catholic child would be enrolled in a Catholic parish school by the year 1900. While the goal was never realized the parochial school system was born. Today approximately 8000 Catholic parochial schools exist in the United States.


Enrollment in Catholic schools in the United States reached its zenith in the 1960s with 4.5 million children in Catholic elementary schools and over 1 million in high schools. That number was less than half at the turn of the 21st century.




Islamic education like that of Judaism and Christianity has traditionally dealt with what adherents consider as the eternal tenets, principles and laws of their faith. In the case of Muslims it is not the Bible, but the Qu’ran and Sharia law. The word Islam is of Arabic origin and translates into the concept of submitting one’s self in all matters to the will of God.  Allah’s [God] eternal truths are believed to be laid out in the Qu’ran [Koran] and codified in Sharia law. The Qu’ran is the word of Allah spoken directly to the Prophet Mohammed [570 – 632 CE].  A “Muslim” is one who surrenders his or her will to God and is an adherent of Islam. “Ulamas”  are revered Islamic scholars and are the final determiners of  the truths of Islam as laid out in the Qu’ran. In sectarian Islamic countries civil authority commonly submits to the final judgment of the ulama.


Islam professes that Allah has anointed it to be the restorer of the original monotheistic faith [Islam] of the earlier prophets, namely, Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses and Jesus. The central truths taught by Mohammed were that Allah is one and that total surrender to his will is necessary to be rewarded with a place in paradise. Islam is grounded in five pillars: faith, prayer, fasting, pilgrimage and alms giving.


Islam is the second largest religion in the world following Christianity. In recent years Islam has dominated much of the concern of the non-Islamic world as a result of acts of terrorism perpetrated by extreme Islamics. Included in the concern is the relationship of Islamic education to radical Islam. Islamic religious schools known as madrasas are dedicated to transmitting Islamic learning and are frequently portrayed as medieval institutions opposed to all that is Western and as a breeding grounds for terrorists. Another view of madrasas indicates that while some madrasas are extreme not all are. The concern today is that without reforms within Islam the world is doomed to a clash of monumental proportions between East and West civilizations.[Hefner and Qasimzaman editors, Schooling Islam. 2007, back page book cover.


“At the heart of the issue today is the purpose of Islamic education. Is it to teach fidelity to a fixed and finished canon pronounced in the Qu’ran? Or should religious education offer a high-minded but general religious ethics that looks outward on creation and encourages a plurality of methods for fathoming and engaging its wonders?” [Hefner and Qasim Zaman, p. 35] That question is more than academic, it constitutes a reality.


In this brief piece on Islamic education three questions will be addressed. These will be followed by a brief consideration of aspects of Islamic education and its impact on the curriculum. The three questions are:

  1. In Islam what is knowledge?
  2. What is the purpose of education in Islam?
  3. What are madrasas and kuttabs?

The view expressed in section of this monograph are based primarily on the Hefner and Qasim Zamin edited 2007 book Schooling Islam  – Cultural and Politics of Modern Muslim Education.


What is knowledge in Islam


The heart of Islamic education has been “the study and transmission of religious knowledge”.  Most Muslims regard religious study as a form of worship. In principle every Muslim is expected to acquire a basic knowledge of Allah’s [God] words and injunctions. These are revealed in the Qu’ran, the canonical words and deeds of the Prophet Muhammod and in the Sharia, the codified law or path of Islam. The ultimate source of authority in interpreting the Qu’ran and the Sharia law rests with the ulama. The ulama are the most learned and venerated Islamic scholars. Ultimately all knowledge is religious knowledge as pronounced in the Qu’ran and the Sharia law. Hefner – Qasim Zaman,  pp.4-5.


The Purpose of Muslim Education


Traditionally the transmission of religious learning lies at the heart of Muslim civilization and education. It encompasses the worldview of Islam. Worldview in Islam is understood in a religious context of surrendering one’s self and all worldly endeavors without exception to the will of Allah.  In more modern times Muslim education has broadened beyond religious education. However the purpose of “scientific” education is to serve, clarify and support religious ends.


What are Madrasas and Kuttabs?


Madrasa means school. A madrasa is the central vehicle for the transmission of religious knowledge. Madrasas first developed in the middle ages.  Traditionally the term referred to an institution offering intermediate and advanced instruction in the Islamic sciences. Elementary religious instruction was provided in an institution known as the kuttab. In the kuttab students were taught to memorize and recite the Quran. Memorization skills were considered as first steps in a scholar’s formation. Kuttab institutions preceded madrasas. Today the term madrasa can refer to a general as well as a religious school. However the lasting and prevailing purpose of Islamic education is to support religious beliefs articulated in the Qu’ran and Sharia law. Science is not for the sake of science and discovery, but rather to support religious ends.


Originally enrollment in madrasas was limited to males. Each madrasa was totally independent, with no predetermined structure or curriculum. Each was organized around an individual known and revered Islamic scholar. Early madrasas did not have tuition. Consistent with the fifth pillar of Islam [Alms] each madrasa was supported by endowments from local wealthy notables.


Early madrasas have been likened to medieval western style universities. However, as reported by Hefner and Qasim  Zaman early madrasas had:Hefner and Qasim Zaman, p. 9

…little of the western university’s corporate identity or centrally coordinated administration. Madrasas of this period also operated without the benefit of examinations, formal curricula, degrees, or college governance. In fact until well into the modern period, the pursuit of religious knowledge in Muslim societies was an individual or, more precisely, networked undertaking in which student sought out master scholars for personalized instruction…. Over the course of his academic career, a student might study with several teachers and at several different madrasas…. Students were enjoined to seek out a teacher who had ‘God’s blessing  in the religious sciences and feared God the most, those were the older  and more powerful and who always had their kissed in the street. …’ The religious scholar was important because he linked the student to a chain of transmission reaching back through time to the moment of revelation itself.


In early madrasas all knowledge was viewed as religious knowledge and knowledge consistent with an Islamic worldview was to be found in the Qu’ran and the Sharia law.


Other Aspects of Islamic Education


Islam has moved beyond its medieval focus. For example, contrary to what may be viewed as an anti-science orientation of Islam a more in depth understanding of the Islamic position relative to natural science and scientism is informative. Islam sees the natural sciences in the context of its world view.  In coming to an informed understanding of Islam in the world its concept of a world view is necessary.  According to one source:

“the world view of Islam is not based upon philosophical speculation formulated mainly from observation of the data of sensible experience of what is visible to the eye.” The world view of Islam includes a concern for this life [dunya] as well as the life hereafter [Akhirah]. It is concern for life hereafter that  predominates. World view of Islam, http//


The Islamic vision of reality and truth is a metaphysical survey of the visible as well as invisible worlds. … It is not what is projected by the Western culture and civilization ….


We should make it clear that science in Islam is ultimately a kind of ta’wil or allegorical interpretation of the empirical things that constitute the world of nature. Ta’wil basically means getting to the ultimate, primordial meaning of something. The setting of limits to the channels and sources by which we obtain knowledge is therefore a blessing and a mercy from god [sic] in order that we may be able to understand the meaning of the objects of knowledge as well as recognize the Creator.


“Islam has never accepted, nor has ever been affected by ethical and epistemological  relativism [a theory of knowledge] that made man the measure of all things….


“The crisis of identity is not among Muslim but also among people of different cultures and religious traditions due to the spread of secularization as philosophical programs which hold sway over hearts and minds enmeshed in the crisis of truth. One must see that the kind of problem confronting us is of such nature as to embrace all the fundamental elements of our world view and cannot simply be resolved by legalistic and political means….


“Philosophic virtues, … are in themselves not sufficient for the realization of enduring happiness in their self. Their acceptance is justified when they do not come into conflict with religion and their usefulness for the attainment of happiness is acknowledged when some reformulation of their meaning has been affected by agreement with religion…”.



Among the alternatives to an Islamic approach to religion and education is Sufism. Sufis was a 10th or 11th century Islamic mystic and spiritualist. His though was a reaction to the then growing tendency within Islam to become deeply identified and committed to the application of Sharia law. Sufis advocated a more spiritual approach to and understanding of the Qu’ran. Sufism is promoted as “Sufism consists of noble behavior…that is manifest at a noble time on the part of a noble person in the presence of noble people”.      


. It is said that Sufism has incorporated elements of Christian monasticism, gnosticism and Indian mysticism.The origin of the term itself might to related to the coarse wool worn by adherents.


In an earlier age Sufi masters prevailed upon disciples to do away with books. An early tenet of Sufism was that knowledge could be intuitive and attained not from books but from dreams, or visions of the prophets, or from the “heart”.Hefner and Qasim Zaman, p.11.  


William Dalrymple writing in the New York Times of August 17 2010 in explanation and defense of Sufism termed Sufism as “an entirely indigenous deeply rooted resistance movement against violent Islamic radicalism”. Dalrymple asserted that “Sufism, the mystical form of Islam, which in terms of goals and outlook couldn’t be farther from the violent Wahhabism of the jihadists.” Dalrymple was responding to the controversy surrounding the then recently proposed building of a mosque and Muslim cultural center near the site of the total violent destruction of the twin World Trade Center towers by Muslim extremists in 2001.




Modern Times


In modern times state sponsored systems of education have developed in Muslim countries. In the ensuing struggle to do so some Muslim counties such as Turkey from 1923 to 1948 actually banned madrasas. While modernization of Islamic education began before the period of European colonization it was strengthened during colonization. Often Elementary education through the kuttah was promoted while higher education in the madrasas was constrained. In such Muslim countries as Morrocco under domination by the French, European education was viewed as more prestigious and relevant than traditional Islamic based education. In fact the Moroccan royal family embraced European-style education over Islamic education. Hefner and Qasim Zaman pp 15-18.


Deobandi schools first founded in the the late 19th century in India have come to be viewed as the icon of Islamic educational reform in that country and beyond.  The movement derives its name from the village of Deoband, India were it was founded. Deobandis are considered to be Muslim Sunnis  It has been reported that since the 1980s some of Afghanistan’s Taliban leadership studied in Deobandi schools in Pakistan. Hefner and Qasim Zaman, p.19.


Early Deobandis were not backward medieval thinkers. They were cultural brokers promoting a blending of Western education with Muslim tradition.


Purpose of Islamic Education Today


In Muslim states unabashedly the curriculum has been used to promote political and/or Muslim religious viewpoints and to strengthen its position of civil and religious affairs. Muslims embrace differences as long they are judged to be consistent with the Qu’ran and Sharia law. However, that in itself has been and continues to be the source of discord, hostility and violence as those deemed to be in Qu’ranic error by powerful  forces within  Islam are subject to jihad.


Modern Islamic education is neither timelessly traditional nor medieval. It is an evolving institution marked by the world-transforming forces of today including the role of religion in education and thus the curriculum. While as one in belief that the source of all true knowledge is found in the Qu’ran and the Sharia law  Muslim approaches to education are not singular in design and structure. They reflect the cultural aspects of the nation state wherein Muslims reside. In a manner they reflect aspects of the national motto of the United States: Out of many oneE pluribus Unum. Incidentally the national motto if Jamaica is almost identical: Out of many one people Three examples of diversity follow..


As this monograph is being written an extreme example of how cultural aspects of a nation can influence daily life has presented itself. In Somalia insurgent group of extreme Muslims [Hizbul Islam and Shabab] has threatened to take retaliatory action against radio stations that broadcast music. Their contention is that music is “un-Islamic”. As a result over a dozen radio stations have eliminated the broadcast of all music in their programming.  In areas of Somalia where it is strong Shabab has banned the broadcast of  programs of the British Broadcast Corporation [BBC]  and Voice of America. New York Times, April 14, 2010, p. A13

Currently in Afghanistan a new curriculum for primary schools has been developed. It is known as the Life Skills curriculum and promotes ideals of peace and social justice inherent in Islam. Also it is influenced by Western concepts of pluralism and civil society.

 In the Netherlands with a small Muslim population of approximately 900,000 which is less than six percent of the whole there are approximately 40 Islamic primary schools and two secondary schools. The emerging influence of Muslims and their views on education and curriculum has captured national attention. Sectarian schools in the Netherlands are financed by the state. The attention is frequently fueled by discord. – Religion in the Netherlands: Trends .Author Sipco J. Vellenga.   


The question and concern for today as stated by Hefner and Qasim Zaman:


Is the purpose of education to teach fidelity to a fixed and finished canon? Or should  religious education offer a high-minded but general religious that looks outward on creation and encourages a plurality of methods for fathoming and engaging its wonder?…


Notwithstanding two centuries of secularist forecasts to the contrary, religion and public ethics continue to matter, and matter deeply, in our modern world.


Hefner and Qasim Zaman conclude:


In Muslim countries, the search for a workable public ethics has often come to focus on the meaning and functions of Islam, and the methods for their educational inculcation. In as much as this is so, arguments over religious education will almost certainly remain subjects of contention in Muslim countries for years to come.    




Buddhism is the fourth largest religion in the world behind Christianity, Islam and Hinduism. It presents itself in several forms influenced by place of origin, tradition and cultural influences. It can be an amalgam of Confucianism, Taoism as well as mystical and monastic aspects of Christianity. In this brief piece the focus will be on Zen Buddhism. The basic Zen position is that the basic purpose of education is to:  ENDNOTE

“…find the true insight that does not discriminate between failure and success, wealth and poverty, right and wrong. Hence in Zen Buddhism the word education should mean finding one’s undiscriminating mind.


Buddhism was founded in North India in the 7th century BCE by Siddarta Gautama a noble man who forsake all his earthly possessions to follow what he taught as the path to nirvana and enlightenment. Literally the term Buddha translates One who has awakened.  The term is not limited to reference to Gautama, but rather refers to anyone who has found enlightenment by following the path to the undiscriminating mind.


Three basic beliefs of Buddhism are identified as Karma, Dharma and Reincarnation.  Karma refers to the sum total of an individual’s action of body, speech and mind including the good, bad and neutral from current and previous lives. Dharma refers to the teachings of the Buddha Gautama including the fundamental principles that order the universe. Reincarnation relates to a belief in rebirth of a dead person into a living being in a new body that is can be human, animal or supernatural.  Buddhists do not believe in the concept of soul.


Other core beliefs of Buddhism are identified as Sila, Samadhi and Prajna. Sila addresses  virtue, good conduct and morality. Samadhi  relates to concentration, meditation and mental development. The development of the mind is seen as the path to wisdom which leads to personal freedom. Mental development helps maintain good conduct. Prajna relates to discernment, insight, wisdom and enlightenment. Wisdom will emerge if the mind is pure and calm. Prajna is the heart of Buddhism.


Buddhism is based on Four Noble Truths, Five Precepts and an Eightfold Path. The Four Noble Truths are:

  1. Dukka – The belief that suffering exists. Suffering is real and almost universal.
  2. Samadaya —  Suffering has a cause. The cause can be the desire to control things, cravings for sensual pleasure, fame, and the avoidance of unpleasant sensations. Unpleasant sensations include fear, anger and jealousy.
  3. Nirodha – The belief that there can be an end to suffering. Suffering ceases with the liberation of nirvana at which time the mind experiences complete freedom, liberation and non-attachment. Nirvana refers to the state of absolute blessedness characterized by a release from the cycle of reincarnation and attained through the extinction of the self.
  4. Magga – In order to end suffering one must follow the Eightfold Path.


The five precepts identify rules to live. The Ten Commandments of Judaism and Christianity echo the Five Precepts.  However the Five Precepts of Buddhism are not cited as “Commandments” but rather as guidelines. The five are:

  1. Do not kill –Do no harm or violence
  2. Do not steal – Including fraud or economic exploitation
  3. Do not lie – Including gossiping, name calling
  4. Do not misuse sex – Monks and nuns are to live celibate. For the laity adultery, same sex relations, and sexual harassment scorned. The Buddha Gautama was silent on premarital sex by two committed adults.
  5. Do not consume alcohol or drugs –These cloud the mind. Ultra conservatives included movies, TV, and the Internet.


The Eightfold Path




End of Current Work  1-17-09


Ipse dixit

Lawrence P. Creedon


Research Notes …

Indeed, it was race-not abortion or the attendant suite of so-called “values” issues-that propelled Falwell and his evangelical allies into political activism….

Falwell launched on the warpath against civil rights four years after the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision to desegregate public schools with a sermon titled “Segregation or Integration: Which?”

“If Chief Justice Warren and his associates had known God’s word and had desired to do the Lord’s will, I am quite confident that the 1954 decision would never have been made,” Falwell boomed from above his congregation in Lynchburg. “The facilities should be separate. When God has drawn a line of distinction, we should not attempt to cross that line.”

Falwell’s jeremiad continued: “The true Negro does not want integration…. He realizes his potential is far better among his own race.” Falwell went on to announce that integration “will destroy our race eventually. In one northern city,” he warned, “a pastor friend of mine tells me that a couple of opposite race live next door to his church as man and wife.”

As “massive resistance” against civil rights failed, Falwell, along with many Southern whites, withdrew to ‘Christian’ academies: all-white academies that would spare their children the ‘horror’ of integration:

Then, for a time, Falwell appeared to follow his own advice. He retreated from massive resistance and founded the Lynchburg Christian Academy, an institution described by the Lynchburg News in 1966 as “a private school for white students.” It was one among many so-called “seg academies” created in the South to avoid integrated public schools.

For Falwell and his brethren, private Christian schools were the last redoubt. Rather than continue a hopeless struggle against the inevitable, through their schools they could circumvent the integration entirely. Five years later, Falwell christened Liberty University, a college that today funnels a steady stream of dedicated young cadres into Republican Congressional offices and conservative think tanks. (Tony Perkins is among Falwell’s Christian soldiers.)

From its inception, the ‘Christian Right’ was inseparably joined at the hip with perhaps the greatest scourge of U.S. history: racism towards African-Americans. In fact, try as they might actual social conservatives (typically Catholic) could not gain any traction with abortion:

While abortion clinics sprung up across the United States during the early 1970s, evangelicals did little. No pastors invoked the Dred Scott decision to undermine the legal justification for abortion. There were no clinic blockades, no passionate cries to liberate the “pre-born.”

…”The Religious New Right did not start because of a concern about abortion,” former Falwell ally Ed Dobson told author Randall Balmer in 1990. “I sat in the non-smoke-filled back room with the Moral Majority, and I frankly do not remember abortion ever being mentioned as a reason why we ought to do something.”

The only way the religious conservatives could interest Protestant segregationists was by defending the ‘seg academies’:

For Falwell and his allies, the true impetus for political action came when the Supreme Court ruled in Green v. Connally to revoke the tax-exempt status of racially discriminatory private schools in 1971. Their resentment was compounded in 1971 when the Internal Revenue Service attempted to revoke the tax-exempt status of Bob Jones University, which forbade interracial dating. (Blacks were denied entry until that year.) Falwell was furious, complaining, “In some states it’s easier to open a massage parlor than to open a Christian school.”

By Christian, Falwell actually means segregationist. Every issue, except segregation, failed to interest Falwell















John Comenius, the 17th Century Father of Modern Education

December 18, 2009

The Purpose and Significance of Education
John Comenius
The 17th Century Father of Modern Education
Compiled by
Lawrence P. Creedon
William Shakespeare [1564-1616] in his play “The Tempest” observed “The past is
prologue.” Shakespeare was prophetic. In testimony to that observation is the fact that
his prophesy is engraved on the top of the United States National Archieves Building in
Washington, DC. “The Past is Prologue” is applicable to education.
Looking to the past for insight into the future is not to retreat into a by-gone era, rather it
can provide a rich resource in preparing for the needs of today and tomorrow. Knowledge
of the past can provide not only clues to where we have been but also can actually lay out
objectives for the present as well as serve as a vision for the future.
This short piece is devoted to recalling a few of the major views of John Comenius
[1592-1670] as they relate to his view as to the purpose and significance of education for
his era and its application for today. Comenius is little known today, however, among
scholars he is frequently recognized as the father of modern education. Comenius was a
native of Moravia located in the eastern part of what is now the Czech Republic. During
his life time he was caught up in the tumult of the 30 Years religious war [1618-1648]
and as a result it was necessary for him to live much of his life as a refugee from his
homeland and in hiding from religious opponents who wished him ill.
Comenius was Czeck. He was poet, scientist, educator, author and reeligious leader. He
served as a post reformation Bishop in the Moravian Unity of Brethren Protestasnt
Comenius’ life was characterized by constant moving, despair and turmoil However, he
authored many works on education and became famous all through Europe through his
writings. He wrote more than fifty books on education ranging from the purpose of
education to being among the first to publish picture books for children. He was a man of
religion and believed that there was only one truth and that all education ought to be
consistent with the will of God.
His contributions to education are in many ways significant and as stated above he is
recognized as “The father of Modern Education.” He addressed the question: “Is there a
way to teach children pleasantly, but quickly at the same time?” He taught that there was
and that it must be done in a Biblical and helpful manner. Schools of his day thought it
was impossible. They leaned upon corporeal discipline to the extreme, and neglected the
teaching of girls altogether.
Comenius though that youthful learning should be done in the home. The Bible and
religious precepts were to form the basis of the curriculum. Parents – mostly the mother –
would be responsible for the education of the young. He reasoned that if women who
would one day become mothers were not educated then they would not be able to fulfill
their responsibility to their young. His book The Great Didactic [1657] encompassed a
Christian worldview including the importance of education being consistent with nature.
The primary instructional strategy and tactic that prevailed during his lifetime and that
Comenius took issue with was repetition and memorization. Students were not expected
to think for themselves. In contrast Comenius’ view was that if students could not think
well, how could they learn or understand a given proposition?
Education and Nature
The purpose of education for Comenius stretched beyond the boundaries of the classroom
and encompassed all of life. He taught that education must be consistent with God’s
design as seen in nature. Among the nature related principles that Comenius promoted
1. Nature observes a suitable time.
2. Nature prepares the material, before she begins to give it form.
3. Nature chooses a fit subject to act upon, or first submits one to a suitable treatment in
order to make it fit.
4. Nature is not confused in its operations, but in its forward progress advances distinctly
from one point to another.
5. In all the operations of nature, development is from within.
6. Nature, in its formative processes, begins with the universal and ends with the
7. Nature makes no leaps, but proceeds step by step.
8. If nature commences anything, it does not leave off until the operation is completed.
. Nature carefully avoids obstacles and things likely to cause hurt
A Reflection For You
Carefully reflect on each of Comenius’ eight principles from nature. Extrapolate each for
today. To what extent are they applicable for today? To what extend are they applied
today in your school and/or in your practice? If not, why not?
Comenius as Author
Among his prominent books related to education were: The School of Infancy [1631]
focusing on the early years of the child’s education, Janua Linguarum Reserata
[1632]for language studies, and The Way of Light [1641] a universal plan of education
and the first picture book for children[1658].
Comenius’ Views and Their Application for Today
Comenius was an educational visionary with a world view as to the purpose of education.
His views were far more liberal than the norm of his day. He advocated a “universal”
approach including the participation of women. He believed that education should be
realistic, be “hands-on,” and include experience, physical education, science and business
Will and Ariel Durant in their epic multi volume work on The Story of Civilization: The
Age of Reason Begins [1961] are among those who allude the genius of Comenius. They
cite Comenius as asserting:
We are all citizens of one world, we are all of one blood. To hate a man because
he was born in another country, because he speaks a different language, or
because he takes a different view on this subject or that, is a great folly. Desist, I
implore you, for we are all equally human … Let us have but one end in view, the
welfare of humanity; and let us put aside all selfishness in considerations of
language, nationality, or religion.
Creedon Comment:
The implication for education is self-evident and dramatically so in international
education. In the United States presidential election campaign of 2008 several of the
views and concerns expressed by Comenius were prominent throughout the campaign.
The past is prologue.
Six Principles
In his major work The Great Didactic Commenius developed several of his basic
pedagogical principles. Will and Ariel Durant summarize them as follows [Durant: The Age
of Reason, pp. 582-3.]
1. Education should be universal, regardless of sex or financial means. Every village
should have a school, every city a college, and every province a university.
Advancement to higher education should be made possible for all who show
themselves fit. The state must finance the discovery, training and utilization of all
the ability in the population.
2. Education should be realistic; ideas should be at every step kept in touch with
things; words in the vernacular or objects they represent; grammatical instruction
should come later.
3. Education should be physical as well as mental and moral; children should be
trained in health and vigor through outdoor life and sports.
4. Education should be practical; it should not stay in the prison of thoughts, but
should be accompanied by action and practice and should prepare for the business
of the students.
5. More and more science should be taught with the advancing age of the students;
schools of scientific research should be established in every city or province.
6. All education and knowledge should be directed to improving character and piety
in the individual and order and happiness in the state.
Creedon Comment
Keep in mind Comenius offered these comments more than 350 years ago. Do they
resonate as “old-hat,” well established and long applied principles? Is education today
characterized by these? Ought it to be? Has your school mastered all of these? To what
extent does your practice reflect Comenius’ standards.
As some of you prepare for 2008 accreditation and if Comenius’ principles constituted
the accreditation criteria how would your school fare? What does all of this say to you
and your practice?
Clearly Comenius was what would be called today a progressivist with constructivist
leanings. Some critics of progressivist approaches to education [For example: E.D.
Hirsch and James Dobson] call into question such “new” practices as advocated by
progressivists. Among their concerns is that progressivists scorn tradition and past
practice. Logically with this line of reasoning Comenius would have to be included in
their criticism of the new, anti-intellectual views of progressivists. Can something that is
at least 350 years old be considered new?
Lawrence P. Creedon
For Korea
Novembers 12, 2008

Public Education in the United States: Purpose and Brief History

December 18, 2009

Public Education in the United States: Purpose and Brief History
Lawrence P. Creedon
There is no scarcity of information on the topic of this monograph; however, a case can be made
that practitioners in the field and the general public at large are limited as to an understanding of
how the public schools as they are today work and came to be. For the past 50 years public
education in the United States has been subjected to a torrent of criticism at home, while
internationally AAmerican Schools@ are valued as prestigious institutions of learning. Prior to
1957 few government officials gave much consideration to what went on behind the classroom
door. It was viewed as a local matter and best left to the locals to decide what went on in their
community schools. They then taxed themselves at the local level for whatever they decided to
do. All that has changed. Public education is of priority concern throughout the nation.
In order to understand how public schools in the United States came to be as they are today it is
instructive to become familiar with their development from one room village school houses to
vast physical plants catering to the learning needs of hundreds of children at the elementary level
and thousands at the secondary level. In search of such an understanding we will begin with a
brief consideration of purpose.
The Purpose of Public Education
The purposes of public education in the United States abound. In a democratic society it stands
to reason that not all citizens are going to view the purpose of things and institutions, including
the public school, through the same lens. And, even if they peer through the same lens the
images frequently the images they see are different. Purpose, like beauty, is in the eye of the
beholder. However, a set of core purposes can be identified and among them are these:
1. The transmission to the young knowledge of the ideals upon which the United States was
A critical reading of this purpose immediately raises into question the meaning of the
word transmission.
2. To function as a microcosm of a democratic society.
Seldom, if ever, does the school function in this way. More often than not it follows a
structured command, conform and comply mode.
3. To assist young people in becoming self fulfilling individuals, good citizens and competent
workers in a world that is maximally effective for all.
Seldom does the school function so as to promote individual self fulfillment except for a
minority of students. Currently the emphasis on mandated standardized testing dominates
the curriculum and instructional time. There is little time left for other things. Good
citizenship is interpreted to be mean compliance with traditional norms . A Agood
citizenship@ supports the government in its endeavors. The current international crisis in
Iraq is an example. However, an earlier international crisis in Vietnam saw students
becoming politically active. Few students graduate from high school with a job entry skill
other than meeting the requirements for going on to college or vocational training. A
concern for a Aworld that is maximally effective for all@ is a questionable priority in
public education. Evidence to support that point of view includes the current concerns
over immigration into the United States and the outsourcing of American jobs.
4. To provide access and equality of opportunity for all citizens to receive an education at public
The record shows that the public school has constantly and continuously strived to make
these goals available and real for all. The journey has not been on a smooth road and it is
not yet over, but efforts continue unabated.
5. To focus on individual achievement and self fulfillment
History shows that educators are concerned and committed to both of these goals,
however, frequently constraints beyond their control limit effectiveness. The constraints
include among other concerns tradition, bureaucratic micro management of schools, the
organization and structure of the school day and year, and financial limitations.
To do better is better than doing one=s best. A first reading of the above might lead the reader to
conclude that the writer is a skeptic and unnecessarily critical. However, neither skepticism nor
criticism for criticism=s sake is intended. To the contrary, few, if any nations, in the history of
humankind can equal the commitment to universal and effective education that has characterized
the American experience. However, growth does not come from resting on one=s laurels, but
rather striving to do better than what heretofore has been considered one=s best. The United
States is a pragmatic nation. Its schools have developed pragmatically. It will do better than its
How public education in the United States developed is the story of an evolutionary process. In
the Anew world@ of the 17th century it began when what is now the United States were colonies
of Great Britain. The story has continued constantly adding new chapters until today when the
education program of the United States is among those emulated around the world.. It has grown
from one room village-by-village places where select children learned the rudiments of readingwriting-
and-arithmetic for three years (the three Rs) to a colossal enterprise open to all citizens,
including immigrants. At present it culminates in universities providing the most advanced
education in all areas of learning known to humankind. It will continue to get better.
However, the path from what it was in the beginning to what it is now has not one been that was
in foresight laid out on a blueprint. It has evolved over a period of more than 300 years. The
institution has been the scene of many ideological and legal confrontations as to:
What is the purpose and significance of education?
Who should be educated and, why?
What should the curriculum be?
Who should teach?
What should the cost be?
How should the funds be raised?
Who should control education?
Who Should Control Education?
In order to better understand all that is to follow it might be helpful to begin by addressing the
last question first. Who controls public education in the United States? While the constitutional
answer is simple, what has happened and is happening is not. By virtue of the Tenth Amendment
to the Constitution of the United States, the last amendment in the Bill of Rights adopted by the
Constitutional Convention in 17 87, education is a State right. The federal government has no
constitutional powers over education. Not until 1979 under United States President Jimmy
Carter was the then Federal Bureau of Education elevated to the level of one of the now 15
cabinet positions in the executive branch of the federal government. Initially the role of US
Department of education was defined as: (
The Education Department’s first responsibility is ensuring
that the nation’s public school systems provide students with
proper school supplies, educational facilities and qualified
teachers. Department personnel promote parental involvement in
their children’s education and develop financial aid policies.
However, and especially since 1957, the federal government has played an ever increasing role
in the purpose and direction of public education. While its influence is ubiquitous as to purpose
and direction, it remains a very junior partner as to finance. The federal government pays
approximately 10 to 15 percent of the cost of public education. State and local governments pay
the remaionder.
The influence of the federal government comes through legislation. Federal legislation related to
civil rights, discrimination, equity, due process and as host of other concerns place the federal
government in the center of things related to what goes on behind the classroom door. The
Fourteenth Amendment to the US Constitution is the key that unlocked the door for federal
involvement in public education. The Fourteenth Amendment provides that:
All persons born or naturalized in the United States and
subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the
United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State
shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the
privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States;
nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or
property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person
within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
The courts have determined access to a public education a property right and all citizens are
constitutionally protected by the Adue process@ and Aequal protection of the law@ provisions of
the Fourteenth Amendment.
Colonial Period in American History
In its earliest days during the American colonial period answers to the above seven questions
were relatively simple. The purpose and significance of education was twofold:. It was:
1. To teach young people beginning around age 5 or 6 the rudiments of readingwriting
2. To instill in them the moral and religious precepts of the then prevailing Protestant
Christian religious doctrine.
In that the colonists lived in an agrarian, apprentice learning based society there was little need
for anything beyond the three Rs of reading-writing-and-arithmetic. For the most part girls were
apprenticed at home learning domestic skills from their mothers. Teachers had no special traing.
They were drawn from among village members and were proficient in the three Rs. Also, they
received the approval of the local Protestant minister as to their religious orthodoxy. For the most
part teachers were men who had learned how to read, cipher and write in their own youthful
years and were judged by the minister to be of good moral character. It was not uncommon for
the minister also to be the school master. However, early on women began to replace men as
teachers in that in practice schooling was an extension of the home and men were needed for
more physically demanding work. No formal education in teacher education was required or
thought necessary.
The first publicly funded secondary public school in the colonies was Boston Latin School
(1635). The purpose of Boston Latin was to prepare young scholars for admission to Harvard
College. The then purpose of Harvard was to prepare young men for the Protestant ministry.
Boston Latin remains in place today with a much broader purpose and scope.
The cost of the school was to be borne by village property owners. From the earliest days of
colonial America the cost of education has been viewed as a local responsibility And, it still is.
The control of education was to reside within the village
The local Protestant minister had a strong voice in determining all aspects of schooling. Slowly
village school committees, (also known as councils or boards) were elected from among those
eligible in the village to vote. Those eligible to vote were male property owners.
The Colonies Became a Nation in 1778-9 and the First Half of the 19th Century
During this period the concept of schooling continued to expand. In 1779 Thomas Jefferson, the
third President of the United States, laid out a hierarchal plan for the education of young men in
his native state of Virginia. Beyond the three Rs it was a plan of meritocracy. It began with each
village being required to maintain at its own cost a school where the three Rs would dominate
the curriculum. Schooling would be for three years. After that competitive examinations would
be taken periodically until the Abrightest@ ultimately received appointments to attend the
university. Jefferson=s university remains today as the prestigious college of William and Mary.
The curriculum remained focused on the three Rs and Protestant morality. Even thought the US
Constitution through the first amendment to the Constitution has placed limits on the extent to
which the Church was to be involved in secular affairs, the Protestant influence remained in
place. It was not until the 1830s that the last state severed the legal ties between the public
schools and the Protestant Church.
Slowly during this period the number of days spent in school each year, and the number of years
of schooling increased from three to eight. The schools were known as AGrammar schools.@
Public High schools were still yet to come. The brightest and wealthiest students could go
beyond grammar school to privately endowed academies. In the New England area of the United
States a few of those schools remain. In my home region of New England a few that remain
include Thayer Academy, Braintree, Massachusetts. Thayer is named after its founder who rose
to be the first superintendent of the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York.
Another in my home town of Quincy, Massachusetts is the Woodward School for Girls founded
by a revered physician. It was and is unique in that it was for girls. In the United States today
there are approximately 100 high school level non-religious affiliated schools exclusively for
girls. My son did a high school post graduate year in a third prestigious private academy:
Deerfield Academy, Deerfield, MA. When he attended it was limited to young men, now females
are enrolled.
The curriculum remained focused on the three Rs, but began to expand beyond the rudiments of
low order cognitive skill development (information, comprehension, memorization, recall) in the
three Rs.. It began to expand into Euro centered classical literature and history, and geography.
For the most part the study of geography was unrelated to anything else in the curriculum and
focused on memorizing the names and locations of nations, capitols, rivers, mountains, crops
grown in the region and natural resources available.
The one room school house prevailed with one teacher for all eight grades. Older students served
as peer instructors for younger students. To some degree continuous progress did prevail.
Continuous progress meant that a youngster continued on an individual path of learning and was
not constrained by artificial content for the grade restrictions..
In larger communities larger schools began to appear. However, the organizational structure
remained the same: One teacher with the same group of students for eight years. The first graded
grammar school appeared in Boston during the latter part of this period. It was known as the
Quincy School and remains today. Now it is populated almost exclusively by Chinese
Americans. In this dramatic organizational change the school was divided into grades one
through eight. Children moved through the grades one year at a time as if on a conveyor belt.
Each year the cohort of children had a different teacher and the content for the grade was
specific for that grade. The teacher taught all subjects including such specialties as music and
art. That organizational structure remained in tact for over 100 years and was in place when I
began my career as an elementary school teacher in 1957. By this time the term Agrammar
school@ had been replaced by elementary school.
Another feature of the graded Quincy Grammar School was that it had a full time supervising
headmaster (now known as the principal).
Teachers still did not need much in the way of pre service education. At best, maybe a few
months of pedagogical training that was focused primarily on discipline. In that Protestant
morality of the day viewed the child as a creature that left to his/her own devices would err and
disobey, corporal punishment was condoned, expected and applied. Corporal punishment was a
term that identified the approach to discipline. Corporal punishment allowed the teacher or
headmaster to Aspank@ or use physical force in correcting the alleged transgressions of a child.
For the most part corporal punishment is a thing of the past, however, a few states, primarily in
the South, still allow it by law.
Control remained within the jurisdiction of local townspeople with the strong influence of the
Protestant church. Financial support was raised locally. In 1837 Massachusetts appointed Horace
Mann as the first state wide secretary of education in the United States. Under his leadership
state funds were made available to start schools, however, continued funding would remain a
local responsibility. The curriculum in state initiated schools was standardized. This >carrot and
stick@ approach continues today at the state and federal levels. If the local distinct wants sate and
federal money it must adhere to their curriculum requirements.
From the American Civil War 1860-1865 to the Turn of the 20th Century
The American Civil War followed by the industrial revolution resulted in many new realities
facing the public school. The graded grammar school came to characterize school organization.
Public high schools were still for the most part in the future.
The need for change was forced upon the schools as vast numbers of non-English speaking
immigrants began to flood United States east coast cities. The public grammar school began to
be characterized as the great melting pot where immigrant children were taught how to be
Americans. Of course it was being American by the standard of the day which meant anti-Negro,
anti-Catholic, anti-Semitic, and anti-Asian. AAmerica for Americans@ and that still meant
European Caucasians of Protestant tradition.
In the south Negroes did not attend school. It was a crime to teach a Negro how to read. In the
North the urban schools were openly anti-Catholic and anti-Semitic. In the just opening West
anti-Chinese laws were enacted.
Two from among the many dramatic happenings of the era were the creation of the Roman
Catholic parochial school system, and the US Supreme Court Plessey vs Ferguson decision
(1896) declaring it Constitutional to maintain two Aseparate but equal@ school systems within
the United States.
The public school was clearly anti-Catholic. It was common practice for teachers to Apreach@ to
their immigrant Roman Catholic students about the evils of Catholicism and popery. It was
commonplace for the teachings of the Catholic Church to be scorned as idolatry and the Pope to
be portrayed as the anti-Christ. As a result in the Second Council of Baltimore in the late 1860s
the Roman Catholic Bishops of the United States pledged to establish a school in every parish in
the country so that by the turn the turn of the century Aevery Catholic child would be in a
Catholic school.@ Thus, the parochial school system was born. The goal of the Bishops was
never realized, however, Catholics did give rise to the largest alternative to the public school in
the United States. As a result of the changes in the Catholic Church post Vatican Council II in
the 1960s the Roman Catholic parochial school reinvented itself. While many parish grammar
schools were forced to close due to the loss of teaching nuns and the cost of hiring lay faculty,
regional high schools under the jurisdiction of the diocese or separate religious orders began to
flourish. The focus shifted to regional college preparatory high schools and that remains the
situation today. In urban centers Catholic schools serve as an alternative to the public school.
Frequently only a minority of enrollees are Catholic. Nuns no longer staff the schools as none are
available. To raise funds for their support Catholic schools are turning to professional fund
raisers and adopting the practices of colleges in fund raising.
The new parochial schools are the Christian Academies established by the Protestant religious
right especially in the south. Originally such schools were in protest to the 1954 Supreme Court
decision striking down Plessey vs Ferguson and declaring racially segregated schools
unconstitutional. Today the purpose of Protestant based Christian Academies has grown beyond
a concern for continued segregation to embrace a broader interest in including religious values
and content in the curriculum While this element strongly opposed any government financial aid
for Catholic Parochial schools prior to the 1954 Brown Supreme Court decision as a violation of
separation of church and state, it now actively supports government financial assistance under
the Bush Administration AFaith Based Initiatives@ program for its own schools. Ironically
Catholic schools qualify for the same financial assistance. Objection to this practice does not
come from Protestant or Catholic partisans, but rather secularists concerned over violations of
the First Amendment prohibition against aiding religious activities. Protestants and Other
Americans United for the Separation of Church and State (POAU, or as they now prefer to be
called AAmericans United@ are in the forefront of this legal battleground). In 1957 I co-authored
United for Separation, a book related to the activities of POAU.
In the post American Civil War (1860-1865) South the ideological battle waged on as the white
population strove to keep the recently freed from bondage Negroes subservient and Ain their
place.@ White parents across economic lines angrily and violently resisted their children going
to school alongside of Blacks. Ultimately the US Supreme Court settled the issue proclaiming
the Aequal but separate@ doctrine in 1896. This prevailed until overturned in 1954 in Brown vs
the Board of Education. There are those who argue today that the schools remain segregated
especially in urban areas where African Americans and other minorities do not receive equality
in educational opportunity. Study after study highlights the achievement gap between students
attending urban schools and those attending suburban schools. Urban schools are heavily
populated by African Americans, Hispanics and other minorities. Also, there are those newly
minted African American middle class members as well as Hispanics who in order to preserve
their cultural identity and sense of community, are calling for a return to a new approach to
Aseparate but equal schools.@ Their message is make the schools equal in every respect, but
leave them as community schools serving those who live in the community. They oppose
integration for the purpose of racial balance if in the process cultural identify is lost.
The curriculum remained very narrow by today=s standards. For the most part it could be
characterized as reflecting the liberal arts. The public school had little to offer those for whom an
academic approach was not fulfilling or appropriate. What came to be known as ATrade
Schools= for non-academically inclined students were still on the horizon and vocational
technical schools of choice were beyond the horizon.
Public high schools began to slowly appear, but they were not open to all. Qualified graduates of
grammar schools were offered the opportunity to apply for admission to public high schools.
Teacher education began to take form during this period. The first post high school program
specifically for the training of teachers opened. It was Framingham Normal School in
Framingham MA. This institution grew to become Framingham State Teachers College, then it
expanded beyond teacher preparation into Framingham State College. The C. Louis Cedrone
International Education Program is affiliated with Framingham.
A ANormal School@ was not a degree granting institution. It offered a one or two year preservice
program primarily for those young women interested in becoming grammar school
teachers. Slowly Normal Schools evolved into four year baccalaureate institutions for all
interested in teaching as a vocation, not just grammar school teachers. Further growth saw the
inclusion of masters degree programs and the expansion into other academic areas beyond
teacher preparation. The International Education Programs, a private non-profit corporation,
came to be affiliated with Framingham State College and was recently named in memory of Dr.
C. Louis Cedrone who championed its growth into an international program with sites in over 30
countries around the world.
.What came to be known as the progressive education movement began to emerge during this
period. The progressive education movement proposed a psychologically based alternative to the
then prevailing rigid academic structure of the school. The prevailing essentialists or traditional
approach was content centered, the progressivist approach advocated an alternative learner or
child centered school. The ideological debate continues to this day with essentialists and
progressivists. At present the traditionalists are in the forefront primarily due to the stringent
requirement of the No Child Left Behind Federal law (2001). Today=s progressivists can be
identified as Constructivists. Constructivists believe that knowledge is developed by and within
each learner as opposed to being imposed on the learner from the outside.
Merle Curti in his now classic volume The Social Ideas of American Educators was among those
education historians who held that progressive education in the United States began in the then
small village of Quincy, Massachusetts during the superintendency of Colonel Francis W.
Parker. Parker served in Quincy from 1865 -1870. He was the first professionally trained
superintendent of schools in the United States. The AQuincy Method@ began nationally
renowned. When asked a quarter of a century later to define the Quincy Method, Colonel Parker
replied: There never was a Quincy Method unless it meant the more humane treatment of little
I served as the 13th successor to Colonel Parker as Quincy superintendent of schools (1969-
1984), and my brother Eugene served as 16th successor from 1992-2002. From 1865 to when I
became superintendent of schools in 1969 the district grew from a faculty of less than 40
teachers to one of 2000. It went from a grammar school program only to one culminating in a
two year community college offering an associate degree, and a 13th and 14th year vocational
technical program in such areas as related health occupations and computer science.
During this period policy making and financial control remained at the local level. Locally
elected school boards set policy including matters related to the curriculum. Financial support
was raised locally through the taxes levied on real estate
The First Half of the 20th Century
This period brought with it extensive changes in public education in the United States. Changes
1. By the end of WW I (1918) Public high schools became a reality in every community large
enough to support one. Smaller communities formed regional high schools. However, in 1900
only 5 percent of high school youngsters graduated from high school. By World War One the
figure climbed to 10 percent.
2. Enrolled in high school came to be understood as a property right. Formal education did not
end at the conclusion of grammar school.
3. The organizational structure of schools was changed. The new structure included elementary
schools serving grades 1-6, junior high schools serving grades 7-9, and high school grades 10-12.
4. At the elementary level the curriculum continued to focus on the basic academic skills. The
classroom was heavily structured. The primary approach to learning was teacher dominated
whole class instruction. The self contained classroom prevailed with one teacher being
responsible for the entire curriculum for a cohort of students. Little consideration was given to
individual learning needs or styles. Standardized academic achievement tests and AQuick
Scoring@ intelligence tests were introduced. Non-achieving students were retained in grade
Corporal punishment was a norm. Toward the end of this period the expectation was that all
teachers would have at least a bachelor=s degree.
5. The junior high school was new. It was as the name implies a Ajunior high school.@ It was
viewed as a transition period between the Amothering@ approach of the elementary school to the
ANo nonsense,@ Aacademic rigors@ of the high school. The school day continued to be heavily
structured and modeled after the high school. All students followed the same core curriculum.
Cohorts of children were divided into classroom size groups based on previous academic
performance and the results of standardized tests including intelligence tests. Teachers
specialized in a specific content area. Students were exposed to several different teachers each
day according to that teacher’s specialty. After school Aextra curricular@ programs were
introduced such as sport.
6. The high school came to be the pearl in the local system. Increasingly the expectation was that
all young people would graduate from high school. At the beginning of WW I approximately 10
percent of 17 year olds graduated from high school. By the end of this period the statistic had
climbed to over 70 percent and in the more affluent communities to well over 90 percent. The
structured day prevailed. Students were divided into classroom size cohorts according to test
determined and previous academic achievement. The curriculum was expanded to include
business education and secretarial skills for girls and vocational trades for boys. The prestigious
academic program remained college preparation. The extra curricular program expanded with
interscholastic sport, social events such as dances, theater and music programs, and student
government. The expectation was that teachers would have at least a master’s degree in their area
of specialization.
The end of WW II had a major impact on public education not only at the local level but at the
college level. Returning veterans began to marry, move to existing suburbs, create new suburbs,
and raise families. New schools were required and they sprung up all over the landscape. Parents
began to take a renewed interest in what went on behind the classroom door. At the college level
returning veterans by the millions took advantage of the opportunities provided them by the
federal government for free college education provided by the AGI Bills of Rights.@ The
program was an expression of appreciation by a grateful nation for their military service during
the war.
During this period policy making and financial control continued to remain at the local level.
Locally elected school boards continued to set policy including matters related to the curriculum.
Financial support was raised locally through the taxes levied on real estate. However, during this
period the financial contribution of the state came to be more significant and began to increase.
1950 to the Present
During the last half century significant changes have continued
to take in public education. However, the age old witticism that
the more things change the more they remain the same applies to
education. Until 1957 the United States was complacent about
education. As late as 1973 the US Supreme Court in the San
Antonio, TX Independent School District v. Rodriguez. Case
declared that public education is not of interest under the
Constitution. The Court ruled that the inequitable public school
funding scheme in Texas was not a violation of the equal
protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The case The
Texas case was not a bellwether signaling how the federal
government and the courts were proceeding during this period.
The first major disruption to the status quo came in 1954 with
the US Supreme Court unanimous decision in Brown vs the Board of
Education. The high court struck down segregated public schools
as unconstitutional. In effect the 1896 Plessey vs Ferguson
decision authorizing separate but equal school was vacated.
In 1957 the then Soviet Union shocked the United States out of
its lethargy regarding its preeminence in world affairs. The
Soviet Union launched a basketball sized space satellite known
as Sputnik and the space age cold war battle was joined.
Immediately in the United States the finger of blame was leveled
at the public school. The allegation was that the US had fallen
behind the Soviet Union in space age science due to the
inadequacy of the public schools in math and science education.
In 1958 the Congress passed the National Defense Education Act.
(NDEA). Federal money began to pour into public schools in
order to develop new science and math curricula, push science
education down into the junior high school and elementary
grades, up grade school laboratories, provide more and current
learning materials including electronic aides to learning, and
establish university based four to six week summer workshops for
science and math teachers to upgrade their knowledge and skills.
Eventually NDEA was extended to other areas of the curriculum
beyond math and science.
In 1963 the US Congress passed into law the first major up grade
in vocational education legislation since 1930. Vocational
education which had languished as a Adumping ground@ and
vocational trades training program for non-academically inclined
students began to come into its own. Federal money was available
for the development and implementation of vocational and
technical programs beyond the traditional trades of plumbing,
electrical, carpentry, automotive, etc. One major effort funded
by the US Department of Education was known as Project ABLE. For
the first time in education history the US Department of
Education had provided over one million to one school system to
develop a dramatically new curriculum for a newly constructed
vocational technical school. The program extended from grade
nine through year 14. The grant was awarded to Quincy,
Massachusetts where I was then serving as assistant
superintendent of schools for curriculum and instruction. Sadly,
today, 40 years later, there is no trace of that effort
remaining. In fact the school has been down-graded to a division
of the neighboring Quincy High School and the facility built
specifically to house the new school might be razed. A good
question is: Why? Happened?
In 1963 the Congress passed the Economic Opportunity Act. It was
through this legislation that Head Start for pre-school children
from low income families was established. Head Start remains in
place today. For the most part it continues to be held in high
In 1965 the Congress passed the then most far reaching piece of
federal legislation related to education in the history of the
nation: The Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965.
Through provisions of the law federal money has been provided
for basic skills development for children from low income
families. The law provided funds for libraries and electronic
aids to learning. It encouraged innovative locally initiated
projects and programs. Since its original passage in1965 it has
undergone several legislative revisions and remains today as the
No Child Left Behind federal program.
In 1975 the Congress passed the Education for all Handicapped
Children Act. This legislation provided funds to assist local
communities in providing for the needs of handicapped children
and doing so in the least restrictive learning environment
possible. Equality of opportunity, equity and due process
considerations of the Fourteenth Amendment required that
handicapped children not be segregated and denied access to
mainstream education opportunities
In 2001 the Congress passed a revised version of ESEA (1965). It
is known as the No Child Left Behind law. Under its provisions
school districts and states which wish to benefit financially
from its provisions must comply with federal requirements
concerning standardized testing. While not handing down a
mandated federal curriculum, the federal government has
accomplished the same thing by requiring schools to administer
standardized tests approved by the Department. Failure to comply
or having schools fail to meet federal standards will result in
loss of federal financial support and recognition as a school
providing a Aquality@ education. Under the act teachers must
meet federal standards for competence in their areas of
specialization. The legislation is very controversial and
opposed in part or in its entirety by many practitioners, local
school boards, professional organizations for educators, and
university professors of education. I include myself among the
In addition to the above cited actions by the federal
government, each state in the union has during the past quarter
century stepped up its involvement in determining educational
standards. The states have the legal right to do so as education
is a states right. Every state now has mandated curriculum and
instructional objectives. Each state has established its own
mandated state wide standardized testing program. Financial
penalties and loss of state accreditation await those districts
and schools that do not comply.
Several other initiatives beyond landmark federal legislation
characterize this period. They include the 1966 Colman Report of
Racial Equality, the 19XX report by the then Secretary of
Education: A Nation at Risk, voucher plans to permit tax dollars
to used to defray part of the cost of tuition in non-public
schools, and Charter Schools as a Tax supported alternative to
public schools.
In 1966 sociologist James S. Colman of John Hopkins University undertook a massive study
involving 570,000 students and 60,000 teachers. The name of the study was: Equality of Educational
Opportunity. The purpose of the study was to examine the factors that led to success in school. The
study has been identified as the most important US educational research project of the 20th Century.
Instead of proving that the quality of schools is the most important factor in a student’s academic
success, as had been expected, the report found that a child’s family background and the school’s
socioeconomic makeup are the best predictors. David J. Hoff, Education Week on the Web,
March 24, 2004.
In 1983 the Secretary of Education released a study titled A Nation at Risk: Report of
the National Commission on Excellence in Education. The report was
extremely critical of the public schools. It asserted that if a foreign power had been responsible for
subverting the purpose and practice of public education in the US to the extent that was currently
prevailing, then the nation would consider it an act of war. Critics of public education rallied around
A Nation at Risk and the report came to be the impetus for one by one the 50 states enacting
legislation aimed at halting approaches to education that were identified with the progressive
education movement. For the first time in the history of the nation states began legislating basic
skills requirements and standardized testing. The effort of the critics has reached its current apex in
the No Child Left Behind federal law.
Lack of confidence in the public schools has given rise to two tax supported alternatives. Both
alternatives are controversial and face court challenges. The first is the Voucher Movement. Here
parents who’s children are attending public schools that are over crowded and/or determined to be
deficient in providing a quality education can petition to have their children transferred to a more
desirable public school in a neighboring community, or a private, including religious affiliated,
school. The voucher provides tax money to defray in part the cost of tuition at the receiving school.
The money to support the voucher is taken from the public school budget. The program is
controversial and court battles are on-going. The program has the support of the current federal
administration. It is opposed by others as an inappropriate drain on limited financial resources
available for public schools. In some cases it is being challenged as an unconstitutional violation of
the separation of church and state.
The second alternative is the Charter School Movement. Under this initiative a limited number of tax
supported alternatives to the public school are permitted. Charter schools are state programs,
therefore, each state where they are allowed has its own requirements. Essentially how it works is
that a group of “qualified” individuals can petition the state for a “charter” to operate an alternative
to the public school. The requirements for receiving a charter are strict and limited. Generally a
group receiving a charter is released from many of the state bureaucratic requirements. The charter is
for a pre-determined number of years. The state serves in oversight capacity. The initiating group
must raise start up costs itself, however, once established it can draw financial support on a per pupil
basis from the school district of the community where it is located. It must adhere to all provisions
of civil rights legislation and Fourteenth Amendment requirements. As with the voucher program,
charter schools face legal challenges. As with vouchers the program has the support of the current
federal administration. It is opposed by others as an inappropriate drain on limited financial
resources available for public schools. In some cases it is being challenged as an unconstitutional
violation of the separation of church and state.
Local School Boards Reduced in Authority and Influence
Locally elected school boards no longer have the legal control
over schools they traditionally had. For example, in
Massachusetts local school boards no longer have fiscal autonomy
or have financial control of the school budget. That authority
now rests with city or town government and is increasingly being
assumed by state legislatures and departments of education.
Under the provisions of the No Child Left Behind law, the
federal government has assumed a responsibility for education
that was never envisioned by the founding fathers of the nation.
In large measure local control is in name only.
Another example of loss of local school board authority is that
local boards in some states such as Massachusetts are no longer
are responsible for hiring teachers and principals. They
responsibility now resides with the professionals in a
hierarchal structure. The principal hires the teachers, the
superintendent hires the principals and the school board hires
the superintendent. Furthermore, under provisions of NCLB all
teachers must meet federal mandated requirements before the end
of this decade.
In most states staff members at all levels and in all ranks now
have the legal right to bargain collectively for hours, wages
and conditions of employment. However, this right is not
universal. Some states such as Florida do not have collective
bargaining rights. Massachusetts was among the first states to
do so and Quincy, Massachusetts was the first school district in
the state to enter into a collective bargaining agreement with
the then autonomous school board.
This 8000 word monograph does not exhaust the subject. It barely
scratches the surface. It condenses complex and diversified
issues into a brief synopsis. In other places it makes specific
reference to time and place of specific events that I am
personally familiar with. The intent there is not to gloss over
differences, but rather to suggest a general overview. By
specific reference the intent is to highlight that in the final
analysis things do get down to boots on the ground. Real people
actually do walk the walk of those who talk.
Among the many hallmarks of a professional is to be informed
about the history of his/her profession including, trials,
tribulations, attempts at progress, success with some of those
attempts, and failure with others. Failure never truly occurs if
the professional assesses what went wrong, challenges the basic
assumptions being considered, regroups, and tries again. In
1941 Ortega Y Gasset put it this way:
Man, s real treasure is the treasure of his mistakes, piled up
stone by stone through thousands of years…Breaking the
continuity with the past, wanting to begin again, is lowering of
man and a plagiarism of the organutan… Continuity is one of
the rights of man; it is a homage of everything that
distinguished him from the beast [Robert D. Kaplan, Warrior
Politics. Vintage Books, Random House, 2002, Introduction
quoting Jose Ortega Y Gasset, Toward a Philosophy of History,
Education is about assisting young people in coming to know.
However, it is also about politics or as the ancient Greeks
would have it the polis. Polis has to do with the individual=s
responsibility for what goes on in the city-state in behalf of
its citizens. It is not about the down-and-dirty, unsavory
aspects of contemporary public, political life of election
politics. Educators have that responsibility for caring about
what goes on in the polis in the name of the young people they
serve. Tenure was supposed to provide an environment where
practitioners could express that concern without fear of
Credibility is another hallmark of a professional and among the
milestones along the pathway of being recognized as creditable
is to be conversant with what has come before. This brief
monograph is an attempt to offer a synopsis of what has come
before. It is up to individual practitioners to critically
reflect on has come before, assess things as they are today, and
extrapolate for the future. To do less is to be at play in
little games.
Ipse dixit!
Lawrence P. Creedon
July, 2004
Arlington, VA USA
A Time line of Public Education in America
This time line can be found by accessing the web site referred
to at the end. It has not been compiled by the author of this
Public education has long been intertwined with the social and
economic history of the country. Set forth below is a time line
of significant events in the history of public education in the
United States.
1635 The Boston Latin School, the first publicly funded
secondary school in America, and the oldest educational
institution in the country, opens. Some notable figures in
history who attended this school include: Cotton Mather,
Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock and Samuel Adams.
1779 Thomas Jefferson argued for universal taxpayer funded
public education at the basic level. While he was
unsuccessful at this time, his influence was apparent in
later years.
1837 Horace Mann becomes the first secretary of education in the
Commonwealth of Massachusetts. He travels the state on
horseback advocating for a system of “common schools.”
Under his leadership, the legislature provided funds to
localities to open the schools. These common schools
provided a standardized curriculum at the elementary level
and were the precursors to today’s public school system.
1849 Henry Barnard creates a system of common schools in
1852 The Massachusetts legislature enacts the first compulsory
education law requiring every child to get an education.
1853 New York follows the lead of Massachusetts and passes its
own compulsory education law.
1865 By the end of the Civil War, most state constitutions
guaranteed public support for public education.
1874 Michigan Supreme Court rules that communities could use
local property taxes to fund secondary schools.
1900 By this year, 1.6 million children were attending public
schools with 5% of them going on to high school.
1918 All states now have compulsory education laws through
elementary schools. John Dewey, an education professor at
the Columbia University Teachers’ College, advocates a
theory of education called progressive education which
eventually turned into the present day vocational
1920 High school has become a more common experience.
1930 By this year, 29 million children attend public schools.
1950 By this year, 35% of public school students graduate from
high school.
1954 The United States Supreme Court rules in Brown v. Board of
Education of Topeka that separate educational facilities
for black and white children in the South are inherently
unequal and unconstitutional.
1957 President Eisenhower orders federal troops to Little Rock,
Arkansas to force racial integration of that city’s Central
High School. The Soviet Union launches Sputnik, the first
spacecraft to orbit the earth, causing great concern in the
United States about the state of science and math education
in America.
1958 The National Defense Education Act is passed by Congress in
a reaction to the Russian launch of Sputnik. The act
provided federal funding to public schools to bolster
higher level science and math curriculum. This was the
first time the federal government intervened in public
school policy and curriculum citing the needs of national
1965 Congress passes the Elementary and Secondary Education Act
as part of President Lyndon Johnson’s war on poverty. Title
I of this act provided the first federal aid to school
districts with large percentages of children living in
poverty. This act was also the beginning of Head Start, a
health, education and nutrition program designed to help
low income three and four year old children prepare for
1968 Twelve cents of every dollar spent on k-12 education comes
from the federal government.
1973 The U.S. Supreme Court holds that public education is not a
fundamental interest under the U.S. Constitution and
therefore, the inequitable public school funding scheme in
Texas was not a violation of the Equal Protection Clause.
The case was San Antonio Independent School District v.
1975 In the Education for all Handicapped Children Act, Congress
orders the public schools to provide an education to all
disabled children.
1976 The California Supreme Court holds that education is a
fundamental right under the equal protection clause of the
state constitution in Serrano v. Priest. The high courts in
Connecticut and Wyoming followed suit in 1977 and 1980.
1979 President Jimmy Carter creates the new cabinet level
Department of Education.
1983 A federal commission created by President Ronald Reagan
publishes its report, “A Nation at Risk,” which states
that, “public schools are drowning in a rising tide of
1989 The National Education Summit is convened by President
George Bush, attended by the nation’s governors. The Summit
produces five national education goals for the year 2000.
1995 Eighty-seven percent of Americans graduate from high
1996 A second national education summit includes both state
governors and national business leaders. The summit calls
for national education standards. The discussion of
national standards brings into sharp focus the dire straits
of poor urban schools.
1999 The Pennsylvania Supreme Court upholds a lower court ruling
in PARSS v. Ridge that the issue of equity in school
funding among the 501 school districts in Pennsylvania is
not a matter to be decided in the courts but must be
resolved in the legislature.
2000 Continuing problems with the adequacy of the education
provided by public schools gives rise to a small but vocal
political movement in favor of publicly funding charter
schools, privately funded vouchers and home schooling.
2000 Since 1989, the fairness of state school funding systems
has been challenged in the courts of at least 28 states. In
18 of these cases, the state’s highest court has upheld the
challenge and ruled the system was unfair.
For more information on the history of public education in
America, visit these sites:
The Merrow Report: In Schools We Trust.
A Nation at Risk: Report of the National Commission on
Excellence in Education created by President Ronald Reagan.
The United States Dept. of Education website.

A False Reality: The Foundations of Education is Held Without Honor in the Preparation of School Leaders

December 18, 2009

A False Reality
The Foundations of Education is Held Without Honor
in the Preparation of School Leaders
That which is honored is practiced while that without honor is neglected
Plato, The Republic
The sad and false reality is that the foundations of education are without honor in the
preparation of school leaders.
For a century or more the preparation of teachers, and in particular school leaders, has
been under attack. The 2005 Arthur Levine study “Educating School Leaders” concluded
that the “…majority of the 600 programs to prepare school leaders were the weakest
programs found in America’s education system.” In September 2006 Levine released a
second report critical of teacher education calling it the “…Dodge City of education –
unruly and chaotici
Dr. Levine is by no means alone in his criticism. A jocular juxtaposition of book titles
from 1932 to the present tells the story. And, it is that:
There is a Crisis in Education [Silberman, 1970], and The Reason Why Johnny
Can’t Read [Flesch, 1986], and is experiencing Death at an Early Age [Kozol,
1967], is due to The Miseducation of American Teachers [Koener, 1963].
Teaching (is) a Subversive Activity [Postman and Weingartner, 1969]. As a result
the United States is A Nation at Risk, [USOE, 1983]. The challenge is Dare the
Schools Build a New Social Order [Counts, 1932], focusing on the Schools Our
Children Deserve [Kohn, 1999], and thus assuring that No Child is Left Behind,
[USA federal law, 2002]. In the extreme what might be needed is the Deschooling
of Society [Illich, 1970].
The frequently vitriolic debate has gone on between proponents of stability who have an
interest in maintaining and reaffirming things as they are, and those advocates of renewal,
transformation and change. In short, this is a classic confrontation between stability and
change. ii
The arguments on either side of the divide should be well known to those assembled
here; therefore, they will not be revisited today. Rather, what will be considered are six
points addressing theory into practice in the application of the foundations of education in
the preparation of school leaders.
A personal mantra of mine related to theory into practice is:
Theory not applied is useless while application not based on theory is reckless.
I wish I could take credit for those words of wisdom, but Aristotle and Confucius, among
others, offered similar counsel.
The five are:
1. Testimony in support of the allegation that the foundations of education are
without support in the preparation of school leaders.
2. A consideration of what ought to be the content, purpose, mission and goals of a
foundations program.
3. A synopsis of my personal odyssey in foundations.
4. A personal experience as a superintendent of schools in striving to develop and
implement a foundations based, constructivist approach to learning in a 20,000
student school system.
5. Communication and Conclusion
Point One
Who says the foundations of education are without honor?
The United States Department of Education
Major research organizations
Individual researchers
The president of a major university
The No Child Left Behind 2002 federal law mandates that all teachers be “qualified” by
2007. No where in the legislation does “qualified” recognize the foundations of
Major Research Organization
“Educating School Leaders” [2005] is a privately funded research report associated with
Teachers College, Columbia.iii The principal author is former Columbia University
Teachers College president Dr. Arthur Levine. The report alleges that existing programs
for preparing school leaders are:
“inadequate to appalling,”
“ incoherent,”
“random grab-bag of survey classes.”
It concludes that existing programs do not address the “nitty-gritty of what it takes to be a
school leader.” The Levine study takes direct aim at foundations:
Typically, the curriculum [in schools of education] amounts to a little more than a
grab bag of survey courses – such as Historical and Philosophical Foundations of
Education, Education Psychology and Research methods – that happen to be
taught else where in the education school.
The Levine has called for the elimination of the doctor of education degree. The Ed.D.
has been termed:
a watered-down doctorate that diminished the field of educational administration
and provides a back door for weak education schools to gain doctoral granting
The Levine report concluded that an Ed.D. is unnecessary for any job in school
administration and creates a burdensome obstacle to people who want to enter senior
leader levels of school leadership.
In September 2006 the Levine group released a second study extremely critical of the
teacher education.
Individual Researchers
The March 2006 issue of the Phi Delta Kappan devoted a 15 article special section to
“Educating Leaders for Tomorrow’s Schools.” One contributor, Dr. Margaret Orr, Bank
Street College, featured five areas that she identified as depicting the current focus on the
preparation of school leaders. The five are:
• A reinterpretation of leadership as pivotal for improving teaching and learning
• New insights into program content, pedagogy, and filed-based learning
• Redesign of the doctorate toward mid-career professional development
• Greater use of partnerships for program design opportunities
• A renewed commitment to continuous improvement
No where in the 15 articles in the Kappan are the foundations of education recognized.
The President of Boston University.
From the beginning of his tenure in 1975 as president of Boston University, Dr. John
Silber made it known that he saw no value in the foundations of education program. In
1984 after a decade of controversy and conflict Silber succeeded in terminating the
program. According to the Nash report [1990] reviewing the plight and demise of the
foundations department at BU, Dr. Silber’s view was that teacher education programs
should include: iv
…practice teaching, some methods courses, and nothing else. If students wanted
to study what was called foundations of education, they should enroll in
departments of philosophy, history, or psychology in the College of Liberal Arts,
where such courses could be offered by conventionally trained philosophers,
historians, and psychologists.
In Support of the Foundations of Education.
The foundations of education are not without supporters. I assume those of us assembled
here today can be numbered among them. More than 150 colleges and universities list the
foundations of education among their program offerings. In contrast to the view of John
Silber, one prominent voice from the recent past will serve to make the case for
foundations. Charles Silberman in Crisis in the Classroom [1970], asserted thatv
…teachers need more than a knowledge of subject matter and a little practice
teaching experience before they enter the classroom. They need knowledge about
knowledge, about the ramifications of the subject or subjects they teach, about
how those subjects relate to other subjects they teach, about how those subjects
relate to other subjects and to knowledge – and life- in general ….Most important,
perhaps, they need to know that they need to know these things – they need to
understand the kinds of questions their teaching will raise and to have some sense
of where to turn for further understanding.
In what can be cited as support for the foundations of education Silberman noted: vi
While the study of history, philosophy, sociology, and psychology do not directly
enhance craftsmanship…they raise continually the sorts of questions that concern
goals, setting and meaning of education practice – the kinds of questions that
teachers need to think seriously about if they are to shape the purposes and
processes of education.
Point Two: What ought to be the content of a foundations of education program?
A foundations of education program ought to deal with what Aristotle in his Metaphysics
termed First Principles and Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologica referred to as
Prima Pars, or First Questions. Those questions can be understood as focusing on the
purpose, mission and goals. In our case education in a democratic and secular society. In
the absolute those questions relate to:
• Who am I and why am I?
• Who are you and why are you?
• What is knowledge?
• What is worth knowing and why?
• How do I, do you, do we come to know?
• What is a value, what is valued and what is valuable?
For the most part questions such as these are without honor in education. It seems as if
they are considered too esoteric for the mainstream. However, behind it all they are the
philosophically based foundation questions of humanity and society. When formal
schooling is over, these questions remain. They are the eternal first questions based on
first principles.
When educators talk about their philosophy of education it should imply a consideration
of first questions and their application today in a world that is maximally effective for all.
Unfortunately in educational discourse the term philosophy has been dumbed down from
its metaphysical, epistemological and axiological origins so that now it has all but lost its
original meaning. Too often today it implies views on such matters as administration and
management, the teaching of reading, standards and testing, discipline and a host of
others pragmatic concerns. While important concerns these seldom rise to the level of
philosophical inquiry.
The University of Iowa exemplifies a clear and distinct definition as to the purpose of its
foundations of education program:
Social Foundations of Education is an interdisciplinary program designed to assist
students to better understand the influence of social, historical, and philosophical
forces on the formal educational enterprise. Major areas of specialization are
comparative/international education, history of education, philosophy of
education, policy studies, and sociology of education.
A foundations of education program ought to be more than what its critics call a random
potpourri of disjointed survey courses. That is indefensible. A foundations program ought
to exemplify a systems approach and in philosophical terms it should be, clear and
distinct, complete and consistent. To do less is to be at play in little games.vii
My Point of View: Defensible Partiality – Brameld.
As the result of personal experience, I tend to agree with the observation that programs
dedicated to the preparation of school leaders are weak; however, it is not because they
have been watered-down by courses in the foundations of education. Clearly the
emphasis in such programs is not the foundations of education, rather, it is
administration and management In my experience, I have found those programs to be
weak, and utilitarian. Also, I find that they miss the mark related to what ought to be the
basic preparation of school leaders. If the leaders do not keep “their eyes on the prize”
then who will? It is the leaders who have a primary responsibility to focus on the
purpose, mission and goals of education in a democratic society. While expertise in
administration and management is critical, seldom do programs in labor relations,
finance, and the like address the issues of purpose, mission and goals of the enterprise.
The foundations of education do.
Point Three: My personal odyssey in the foundations of education
After receiving both bachelor and master degrees from Boston University I applied for
admission to the doctorate program in administration. My application was denied. My
master’s advisor, Dr. B. Alice Crossley advised me to apply to the foundations of
education department. She did so on the strength of my already recognized interest in
matters related to foundations such as my then recent co-authorship of a book [United For
Separation] on church-state concerns including religion in education. I applied to the
foundations department and was accepted by its chairman Dr. Gene Phillips. Dr. Phillips
became my major advisor. That decision influenced my career in education more than
any other. I was most fortunate to be exposed to three giants in the persons of Gene
Phillips, Ted Brameld and Dick Rapacz. Professor Rapacz is here today. Thank you,
Point Four: Here Upon I Stand
In the words of the Augustinian monk and Protestant Reformation cleric Rev. Martin
Luther: Here Upon I Stand…. What follows is an extremely brief synopsis of my
personal experience in striving to develop and implement a foundations based
constructivist approach to learning over a 15 year period in a 20,000 student school
I stand in the progressivist tradition of John Dewey and served as the 13th successor of
Colonel Francis W. Parker as superintendent of schools in Quincy, MA. Dewey asserted
that progressive education began in Quincy under his colleague Colonel Parker. When I
assumed the superintendency in Quincy from a committed Dewey advocate – Mr. Robert
Pruitt — little remained that could be identified as Dewey based. During my 15 year
tenure as superintendent much of that changed. The system was moving in a
progressivist, Dewey based constructivist approach direction. However 25 years has
passed and for the most part all that was developed during my tenure and that of Bob
Pruitt has ended. The stability of an essentialist reality outlasted efforts at bringing about
progressivist, constructivist based change.
What is recounted here is a synopsis of steps taken toward establishing a climate for
change in a school system with a lost tradition of progressivism. The purpose here is to
briefly glance at what might be termed “best practice” approaches at bringing about
systemic change. Little or nothing remains of that effort.
My approach to leadership was and continues to be directly related to the influence of my
academic preparation in the foundations of education. To me competence in theory and
practice as a school leader is anchored in the foundations of education. Without question
expertise in administration and management are critically important, but if a person
seeking to lead others is bold enough to say to colleagues: Come follow me. In response
their first question ought to be: Where and why? It is consistent with a piece of home
spun wisdom that I recently read as an advertisement on the side of a bus in Dublin,
Ireland. To wit:
Know where you are going. Know what you are getting
The substance of the answers lay in the foundations of education.
What follows is a synopsis of several initiatives that where taken to bring about a climate
and program for change in a school system that in its promotional literature identified
with its progressivist past, but in reality practiced in a traditionalist-essentialist mode.
Assumptions about Learning
It stands to reason that an individual who feels he or she has the credentials to lead others
in the process of coming to know ought to have personal assumptions about learning. In
that how learning best takes place is not an exact science, assumption is the operative
word. Assumptions and not presumptions. An assumption posits the possibility of honest
error. A presumption is closer to the articulation of a taken for granted truth. A leader’s
assumptions, or views about learning, ought to be shared and, as appropriate, debated
among professional colleagues. Early on in my tenure as superintendent I began sharing
my foundations of education based assumptions about learning with the educational
community of Quincy. I asserted what I considered then to be “Six Basic Assumptions
About Learning.”
They are:
1. Humankind is able to come to know and is aware that he/she does know.
2. Humankind has harbored a variety of ideas relative to mind and/or matter
3. The traditional dualistic position of substantive mind and substantive matter
cannot be supported
4. Learning is more than a random process
5. All learning begins in doubt.
6. Learning begins when doubt occurs and takes place through the simultaneous,
mutual, interaction of the learner and the environment.
I continue to be committed to the six.
Toward a Theory of Instruction
Shortly after being appointed superintendent I accepted an invitation from the principal
level leadership to share with them my vision for the school system. I chose for my theme
“Toward a Theory of Instruction.” In so doing I shared with them my perception of where
the school system was in relationship to first questions. I asked six questions. They were:
Question One: Do we have a philosophy of education in Quincy?
My response: No
Question Two: Do we have a theory of knowledge in Quincy?
My response: No
Question Three: Do we have a theory of instruction in Quincy?
My response: No
Question Four: Are we moving toward theory of instruction in Quincy?
My response: Yes
Question Five: is what we are attempting to do new and innovative?
My response: In theory – No. In implementation – Yes
Question Six: If moving toward a theory of instruction, what are its
My response: An initial list of six was cited. viii
The foundations based theme struck by me that day was a reoccurring theme during my
tenure. It might be said that seemingly criticizing the school system that day as I did was
foolhardy and put my own survival as superintendent and my effectiveness as a leader at
risk. Or, was it self-serving as I was promoting myself as the savior? I subscribe to
neither position. It is said that a real leader faces the music even when he dislikes the
A Climate for Change – Quincy Project in Educational Development [Q-PED]
Among the reasons why efforts at bringing about change within an organization fail is
that little time and effort is spent at establishing a climate for change. All too often senior
leadership operates as if those who are to be affected by any change will function as
sheep being led by a shepherd and herded into compliance by the sheep dog of control.
In Quincy a major undertaking at establishing a climate for change resulted in hundreds
of the 2000 teachers in the system over a period of several years being deeply involved in
examining the organizational health and climate of the system. This was before teachers
were asked to accept any changes or move in compliance with new dictates from senior
leadership. Trust in the climate was the first prerequisite. A wide variety of activities and
events were undertaken culminating in scores of 2-3 day residential retreats for whole
school faculties or departments. The teachers association was closely involved in
planning the events. The Boston University Human Relations Center, Lesley College and
the Sloan School of Management at MIT were affiliated with the effective effort.
Axioms – Principle Centered Leadership
You don’t talk about what you want to do first,
you talk about what you stand for.
This observation was made by Jim Hackett the CEQ of Anadarko oil and gas company in
an article in the Financial Times, September 19, 2006.
The shoe fits for leaders in education. The influence of the foundations of education in
my professional development contributed to my recognition of the critical importance of
developing a set of personal axioms to guide my practice.
A personal set of axioms ought to guide the practice of a school leader. Axioms ought to
be clear and distinct, complete and consistent, applied in practice, and readily available
for all to see, study, dialogue on, and hopefully embrace.
Mine are seven in number and have guided my practice for decades. They are as follows:
Here Upon I Stand
1. Among the purposes of the public school is the transmission to the young of the
ideals upon which this nation was founded;
the school ought to be a microcosm of a democratic society.
2. Participation in the decision making process characterizes a democratic society;
those who are to be affected by a decision ought to be involved in the process of
making, implementing and being held accountable for decisions made.
3. Learning is more than a random process;
how human beings come to know ought to be the most basic question of inquiry
challenging educators.
4. Schools are for learners;
the instructional program ought to be student centered and responsive.
5. Educators have an obligation to assist all learners in becoming self-fulfilling
individuals, good citizens and competent workers;
consistent with individual potential and capacity, opportunities must be provided
for each person to realize these goals.
6. Knowledge is conceptually based and has structure;
in the curriculum the concepts ought to be identified and the instructional program
so ordered as to provide for an interactive process through which each individual
in orderly and developmental fashion can inquire into, discover, construct, learn,
evaluate, and apply that which needs to be known and can be learned.
7. Educators serve the public interest and are not in private practice at public
a management system needs to be developed and implemented that provides for
such areas as professional competence and development, curriculum and
pedagogical relevance, information systems, business acumen, fiscal
responsibility, facility maintenance and development, and institutional
A Systemic Student Centered Design for Learning
A legitimate criticism of school systems is that they are not systems. They are not
examples of completeness and consistency. Frequently they exist as kingdoms
functioning as independent units such as pre-school, primary, middle school and high
school. Within each unit are found specialized fiefdoms. Frequently those that
practice at one level know little or nothing about the purpose, mission and goals of
other levels. There is little systemic attention given to four first questions that under
gird the whole enterprise of education. The four questions are:
1. What do we, as educators, know about how our learners come to know and
how do we systemically implement what we know?
2. Of all the things our learners can come to know what do they need to know
now and why?
3. Once having insights into responses to questions one and two how do we
organize systemically to do what we know needs to be done?
4. Once having developed a systemic organizational plan how we move to assure
that it is implemented, evaluated and, as necessary, revised?
The Student Centered Design for Learning conceptualized, developed and implemented
in Quincy was home grown. The vision of a student centered learning system was
conceptualized by a small team of senior leaders into a ten component design for
learning. The ten component concept went from development to implementation through
the efforts of more than 250 classroom teachers over a period of several years.
Development activities went on in summer workshops. Implementation of that which had
been developed was carried out during the school year.
A Ten Component Student Centered Design for Learning
Clear and Distinct — Complete and Consistent
1. Goals:
Within the context of a democratic society to develop and implement a design for learning
committed to the development of self-fulfilling individuals, good citizens and competent workers
in a world maximally effective for all.
2. Behavioral Projections
The eleven behavioral projections represent an attempt to identify the areas of competence that
will be needed by learners as citizens in a changing society. All programs must be assessed in light
of their contributions to these behaviors.
2.1 Fundamental processes 2.7. Individual expression
2.2 Marketable skills 2.8 Ability to cope with and/or
guide change
2.3 Understanding of individuality 2.9 Worthy use of leisure time
2.4 Aesthetic experience 2.10 Physical and mental health
2.5 Life style of inquiry 2.11 Scientific literacy
2.6 Self-motivated learning style
3. Rationale
Rationale addresses the question of — Why? Why this or that subject? Why that teacher? Why
those learning materials and resources?? Why that management system? Why that organizational
structure? Why this learning environment?
4. Comprehensive Concepts
Comprehensive concepts constitute the curriculum. They identify a structure of the discipline
approach. A comprehensive concept acts as an organizing element in curriculum development and
instructional procedures General, or big ideas, help students and teachers to organize the material
to be learned. They provide each with a way to view relationships, to order, to categorize, and to
build upon previous learning. Concepts provide a map by which students can explore a subject in
depth and breath. Concepts provide a skeletal framework with which to address issues within, as
well as across, disciplines.
5. Performance Objectives
Performance objectives based on the comprehensive concepts constitute the instructional program
and articulate learning outcomes. They facilitate a continuous progress approach. They flow
logically from each of the comprehensive concepts cited for each discipline. Performance
objectives have been identified and classified under non-repeating general objectives. Each
performance objective relates back to one or more concepts.
6. Diagnostic and Evaluative Tools and Procedures
The learning style and needs of each learner ought to be diagnosed and each student ought to be
provided with an individual education plan. Appropriate tests and assessment instruments ought to
be identified at the same time.
7. Student Learning Activities
Learning activities constitute the day-to-day proceedings and occurrences. They will vary from
teacher to teacher, and subject to subject. They ought to be individualized to reflect learner needs
and interests. Frequently they are expressed as lesson plans including: the purpose, rationale and
overview of what is to be learned, the comprehensive concept (s) and performance objectives
being addressed, and the learning, and assessment procedures.
8. Appropriate Multi-Media and Electronic Aids to Learning
9. Classroom Management
Classroom management is critically important. It goes far beyond a concern for student behavior
and discipline.
10. Learning Environment
The learning environment ought to be such that the school is a place of learning as well as a place
of joy. [Sizer]. It must be one that is personalized, friendly, accepting, supportive, humane and
challenging for learners and teachers alike.
Effective Communication is vital, varied and repetitive. It must be exercised over and
over again. It is not linear but circular and interactive. Until the message of the
communicator impacts in some manner on the intended receiver there has been no
communication. Effective communication does not respond to a one size fits all
In recognition of that reality my efforts toward developing an implementing a
foundations based constructivist approach to learning reached out in a myriad of
directions to diverse audiences. It honored Marshall McLuhan’s mantra the message is in
the medium.
What follows is a listing by category of many of the initiatives taken in order to address
the critically important matter of communication.
􀀁“Thoughts on Education”
Shared with faculty and staff a series of approximately 30 Creedon
authored monographs written over a 15 year period. A variety of formats
were used in presentation.
􀀁 Professional development forums and activities
􀀁 Student forums for information sharing and involvement in decision making
􀀁Forums for involving parents and community representatives.
􀀁Outreach to the community through the media and personal contact.
􀀁Celebrating special events in the lives of past and present faculty and staff.
Conclusion: The color of my dream ix
I am convinced of the appropriateness of the inclusion of the foundations of education in
the preparation of educators and, in particular, school leaders. My tenure as a
superintendent of schools was characterized by on-going efforts to focus on what I have
termed as “first questions” and then turning responses to those theoretical questions into
practice. My mantra in this regard has been: Theory not applied is useless and
application not based on theory is reckless. As superintendent of schools the continuing
effort by me and a small cadre of like minded colleagues was not enough to sustain the
winds of change. In the final analysis stability in the form of tradition prevailed over
change. While hundreds of Quincy educators were involved in ongoing climate for
change activities and in developing and implementing a student centered design for
learning little, if anything, remains of that effort. The reasons for that are many, but due
to constraints will not be considered here. However, the letterhead of the Quincy Public
Schools currently proclaims: Where excellence is a tradition. In a traditional sense that
might be true, but in current application there is a disconnect.
Those of us associated with the foundation based effort might console ourselves by
saying we tried our best. However, the witticism advises that to do better is than doing
one’s best. The question that needs to be asked is: What more can I do? My response to
that perception of reality cannot be to abandon the dream. The color of the dream
The color of my dream has neither faded nor subsided. For the past decade I have carried
my foundations based, constructivist approach message through the C. Louis Cedrone
Framingham International Education Program to nearly 20 countries around the world on
over 35 assignments. But, that is another story. For a start visit my web site:
The Road to Wisdom
The road to wisdom is plain and simple to express
To err, and err, and err again,
But less and less and less.
Piet Hein
Lawrence P. Creedon, Ed.D.
Framingham International Education Program
Presentation at the Annual meeting of the New England
Philosophy of Education Association
October, 2006.
i, “Educating School Leaders.” Dr. Levine is former president of
Columbia University’s Teachers College He is now director of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship
ii Stability and change are not diametrically opposed. Dr. Noel Burchell with the Unitec School of
Management in New Zealand, points out that stability is a central prerequisite component for change.
iii, “Educating School Leaders.”
iv Paul Nash, Te Destruction of the Program in Foundations of Education at Boston University: A Case
Study, Privately published, 1990.
v Silberman, Crisis in the Classroom
vi Silberman, pp. 491-2
vii For an example of systems applied to education see the Creedon ten component design for learning
found in this paper; for clear and distinct see “How Rationalists Construe ‘Clear and Distinct,’ Ron
Bombardi, Department of Philosophy, Middle Tennessee State University,; for
complete and consistent see mathematician and logician Kurt Godel [1906-1978] ‘Incompleteness
viii They can be found in the privately published Creedon monograph Toward a Theory of Instruction,
ix Azar Nafisi, Reading Lolita in Tehran, 2003.

Foundations of Education, Brain Research and Teaching Practice

December 18, 2009

Foundations of Education, Brain Research and Teaching Practice
Lawrence P. Creedon
Learning without thought is labor lost; thought without learning is perilous. [Confucius]
Theory not applied is useless; application not based on theory is reckless [Creedon]
It has been suggested that the study of the foundations of education is of limited value in the preparation of
educators and specifically school leaders. The topic is seen as not relevant to the practical needs of school
leaders and to be lacking in academic rigor. [“Educating School Leaders.” Dr. Levine is principle author of this
study. He was the former president of Columbia University’s Teachers College. He is now director of the
Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship program. A more extensive treatment of the topic can be found in the
Creedon monograph:[“The Foundation of Education is Without Honor in the Preparation of School Leaders.”]
If the topic is without honor in the preparation of school leaders, then by logical extension the shoe must fit for
other practitioners. The question is: Why engage in the study of the foundations including philosophy of
education, psychology of learning and in a contemporary sense brain research.
I disagree with those who would recommend the abandonment of the study of the foundations of education and
refer to the two citations above; the first from Confucius and the second my own version of the same thought.
My position is that the topic is very important and ought to be considered in both the pre-service professional
preparation and continuing professional development by those in practice. This article offers some of my
All too often philosophical study is seen as remote and of little practical value. However, it is common for
individuals to use the term “philosophy” when describing their opinions on a particular topic. When this occurs
the term is applied inconsistent with its dictionary definition of being the rational investigation of the truths and
principles of being, knowledge or conduct. Colloquially the term is frequently applied as a synonym for
“opinion,” “preference,” “attitude,” or “approach.” It is common to hear references to: My philosophy about
discipline, homework, the teaching of reading and a myriad of other concerns. None of these views meets the
criterion for being a philosophical statement. True they are opinions or points of view, but seldom rise to the
level of philosophical statements
What to Keep in Mind While Studying this Monograph
This monograph addresses the fundamental issues related to philosophy and cites the works of past and more
contemporary contributors relative to learning. However, its purpose is not simply to chronicle them in survey
fashion. Consistent with the maxim above that would be of limited value. Rather, the purpose is to encourage
you to compare and contrast the thoughts shared here with your own practice and to develop a plan of action so
as to move toward implementing in your teaching practice those views that are consistent with your beliefs. In
studying this monograph please keep in mind:
1. Your views relative to the purpose and significance of education. Can you personally identify with both
the philosophical as well as professional practice points made here?
2. To what extent are you able to compare and contrast the views expressed here with your own, and to
what extent are you able to synthesize what is cited here with your own practice?
What is Philosophy?
To make a name for learning when other roads are barred, take something very simple and make it very hard.
A definition of philosophy is that it is thinking about thinking. Philosophy is an attempt to clarify fundamental
and important issues in our lives. Those include questions about the existence of God [metaphysics], whether we
can ever get the truth about the world [epistemology], and whether we are able to know the right thing to do
[axiology]. [Philosophy for Children].
It is interesting to note that since 2002 the bestselling nonnfiction hardcover book of all time is that of
Evangelist Rick Warren with his The Purpose-Driven Life. Worldwide the book has sold 30 million copies.
Evangelist and author Warren will offer the invocation at the inauguration of Barrack Obama as President of the
United States. The title of the book – The Purpose-Driven Life – reveals what in popular, non-academic
contemporary language is at its root a philosophical question: What is the purpose of life? Why am I here?
[Newsweek, December 22, 2008, p. 56].
Three Major Divisions of Philosophy
Philosophy has three major categories. They are Metaphysics, Epistemology and Axiology.
1. Metaphysics
Metaphysics is concerned with those things which are beyond explanation and verification through the
senses and scientific analysis. As the term implies: They are beyond the physical – meta physical.
Metaphysics is divided into ontology and cosmology.
a. Ontology deals with the nature of beings. In the case of education: What is the basic nature of
humanity, of children? Are children inherently good, bad, or neutral? [Morris L. Bigge,
Learning Theories for Teachers 3rd edition, 1976, pp. 15-17].
Depending upon how you see the basic nature of human beings, are children born good, bad/evil
or neutral? What do your colleagues understand to be the basic human nature of human beings –
children? Your views will dramatically influence how you and they practice. You may be at
odds with one another over this very basic question. If so, your different beliefs can be to a
point of conflict and discord within the faculty as your views here will influence how you
practice.[For a more extensive consideration, see the Creedon monograph on “The Four
Questions in the Pursuit of Excellence in Education” and especially question one: What Do We
Know Ab ut How Our Learners Learn and How Do We Implement What We Know?]
b. Cosmology with the nature of reality. It asks: What is real? And for educators: What is knowledge
and what is worth knowing? Simplistically, is it obvious as to what is real? Look around you. Is
reality what you see, observe, touch, smell and taste? The answer might be: NO. As simple as
that may be, those factors may not characterize what is real. The question is: Should the school
present a common view as to what is real?
Should educators have an understanding of what is knowledge and what is worth knowing versus
simply information and whatever is found in the textbook? Should educators be concerned about what
is the source of knowledge?
Are knowledge and information the same thing?
If not, how do they differ?
Do schools deal in information or knowledge?
What is beyond knowledge?
Is knowledge eternal? Is its source the creator of the universe?
Has it evolved naturally over the millennia?
Is it the fruit of scientific inquiry?
Is it found in experience?
2. Epistemology
Epistemology deals with the nature of knowledge. It addresses the question of: What is knowledge?
Scholars the world over have considered this question for millennia. Knowledge and information are not
the same. And, knowledge is not an end in itself. As Socrates and the ancient Greeks taught, beyond
knowledge is wisdom. They taught that the wise person must be a knowledgeable person. They taught
that wisdom goes beyond expertise on some subject or topic, a wise person knows what is important. This
anticipates ethics [axiology], the third division
While there is not a one-to-one correlation between the thinking of Aristotle and contemporary
contributors, there is a relationship. Today the debate continues relative to a theoretical or classical
approach to education versus a practical, pragmatic approach. Whether you are conscious of it or not, the
school where you practice identifies more closely with one approach than the other. Furthermore, your
school may promote in its literature and mission statement that it is committed to one approach, but in
reality practice indicates otherwise.
In a practical way the information/knowledge distinction is addressed by Benjamin Bloom and his
colleagues in their Six Category Cognitive Domain Taxonomy. The first two categories are low order
cognitive and deal with information and comprehension. The others focus on higher order cognition such
as critical thinking and meta cognition.
A reality is that, for the most part, schools deal in information and comprehension. It is common place for
school promotional literature to assert that individual self fulfillment and the development of critical
thinking skills are of primary concern, but the reality of the memorization, regurgitation approach to
education and the emphasis on standardized testing indicates otherwise.
Metacognition is the closest a school of today might get to embracing what the Greeks of earlier times
referred to as wisdom. While metacognition was not in Bloom’s lexicon of terms, the concept was there.
Bloom alluded to “Synthesis,” or the ability to go beyond that which is. Synthesis, to Bloom, is the
creative aspect of learning. And, metacognition means to go beyond understanding to something new and
creative. It might be called wisdom.
A characteristic of wisdom is the ability to be intuitive. In ancient times, the oracle [such as the Pythia,
the Oracle of Delphi] was considered to possess wisdom. Today that would be identified as intuition.
Today hat would be identified as intuition. However remote, while the “wisdom” of the oracle is a long
way from a contemporary understanding of metacognition or intuition, there is a link in the chain of
cognitive development.
Schools do little in the area of metacognition and there is little understanding of or appreciation for
intuition. The emphasis is on: “Show me the facts,” and “You don’t know it if you can’t explain how you
got the answer.” A prominent contemporary non-education source for a consideration of intuition is by
Malcolm Gladwell: Blink –The Power of Thinking without Thinking, 2005. In Blink Gladwell introduces
concepts such as “intuitive repulsion” and “adaptive unconsciousness.” An example would be the child
who “gets it’ as quickly as the teacher intones it and then sits there bored, while those less “intu[itive”
learners come along, might be demonstrating intuitive repulsion or adaptive unconsciousness. However,
a one-size-fits-all approach to everything that goes on behind the classroom door will do little to bring
this to light. [As of this writing [June 2008] Blink has been on the New York Times Best Seller list for
more than a year].
It is common place for practitioners to be asked to develop curriculum. To do so is an epistemological
pursuit. The assumption ought to be that the curriculum developer knows what knowledge is in contrast to
information. The developer ought to know the structure of the discipline and the underlying concepts
upon which the discipline rests. The assumption ought to be that the developer has expertise in the content
area. And, expertise means more than certification to teach in a specific area. For example, to be a teacher
of philosophy does not make one a philosopher [See the Creedon monograph: Curriculum – What is It?].
The expertise that practitioners must have and share in common is not in epistemology, but rather
pedagogy – How learners come to know. Practitioners are seldom epistemologists, but it is reasonable to
assume that they have expertise in pedagogy – the art and science of teaching.
In addition to expertise in knowing how learning takes place, practitioners need to have insight into
addressing the question of: Of All the Things Our Learners Can Come to Know, What is It That They
Need to Know Now and Why? [For more on this, see question two in Creedon’s “Four Questions in the
Pursuit of Excellence in Education.”]
3. Axiology
Axiology has to do with values or ethics. According to Webster’s New World Dictionary, axiology is that
branch of philosophy that deals with the nature of value and the types of value, as in morals, aesthetics,
religion and metaphysics. In describing values, one source states:
To value is to set priorities. It is to choose one thing over another. It is to think about things in
relation to each other and decide that one is better than the other. It is to decide what is “good”.
All persons assign higher value to some things and lower value to others. People assign these
valuations in a consistent pattern that is unique to them. This valuation process is actually one’s
habit of thinking. It involves filtering, processing, storing, and analyzing data. It includes
thinking about objects, discerning the different aspects of things, making judgments, and
choosing. Our unique pattern of thinking and assigning value is called our Value Structure.
Value and values are not the same. The same source as referenced immediately above addresses the
difference as follows:
Values are specific items that people stand for, believe in, or deem important. To value is to think,
to assign meaning and richness of properties to reality. A Value Structure is the thinking map a
person uses to reach conclusions about things. Value is thinking that values are important objects
of our thinking. People value to arrive at their values.
Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics is a treatise on virtue and moral character. It is often called teleological
or goal-directed. He taught that every person had a purpose. However, at times it seems to some learners
that school is a place where nihilism prevails. Unlike Aristotle, learners sometimes view school as a place
where nothing happens. When a child comes home from school and is asked by a parent or caregiver:
What did you learn in school today, the nihilistic sounding response of the child might be: Nothin’.
Daniel Goleman, in Emotional Intelligence, uses the term ‘improper flow,’ to address the perception that
in school there is frequently an inadedquagte connection between school and real life. ‘Flow,’ Goleman
defines as a feeling of spontaneous joy. To some learners, school is devoid of flow – it is not relevant.
[Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence, 1995, p. 91].
The topic of values is never far from the top of the agenda of those things that are of concern to education
and schooling. It is a hot button issue. Frequently the lament is that the school is deficient in addressing
values education and “teaching values.” In short order, the dialogue turns to:
What are values?
Whose values will be taught?
What values will be taught?
Who will teach them?
When will they be taught? At what age, grade level?
How will values education courses be graded?
Periodically education associations and organizations speak out on the values issue and publish position
papers on the topic. One such position paper is that published by Phi Delta Kappa in 1995 titled: Values
on Which We Agree. The educational fraternity addressed: “What educator think young people should
learn.” The list cited:
1. Civility
2. Freedom Under Law
3. Separation of Church and State
4. Reluctance to use Force
5. Personal Responsibility
6. Basic Skills and Learning
The PDK study also cited eleven areas where educators disagreed sharply. Notice that the first two of
these are offered in the context of the United States. The eleven are:
1. Not enough respect is shown the American flag
2. The United States must not surrender sovereignty to the United Nations
3. Books and movies ought to be less “sordid and seamy” and concentrate on themes that are
“entertaining and uplifting.”
4. Science has its limitations. Many things cannot be explained by science.
5. Schools are too intellectually oriented and are without enough emphasis on practical matters and
“homely virtues of living.”
6. The educated person honors marriage and is faithful to “his” spouse and loved ones.
7. Poverty could be almost eliminated if certain basic changes were made in the social and economic
8. Youth needs strict discipline, rugged determination, and the will to work and fight for family and
9. What the country needs, more than laws and political programs, are a few courageous, tireless,
devoted leaders in whom the people can put their faith.
10. Although leisure is a fine thing, it is hard work that makes life interesting and worthwhile
11. What a person does is not important, so long as he or she does it well.
A question that can be raised here is the extent to which these, especially the eleven where disagreement
prevails, are values in the axiological context of the term. Or, are they simply the opinions of the
respondents? It comes back to the distinction between a value and values cited earlier.
There is no dearth of scholarly and not so scholarly comment on the topic of values. There is room to
argue that it is the most relevant of the three divisions of philosophy when it comes to living the good life
in a democratic society.
One scholarly consideration is offered by Professor John L. Childs in his book: Education and Morals –
An Experimentalist Philosophy of Education, 1950. Childs cited six value concepts which he held were
the platform upon which a democratic society rested. Childs advocated a primary role for the school in the
pursuit and development of the six. The six are what he identified as the morality of.
1. Primary Experience
2. Inquiry
3. An open society
4. Function
5. Community
6. Patriotism.
A consideration of these six value constructs is as valid today as when presented by Childs in 1950.
A consideration of values is not limited to scholars. A more contemporry example and one with common
appeal is that of retired United States Army General Wesley Clark a former NATO allied commander and
United States presidential candidate. General Clark addressed the issue of values in the military of a
democratic society. In doing so he identified them as: service, loyalty, honesty, patriotism, respect,
achievement, fairness and personal responsibility. Are these not values that any school in a deomcratic
socity can embrace? [New York Times, “Outlook,” December 21 2008].
A Philosopy versus Philosophies
Frequently, I hear teachers reference their “philosophies” of education or the “philosophies” of their colleagues.
In doing so they are distorting the meaning of the term. While there are competing and conflicting
“philosophies” in the world, including education, and there always has been, the difference is that a holistic
philosophy offers a systemic alternative system of thought about metaphysics, epistemology and axiology.
Philosophy in this context is singular, not plural. Pridefully, an individual ought not to boast of being eclectic in
this regard, of holding different “philosophies” within his or her own belief system. Eclecticism in a system of
philosophical beliefs is not a virtue. The individual ought to strive to have one, holistic, systemic, consistent,
rationale and defensible belief about things metaphysical, epistemological and axiological. The holistic
philosophy or person is not dualistic, an amalgam of competing and conflicting views relative to the central
questions of life. A hallmark of a profession is that its practitioners are clear and distinct in their professional
vocabulary. It is vocabulary which signals beliefs and beliefs are imbeded in values.
The Purpose and Significance of Education
In my experience, a common job interview question for candidates for a teaching position is to be asked to
expound on their philosophy of education. Responses are frfequently platitudinous. Rather than focus on a
platitudinous statement of philosophy of education, which does not meet the criterion of a philosophical
statement, I would suggest that the focus be on the question: What do you understand to be the purpose and
significance of education?
For more than a decade I have asked that question of graduate students in the Framingham International
Education Program in more than 20 countries around the world. The responses have been mostly idealistic and
appropriately so. They have been similar regardless of nation or part of world where the respondent practices.
Below are statements relative to the purpose and significance of education from several master’s degree
candidates I have worked with. The assignment known as “Meaghan’s Query” was to state in three sentences
their view on the purpose and significance of education. Here are the results. [Meaghan is my granddaughter and
as a high school junior she asked me that question. I have been asking graduate students ever since.]
Maureen Wellbery, Seoul International School, Korea, Grade 1
The significance of education: I believe, is the vital process of preparing students for not only their
future but for the future of mankind. Society cannot survive without educating individuals who will
become its leaders, ones who will adhere to its culture’s fundamental principles for governing itself.
Educators are the cornerstones of society who guide students through this process. They are called upon
to empower youngsters and facilitate the acquiring of the necessary skills for life long learning.
Education provides the tools for its citizens to make informed decisions necessary for one’s pursuit of
the basic principles of life.
Ana Mercedes
I believe that Education is the tool that allows us to create ourselves and to build our personality.
Education should provide us with the opportunities to discover, to experience and to learn the world
around us. It should open our minds and stretch them to unimaginable dimensions. Education is the
process in which we help one another understand the reality and pursue our dreams.
The Purpose of Education is to help challenge and excite people to want to learn.
It is the development of mental, social and physical skills and to help enable people to create and
work in our ever-changing world
I believe the advancement of society should always be at the heart of education, regardless of the
setting. As teachers we are in the position to bring people together—for reflection, for knowledge,
and for change. The purpose of education as I see it is to create morally responsible, free thinking
individuals who can apply their unique talents and passions to contribute something to the world.
The purpose of education is to bring awareness to a learner, to challenge them to think, to develop
their mind, and introduce them to ideas and resources that might help them on their lifelong journey
of acquiring knowledge and wisdom. The significance of education is that in each educational
encounter, there exists the possibility of creating a lifelong learner.
I believe education is a tool, how to become independent thinkers and learners. A good education
gives you the ability to make good decisions. The difference between an educator and a teacher is
that the teacher dispenses information, an educator teaches knowledge. Or what to do with the
information you have been given. I do agree with Bruner and Vygotsky that learning needs to be
scaffolded and laddered. I organize my classes so that they are as interactive and cooperative as
The views of those cited above are representative of scores of others that have been shared with me over the past
decade. They echo the view of Charles Silberman writing in 1970 in the Crisis in the Classroom. In
commenting on the purpose of education Silberman wrote: [Silberman, p.336].
In short, the proper kind of education gives meaning and direction to the search for identity,
preventing it from being a mere exercise in narcissism. Indeed, the school has a special obligation in
this regard: more than any other institution, it has the capacity, and therefore the obligation, as
Friedenberg puts it, ‘to clarify for its students the meaning of their experience of life in their society.’
It does this by helping students develop the knowledge and skills they need to make sense out of their
experience – their experience with themselves, with others, with the world – not just during
adolescence, but for the rest of their lives. [Edgar Friedenberg {1912-2001} held conservative views
about education. He felt a program based on “competence” and “standards,” were lacking].
My own view on the question of the purpose and significance of education is reflective of that found in Plato’s
Republic. It is to:
Assist learners in becoming self fulfilling individuals, good citizens and competent workers in a world that
is maximally effective for all.
Teaching Practice
In professional parlance the term practice is most often associated with physicians and attorneys, but seldom
with teachers or educators. Seldom do you hear a teacher being asked: Where do you practice or what is your
practice I, your specialty? It is more common for a teacher to be asked: Where do you teach or what do you
teach? Could a reason for this be other than custom and tradition, that a teacher is seen as one who tells learners
what they need to know. A teacher is a teller, an oracle. On the other hand, a physician or attorney is seen as a
seeker, an inquirer, a discoverer. The focus of the teacher is on the content or subject matter, while the focus of
the physician is on the patient and the attorney it is on the client. The words and terms we use signal our beliefs.
Teachers are seen as tellers and information providers [frequently erroneously referred to as knowledge], while
physicians and attorneys are seen as practitioners inquiring into and responding to the identified needs of the
patient or client.
European Contributors to the Development of Educational Thought
Below are listed influential authorities and cited is a brief statement on the views of each related to human
development and learning. From the scores that could be acknowledged only four Europeans will be cited: The
Frenchman Jean Jacques Rousseau [1712-1778], the Swiss Johan Pestalozzi [1746-1827], the German Friedrich
Froebel [1782-1852], and the Italian Maria Montessori [1870-1952]. The contribution of each has had a direct
relationship to teaching practice – to what goes on behind the classroom door. While developed independently
over a period of two centuries, their views are grounded in compatible metaphysical constructs about humanity
and compatible principles of learning. Today they are identified as being in the progressivist or constructivist
Jean Jacques Rousseau 1712-1778, French;
The basic philosophy of education that Rousseau advocated in Emile, his major work on education, is rooted in
the notion that human beings are by nature good. [While this is the view of all four authorities cited here, it is in
contrast, for example, with the contemporary view of some traditionalists and religious conservatives. For
example, James Dobson founder of the six million member organization Focus on the Family. believes that all
humans are born into sin and that the Bible condones and recommends corporal punishment].
In Emile, Rousseau describes a system of education that will enable the “natural man” that he outlines in The
Social Contract [1726] to live within corrupt society. In his novel Emile Rousseau illustrates how one might
educate the ideal citizen. It is asserted by some that Emile is the first complete philosophy of education in the
Western tradition.
Rousseau’s philosophy of education ensures that the learner’s character be developed in such a way as to have a
healthy sense of self-worth and morality. This allows the learner to be virtuous, even in the unnatural and
imperfect society in which he/she lives. The character in Rousseau’s novel Emile begins learning important
moral lessons from infancy, thorough childhood, and into early adulthood. Education relies on the tutor’s
constant supervision – today identified as a facilitator of learning. The tutor [facilitator] may manipulate the
environment in order to teach difficult moral lessons about humility, chastity, and honesty.
In Emile, Rousseau expressed his strong displeasure with the schools of his day. He observed:
Plants are shaped by cultivation and men by education. .. We are born weak, we need strength; we are
born totally unprovided, we need aid; we are born stupid, we need judgment. Everything we do not
have at our birth and which we need when we are grown is given us by education
I will say little of the importance of a good education; nor will I stop to prove that the current one is
bad. Countless others have done so before me, and I do not like to fill a book with things everybody
knows. I will note that for the longest time there has been nothing but a cry against the established
practice without anyone taking it upon himself to propose a better one. The literature and the learning
of our age tend much more to destruction than to edification. [It is small comfort to realize that the
criticism Rousseau leveled at the schools of his day are echoed in similar concerns today].
Rousseau is quickly associated with his belief statement that: “Man is born free, but everywhere he is in
chains”. Rousseau taught that for the first decade of a child’s life, learning should follow a natural unfoldment
process versus academic or skill development. Obviously, this is in sharp contrast with the current school
environment where the focus of much of what goes on is on skill development and academic achievement as
measured by a standardized ‘one-size-fits-all’ test.
Both Emile and The Social Conflict were so controversial and inflammatory that they were banned from
publication in 18th century France.
Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi 1746-1827, Swiss;
Pestalozzi’s theories laid the groundwork for modern elementary education. He stressed the individuality of the
child and the necessity for teachers to be taught how to develop rather than to try to implant knowledge. In time,
his ideas influenced the elementary school systems of the Western world, particularly in the area of teacher
training. He is known as the first educational psychologist.
Pestalozzi attempted to move Rousseau’s ideas from theory into practice. However, as a result of the societal
values and pressure of the time, most of his attempts met with resistance and failed. Nevertheless his views have
survived the passage of time and are influential to this day.
Like Madam Montessori Pestalozzi advocated education of the poor and emphasized teaching methods designed
to strengthen the student’s own abilities. Pestalozzi’s method became widely accepted, and most of his principles
have been absorbed into modern elementary education.
Pestalozzi’s pedagogical doctrines stressed that instructions should proceed from the familiar to the new,
incorporate the performance of concrete arts and the experience of actual emotional responses, and are paced to
follow the gradual unfolding of the child’s development. Natural unfoldment was an idea made popular by
Rousseau and embraced by Pestalozzi.
Pestalozzi’s curriculum, which was modeled after Rousseau’s plan in Émile, emphasized group rather than
individual recitation and focused on such participatory activities as drawing, writing, singing, physical exercise,
model making, collecting, map making, and field trips. Among his ideas, considered radically innovative at the
time, were making allowances for individual differences, grouping students by ability rather than age, and
encouraging formal teacher training as part of a scientific approach to education.
As application of his ideas were denied Pestalozzi turned to writing, among his works was The Evening Hour of
a Hermit, [1870]. Here he outlined his fundamental theory that education must be “according to nature” and that
security in the home is the foundation of man’s happiness. The important role of the mother in a child’s early
education is a recurrent theme in Pestalozzi’s writings. His novel Leonard and Gertrude [1801] written for “the
people,” was a literary success as the first realistic representation of rural life in Germany. It described how an
ideal woman exposed corrupt practices and, by her well-ordered home life, set a model for the village school
and greater community… He believed that individuals were responsible for their moral and intellectual state.
Pestalozzi was convinced that education should develop the individual’s faculties to think for himself.
Pestalozzi employed the following principles in teaching, still applicable today. Learning begins with:
1. Concrete objects before introducing abstract concepts;
2. The immediate environment before dealing with what is distant and remote;
3. Easy exercises before introducing complex ones; and, always proceed gradually, cumulatively, and slowly
Instead of dealing with words, he argued, children should learn through activity and through things. They should
be free to pursue their own interests and draw their own conclusions.
His initial influence on the development of thinking about pedagogy is connected to his book How Gertrude
Teaches Her Children [1801]. He strove to carry his beliefs into practice. He wanted to establish a
“psychological method of instruction” that was in line with the “laws of human nature.” As a result he placed a
special emphasis on spontaneity and self-activity. Children should not be given ready-made answers but should
arrive at answers themselves. To do this, their own powers of seeing, judging and reasoning should be
cultivated, and self-activity encouraged. Pestalozzi’s aim was to educate the whole child – intellectual education
is only part of a wider plan. He looked to balance, or keep in equilibrium, three elements – hands, heart and
Freidrich Froebel 1782-1852, German
Froebel is recognized as the father of the early childhood kindergarten movement. He was influenced deeply by
the work of Pestalozzi. Pestalozzi had been influenced by Rousseau. Contrary to much of the societal wisdom of
the day, Froebel like both Rousseau and Pestalozzi before him believed in the natural moral goodness of all
Froebel’s philosophy of education rested on four components:
1. Free self-activity
2. Creativity
3. Social participation
4. Motor Expression
He promoted exercises and activities that led children to compare, explore and evaluate. In this regard, a case
can be made that he was paving the way for Benjamin Bloom’s cognitive taxonomy. Froebel was the first to
categorize early education [from birth through the age of six] into stages of physical and mental development –
infancy, early childhood, and childhood. For each of these stages he developed distinct learning tasks. In this
endeavor Froebel was anticipating the later work of Jean Piaget and his four stage theory of childhood
To Froebel, self-activity set the direction for children’s development and enabled them to be actively creative
and social participants. Motor expression, on the other hand, referred to learning by doing rather than following
By 1872, Froebel’s kindergarten had become compulsory throughout the Austro-Hungarian Empire for all
children less than six years of age. Instruction in the Froebel method was made obligatory for all those enrolled
in teacher “training” classes
Today, nearly 170 years later, countries, provinces and communities debate the wisdom of establishing
compulsory kindergartens as part of the tax-supported education system. The kindergarten movement began in
the USA about 1850. It is still not compulsory in many states.
Maria Montessori 1870 – 1952, Italian
Maria Montessori became the first female doctor in Italy. Early in her practice as a physician, she concluded that
many “deficient” children needed schooling and not medical help.
In 1897 Montessori observed: “I felt that mental deficiency presented chiefly a pedagogical, rather than mainly
a medical problem”. She believed hospitals were not the proper place be treat the needs of those with learning
problems. She believed children with learning problems needed to be “trained” in schools. Given her new
insight, she began to transfer her time towards perfecting education. She wanted schools to follow children’s
natural development as opposed to a single pre-determined program of instruction for all.
The Montessori Method was characterized by an emphasis on self-directed activity on the part of the child, and
clinical observation on the part of the teacher [often called a “director”, “directress”, or “guide”]. It stressed the
importance of adapting the child’s learning environment to his or her developmental level, and of the role of
physical activity in absorbing academic concepts and practical skills. It is also characterized by the use of selfcorrecting
equipment to introduce various concepts. Piaget’s work is compatible with Montessori.
She developed an educational theory which embraced ideas of Froebel and Pestalozzi. She used methods in
education like those she had found in medicine and anthropology. In 1900, she began to direct a small school in
Rome for “challenged” youth. She taught that: “We should really find the way to teach the child how, before
making him execute a task” She suggested that teachers see themselves as social engineers and promoted the
notion of applying scientific procedures to education.
In 1907 Montessori began to assert her theories and methods of pedagogy. She began by directing a system of
day care centers for working class children in one of Rome’s worst neighborhoods.
As she noted the children entered her program “wild and unruly.” Much to her surprise, they began to respond to
her teaching methods. She found that children younger than three and four years old began to read, write, and
initiate self-respect. The Montessori Method encouraged the children’s innate ability to absorb culture. She
noted that they were absorbing far more than the formal lessons of the school; they were exploring areas with
botany, zoology, mathematics, geography. She also noted that they were engaged tirelessly.
Although her methods were criticized for being too detached, rigorous, and even harsh, they did seem to
facilitate a natural experience. She was fond of saying: “I studied my children, and they taught me how to teach
them.” This is consistent with Question One of Creedon’s Four Questions.
The Montessori Method is not without its critics. For example, one source has observed:
The Montessori Method is great for kids who are good at staying in control of themselves and focusing
on single tasks. It is great for helping to instill independence in a child, as well as often good for selfesteem.
Small motor and thinking skills are especially emphasized.
However, children learn best through play and the Montessori method does not offer a chance for
dramatic play – playing house, doctor, fire fighter, school etc – where children learn much of the
dialogue and problem solving skills they will use for the rest of their lives. They are also not offered as
many free play options as in typical preschools that are necessary for physical growth and development.
Lastly, many children are not ready for the structure of the Montessori environment; they are geared for
more physical, active, messy, loud, and large group activities.
20th Century Theorists and Their views on Education
This is what happens when you give an old problem some fresh thinking.
Shell Oil advertisement, Newsweek Magazine, May 2008
The final section of this monograph will cite a few thoughts and theories about education and learning from
leading 20th century contributors. Many of the problems and issues they address are compatible with those of
Europeans cited above. In this section, I will reference Einstein, Maslow, Bloom, Skinner, Piaget, Bruner,
Marzano, Gardner, and Goldman. All but Einstein labored principally in psychology and education. Of the
educators, all but Skinner supported the notion that human beings were born naturally good. The views of each
educator except for Skinner reinforce one another.
Albert Einstein 1879 – 1955 on Philosophy of Education in Schools
The following is a citation from Einstein:
The school has always been the most important means of transferring the wealth of tradition from one
generation to the next. This applies today in an even higher degree than in former times, for through
modern development of the economic life, the family as bearer of tradition and education has been
weakened. The continuance and health of human society is therefore in a still higher degree dependent
on the school than formerly.
Sometimes one sees in the school simply the instrument for transferring a certain maximum quantity of
knowledge to the growing generation. But that is not right. Knowledge is dead; the school however,
serves the living. It should develop in the young individuals those qualities and capabilities which are of
value for the welfare of the commonwealth. But that does not mean that individuality should be
destroyed and the individual become a mere tool of the community, like a bee or an ant. For a
community of standardized individuals without personal originality and personal aims would be a poor
community without possibilities for development. On the contrary, the aim must be the training of
independently acting and thinking individuals, who, however, see in the service of the community their
highest life problem.
To me the worst thing seems to be for a school principally to work with methods of fear, force and
artificial authority. Such treatment destroys the sound sentiments, the sincerity, and the self-confidence
of the pupil. It produces the submissive subject. It is no wonder that such schools are the rule in
Germany and Russia…..
It is, in fact, nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely
strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry….
The comment by Einstein, the scientific genius, gives comfort to the views of all those who have called for the
school to change its “mossback stance.” [Carl Rogers in address to Council of Chief State School Officers,
Abraham Maslow 1908 – 1970
Abraham Maslow was a humanistic psychologist. Humanists focus upon potential. They believe that humans
strive for an upper level of capabilities. Humans seek the frontiers of creativity, the highest reaches of
consciousness and wisdom. Maslow calls this level the self-actualizing person.
Maslow set up a hierarchy of five levels of basic needs. Beyond these needs, higher levels of needs exist. These
include needs for understanding, esthetic appreciation and purely spiritual needs. In the levels of the five basic
needs, the person does not feel the second need until the demands of the first have been satisfied or the third
until the second has been satisfied, and so on. Maslow’s basic needs are as follows:
Physiological Needs
Biological needs consisting of such things as oxygen, food, and water.
Safety Needs
When physiological needs are satisfied the needs for security can become active. Children often
display the signs of insecurity and the need to be safe.
Needs of Love, Affection and Belongingness
When the needs for safety and for physiological needs are satisfied, the next class of needs for love,
affection and belongingness can emerge. This involves both giving and receiving love, affection and
the sense of belonging.
Needs for Esteem
When the first three classes of needs are satisfied, the needs for esteem can become dominant. These
involve needs for both self-esteem and for the esteem a person gets from others. Humans have a
need for a stable, firmly based, high level of self-respect, and respect from others. When these needs
are frustrated, the person feels inferior, weak, helpless and worthless.
Needs for Self-Actualization
When all of the foregoing needs are satisfied, then and only then are the needs for self-actualization
activated. Maslow describes self-actualization as a person’s need to be and do that which the person
was “born to do.”
Maslow believed that the only reason people would not move aggressively in the direction of self-actualization
is because of hindrances placed in their way by society. He stated that schooling can be one of those hindrances.
Maslow advocated that educators respond to the potential an individual has for growing into a self-actualizing
person of his/her own kind.
It is generally accepted today, whether it is attributed to Maslow or not, that his hierarchy of needs is
prerequisite to any serious attempt at structuring and implementing a quality education system. Clearly it
outlines a learner-centered, non–academic approach to what is required in the pursuit of excellence in education.
Benjamin Bloom 1913 – 1999
See Creedon monographs: “Bloom’s CognitiveTaxonomy: Domains, Modifications, and Applications; Bloom’s
Cognitive Taxonomy Revisited.”
Benjamin Bloom was a cognitive psychologist affiliated with the University of Chicago. His mentor was Ralph
Tyler. Bloom and a group of colleagues developed what has come to be known as “Bloom’s Six Category
Cognitve Domain Taxonomy.” In 1956 Bloom and his colleagues developed a classification of levels of
intellectual behavior important in learning. Bloom found that over 95 % of the test questions students encounter
require them to think only at the lowest possible level –.the recall of information.
Bloom identified six levels within the cognitive domain, from the simple recall or recognition of facts, as the
lowest level, through increasingly more complex and abstract mental levels, to the highest order, which is
classified as evaluation. Verb examples that represent intellectual activity on each level are listed here.
1. Knowledge [Information]: arrange, define, duplicate, label, list, memorize, name, order, recognize,
relate, recall, repeat, reproduce, state.
2. Comprehension: classify, describe, discuss, explain, express, identify, indicate, locate, recognize,
report, restate, review, select, translate,
3. Application: apply, choose, demonstrate, dramatize, employ, illustrate, interpret, operate, practice,
schedule, sketch, solve, use, write.
4. Analysis: analyze, appraise, calculate, categorize, compare, contrast, criticize, differentiate,
discriminate, distinguish, examine, experiment, question, test.
5. Synthesis: arrange, assemble, collect, compose, construct, create, design, develop, formulate, manage,
organize, plan, prepare, propose, set up, write.
6. Evaluation: appraise, argue, assess, attach, choose compare, defend estimate, judge, predict, rate, core,
select, support, value, evaluate.
I prefer to modify Bloom by changing his use of the term “Knowledge” to “Information.” To me, knowledge
connotes the result of the whole six category process and the term should be reserved for that usage.
“Information” better describes what Bloom has defined as knowledge. Beyond the first two categories of
Information and Comprehension the taxonomy can be arranged in a variety of ways in response to what is being
The taxonomy has uses far beyond that envisioned by Bloom and his colleagues. For example, it has application
in the quest to develop critical thinking skills in learners, as a guide for discussion groups, in developing
agendas, and as a vehicle for interviews
B.F. Skinner 1904-1990
B. F. Skinner was a behaviorist and frequently considered by other psychologists as the greatest psychologist
since Sigmund Freud. His entire theory of behaviorism is based on operant conditioning. He taught that the
organism [the human being] is in the process of “operating” on the environment. During this “operating,” the
organism encounters a special kind of stimulus, called a reinforcing stimulus, or simply a reinforcer. This
special stimulus has the effect of increasing the operant — that is, the behavior occurring just before the
reinforcer. This is operant conditioning; the behavior is followed by a consequence, and the nature of the
consequence modifies the organism’s tendency to repeat the behavior in the future.
Skinner was a prolific researcher and writer and many of his views, including his basic theory, were
controversial. He was frequently attacked by the conservative religious right.
Among his behavior based theories are:
Aversive Stimulation: Stimulating an organism [person] adversely would have a tendency to extinguish the
behavior in question so that it did not happen again. Aversive stimulus provided for punishment. While
recognizing its influence, Skinner did not believe in its application. However, his research gave comfort
to those who did. Dimensions of aversive stimulus are common in school
Behavior Modification: In contrast to adverse stimulus Skinner promoted Behavior Modification. While it
might be fashionable for individuals to deny that they are “Skinnerian,” the same people will support and
practice Behavior Modification. The basic premise is that a negative reinforcer of a behavior ought to be
replaced with a desirable reinforcer and thus behavior. The view is that old habits and behaviors are not
broken, but rather are replaced by positive ones. And, unless the positive behavior is constantly reinforced
the negative behavior can reemerge. Schools practice Behavior Modification, if not officially then in the
reality of day-to-day practice. Reward programs are based on behavior modification. Self help groups
such as Alcoholics Anonymous practice Behavior Modification.
Walden II and Beyond Freedom and Dignity: Both of these books were among Skinner’s best known.
Walden II laid out an ideal community based on Skinner’s theory. It met with strong criticism, especially
from religious conservatives. Skinner responded with Beyond Freedom and Human Dignity. In it Skinner
sets aside the venerable concept of free will and replaces it with behaviorist notions theoretically
described in still another Skinner book: Contingencies of Reinforcement. Skinner’s behaviorism is an
example of theory into practice where practitioners might deny the theory while at the same time
unknowingly practice what it advocates. Some school people are examples of this dualistic conflict.
Jean Piaget 1896-1980
Jean Piaget was prepared as a biologist, but moved into the study of the child development. By observing them,
and talking and listening to them while they worked on exercises he developed his four stage theory of child
Piaget is best known for his four stage theory of cognitive development within children. His four stages are:
1. Sensori-motor [Birth to 2 years old]: The infant differentiates self from objects and begins to act
2. Pre-operational [2 to 7 years old]: The child learns to learn language and to represent objects by
images and words. The child’s thinking is egocentric without consideration of the views of others. Is
able to make general classifications, but by only one factor or standard.
3. Concrete operations [7-11 years old]: The child can think logically about objects and events and can
classify objects according to several features.
4. Formal operations [11 years of age and beyond]: The child can think logically about abstract
propositions and test hypotheses systematically. The child becomes concerned with the hypothetical,
the future, and ideological problems
Piaget has had a profound influence on education. In particular, he has influenced early childhood education.
However, there is a growing body of research that his theory is too rigid. The position is that many children
manage concrete operations earlier than he thought, and some people never attain formal operations.
Jerome Bruner 1915 –
Jerome Bruner is an American psychologist who has contributed to cognitive psychology and cognitive learning
theory in educational psychology and, in genera,l to philosophy of education. Bruner’s ideas are based on
categorization. In a practical sense, Bruner’s categorization theory has come to be known as the spiral
curriculum featuring laddering and scaffolding. On this point, Bruner is compatible with Bloom and his
cognitive taxonomy. Bruner suggests a system of coding in which people form a hierarchical arrangement of
related categories. At each successive higher level the categories becomes more specific, like a spiral. In a
broader context Bruner focused on culture based psychology while Bloom advocated a cognitive based
Bruner also taught that a learner [even a young child] is capable of learning any concept at any age as long as
the instruction is organized in a way in which the learner can learn it. On this point Bruner is in contrast with
Piaget’s stage theory of development. The issue is not whether given the appropriate learning environment and
process for learning, a learner can learn a specific thing, but rather of all that there is to learn- what is the most
relevant at a given time, stage of development and maturation level.
Bruner became involved in the design and implementation of the influential MACOS [Man: A Course of Study]
project which sought to produce a comprehensive curriculum drawing upon the behavioral sciences. The
program addressed three questions:
What is uniquely human about human beings?
How did they get that way?
How could they be made more so?
Bruner saw children as active problem-solvers who are ready to explore “difficult” subjects. Much to Bruner’s
surprise, his structuralist view of knowledge and recognition of intuition, as a way of coming to know, received
a positive response among educators.
In commenting on instruction Bruner observed:
To instruct someone… is not a matter of getting him to commit results to mind. Rather, it is to teach him
to participate in the process that makes possible the establishment of knowledge. We teach a subject not
to produce little living libraries on that subject, but rather to get a student to think mathematically for
himself, to consider matters as an historian does, to take part in the process of knowledge-getting.
Knowing is a process not a product.
Robert Marzano
Robert J. Marzano has been in practice for 35 years conducting research and applying the results in the
classroom. Marzano is an advocate of learner-centered schools. His view is that the:
…heart of the matter of any educational reform or restructuring is the relationship between the teaching
and learning processes. We know that effective teaching mirrors effective learning, yet as educators
we have not mounted a serious effort to organize teaching around the learning process.”
The educational literature of today as well as that from the past stresses the need to equip students with lifelong
positive mental habits. It is not enough for students to acquire a body of knowledge, particularly if they
cannot fully understand it or use it meaningfully. Marzano’s message is that educators must help students
develop and apply what are called “productive habits of mind” in order to gain proficiency in self-regulated,
critical, and creative thinking. His contribution includes five Habits of Mind as well as five corollary
Dimensions of Learning.
In 1992 Marzano defined habits of mind as mental habits individuals can develop to render their thinking and
learning more self-regulated. These mental habits include:
Being aware of your own thinking
Being aware of necessary resources
Being sensitive to feedback
Evaluating the effectiveness of your actions
In 1997 Marzano defined Dimensions of Learning [DOL] is an instructional framework based on the premise of
five types of thinking. As stated by Marzano they are essential to student learning and academic performance:
Positive attitudes and perceptions about learning
Acquiring and integrating knowledge
Extending and refining knowledge
Using knowledge meaningfully
Productive habits of mind
Implicit in the Dimension of Learning framework are five basic assumptions Implicit in the Dimensions of, a
1. Instruction must reflect the best of what we know about how learning occurs.
2. Learning involves a complex system of interactive processes that include various types of thinkingrepresented
by the five dimensions.
3. Curriculum programs should include the explicit teaching of attitudes, perceptions and mental habits
that facilitate learning.
4. A comprehensive approach to instruction includes both teacher directed and student directed instruction.
5. Assessment should focus on students’ use of knowledge and complex reasoning processes rather than on
their recall of information.
Howard Gardner 1943 –
Howard Gardner is one of the best known American psychologists contributing today. His theory of multiple
intelligences has captured the interest and imagination of educators at all levels.
Gardner has challenged the idea that intelligence is a single entity, that it results from a single factor, and that it
can be measured simply via IQ tests. He has also challenged the cognitive development work of Piaget.
Bringing forward evidence to show that at any one time a child may be at very different stages, for example, in
number development at one stage and another in spatial/visual maturation. Howard Gardner has questioned the
idea that knowledge at any one particular developmental stage hangs together in a structured whole.
Gardner questions psychometric and behaviorist theories of teaching. He believes that the instructional program
should include the explicit teaching of attitudes, and mental habits that facilitate learning. He observed:
I want my children to understand the world, but not just because the world is fascinating and the human
mind is curious. I want them to understand it so that they will be positioned to make it a better place.
Knowledge is not the same as morality, but we need to understand if we are to avoid past mistakes and
move in productive directions. An important part of that understanding is knowing who we are and what
we can do… Ultimately, we must synthesize our understandings for ourselves. The performance of
understanding that try matters are the ones we carry out as human beings in an imperfect world which
we can affect for good or for ill.
During an earlier era, it was generally believed that intelligence was a single entity that was inherited,
and human beings were born with a blank mental slate [John Locke]. Gardner has advocated that
individuals have a multitude of intelligences; each one quite independent of the other and some more
dominant than others. Gardner believes each intelligence has its own strengths and constraints.
Gardner initially formulated a list of seven intelligences and at least three others have been added. From the
beginning, Gardner has maintained that his list is provisional. The first two have been typically valued in
schools; the next three are usually associated with the arts; and the final two are what he calls personal
intelligences. Gardner’s seven original intelligences are:
Linguistic intelligence involves sensitivity to spoken and written language, the ability to learn languages,
and the capacity to use language to accomplish certain goals. Linguistic intelligence dominates in
Logical-mathematical intelligence consists of the capacity to analyze problems logically, carry out
mathematical operations, and investigate issues scientifically. This intelligence is also prized in
Musical intelligence involves skill in the performance, composition, and appreciation of musical patterns. It
encompasses the capacity to recognize and compose musical pitches, tones, and rhythms. In difficult
financial times a concern for this intelligence is frequently sacrificed.
Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence entails the potential of using one’s whole body or parts of the body to solve
problems. It is the ability to use mental abilities to coordinate bodily movements. Gardner sees mental
and physical activity as related.
Spatial intelligence involves the potential to recognize and use the patterns of wide space and more confined
Interpersonal intelligence is concerned with the capacity to understand the intentions, motivations and
desires of other people. It allows people to work effectively with others. Publicly schools will assert
that this intelligence is prized while often in reality it is seldom addressed.
Intrapersonal intelligence entails the capacity to understand oneself, to appreciate one’s feelings, fears and
motivations. In Gardner’s view it involves having an effective working model of ourselves, and to be
able to use such information to regulate our lives. This identifies with the role of the school in
fostering individual self-development. Seldom does it get much more than rhetoric
According to Gardner all intelligences are needed by each individual to live life well. However every individual
does not have each intelligence in the same measure. Therefore, teachers need to attend to all intelligences, not
just the first two that have been their traditional concern
Gardner has identified three additional intelligences. They are naturalist intelligence, a spiritual intelligence and
existential intelligence.
Daniel Goleman
In his book Emotional Intelligence [1995] Daniel Goleman has popularized the topic. Some commentators and
critics concluded that Goleman was positing that emotional intelligence was more important than academic
achievement. Goleman made no such claim. Through his research at Harvard University, he was pointing to the
long held view that there was more to education than content mastery. He was reinforcing and expanding
through research the view that developmental and emotional factors played a role in one’s process of coming to
The idea that knowledge is not the beginning and end of it all dates back to the ancient Greeks. For example,
Aristotle in Book II of his Nicomachean Ethics notes: [Aristotle II, Great Books of the Western World,
Encyclopedia Britannica, 1952, p. 351].
…the present inquiry does not aim at theoretical knowledge [for we are inquiring not in order to know
what virtue is, but in order to become good, since otherwise our inquiry would have been of no use]
we must examine the nature of actions, namely how we ought to do them; for these determine also
the nature of the states of character that are produced….
Aristotle went on to say:
…the virtue of man also will be the state of character which makes a man good and which makes him
do his own work well.
Today, 2400 years later, it might be said that Aristotle, in the context of his day, was talking about emotional
intelligence. A rose by any other name is a rose.
In Emotional Intelligence, Goleman first identified five domains of emotional intelligence. Later he consolidated
them into four. They are:
Self-awareness –Emotional self-awareness, accurate self assessment and self confidence
Self-management –Emotional self-control, transparency [trustworthiness], adaptability, achievement
Social awareness – Empathy, organizational awareness, service orientation
Relatonship management – Inspirational leadership, influence, developing others, change catalyst, conflict
management, building bonds, teamwork and collaboration.
Emotional Intelligence [EI] and IQ [Intelligence Quotient] according to Goleman should not be seen as
competitors. To Goleman they are separate competencies and generally compatible. Most frequently a person
with a high IQ also has a high EI.
Learning and the Brain
Education is discovering the brain and that’s about the best news there could be… Anyone who does not
have a thorough, holistic grasp of the brain’s architecture, purposes, and main ways of operating is as
far behind the times as an automobile designer without a full understanding of engines.”
Leslie Hart, “Human Brain, Human Learning”
[From the Home page of mind matters:]
Increasingly brain research sheds light on the process of coming to know. Knowledge related to the brain made
possible as a fruit of research in neuroscience and biology coupled with technological advances has allowed
researchers to expand knowledge about the role the brain plays in learning. Heretofore theologians,
philosophers and psychologists proposed theories and applied religious beliefs, logic, observation and
behavioral analsyis in support of their theories. For example, Plato likened the brain to a ball of wax that
becomes grooved as we learn and recall information over the same pathways. His pupil Aristitle thought that the
heart was the source of memory and the function of the brain was to cool the blood. In the mid 19th century a
theory developed that the innate propensities of the individuals could be dedtermined by feeling the lumps and
bumps on their skulls. [Patricia Wolfe, The School Administrator, December 20006. Wolfe is the author of
Brain Mattrers Translationg Research into Classroom Practice {ASCD}].
Also in the 19th century the now reputed theory of faculty psychology became prominent and greatly influenced
how learning took place. The theory of faculty psychology held that the mind consisted of separatse powers or
faculties with the most prominnent being the will, the emotions and the intellect. The mind and in particular the
intellect was considered to be a muscle and when properly exercised it could control the will and the emotions.
In education, faculty psychology came to be known as “mental discipline.” The purpose of schooling was to
strengthen the mind through drill and repitition in the “basic skills” in order to cultivate memory. While long
since repudiated initially by scholars such as William James and Edward Thorndike vestiges of faculty
psychology remain in schools and are persued knowingly, or otherwise, by some teachers and school authorities.
The current focus on memorization and drilll associated with standardized tests and the requirements in the
United States of “No Child Left Behind” offer testimony in this regard.. [In my own experience as a high school
student circa 1950 my high school college prep English teacher constantly referred to the need for ”Mental
Contemporary brain research has opened new vistas. It has set aside many traditional notions about the brain and
learning and it has taken the quest for understanding how humans learn to new heights. There is a plethora of
information available via the Internet concerning the brain and learning. Among those that I recommend are:
Brain Rules, John Medina, 2008
Revealing Minds, Craig Pohlman, 2008
Learning in the Emotional Rooms, John Joseph [Australia], 2006
Brain Matters: Translating Research into Classroom Practice, Patricia Wolfe,
A Celebration of Neurons: An Educators Guide to the Brain, Robert Sylwester, ASCD, 1995
Also, there are scores of web sites such as Mind Matters:
Among the now accepted ideas about the brain and learning are those cited below: [Patricia Wolfe, The School
Adminstrator, December 2006].
1. Experience shapes the brain. Learning experiences change and reorganize the brain’s structure and
2. Memory is not stored in a single location in the brain. When an experience enters the brain, it is
deconstructed and distributed all over the cortex.
3. Memory is not static. Memory is dynamic. It decays naturally over time as new experiences infiltrate
older ones. Rehearsal strategies can minimize decay.
4. Memory is not unitary. There are two kinds of memory: Declarative and Procedural. Declarative
memory is everyday memory. Procedural refers to skills and habits done unconsciously
5. Emotion is a primary catalyst in learning. Emotional responses can either enhance or impede learning
The role of intuition in learning is another area of interest and concern. An excellent contemporary resource in
this regard is Malolm Gladwell in Blink, 2005. Gladwell describes intuition as “thin-slicing”: the ability to
gauge what is really important from a very narrow period of experience. Gladwell concluded that
spontaneous decisions are often as good as—or even better than—carefully planned and considered
In Brain Rules John Medina addresses what he identifies as 12 principles related to the brain for
surviving at work, home and school.. They are:
1. Exercise: Exercise boosts brain power
2. Survival The human brain evolved, too.
3. Wiring Every brain is wired differently
4. Attention We don’t pay attention to boring things
5. Short-Term memory Repeat to Remember
6. Long-Term memory Remember to repeat
7. Sleep Sleep well, think well
8. Stress Stressed brains don’t learn the same way
9. Sensory Integration Stimulate more of the senses
10. Vision Vision trumps all other senses
11. Gender Male and female brains are different
12. Exploration We are powerful and natural explorers
So What?
To make a name for learnin
when other road are barred
take something very simple
and make it very hard.
What does all this have to do with the day-to-day concerns of practitioners? Some might say not much, others
such as Charles Silberman in Crisis in the Classroom put it this way:
…teachers need more than a knowledge of subject matter and a little practice teaching experience
before they enter the classroom. They need knowledge about knowledge…they need understanding
of the process of growth and development, and of the nature of mind and thought. Most important,
perhaps, they need to know that they need to know these things.
By no means does this paper exhaust the topic under consideration. However, it has been an attempt to:
1. Make the point that the study of the foundations of education including brain research is relevant to
educators in their pursuit of excellence.
2. Define and relate the three major sub-divisions of philosophy to education and to how learners come to
3. Recognize that the concern for a learner-centered learning environment has been an issue for theorists
in education for centuries.
4. Recognize the importance of brain research.
5. Show that contemporary theorists while focusing on separate aspects of the learning process stand in
common in their commitment to learner-centered schools.
6. Raise a need to further enrich his/her practice by continuing professional development in the
philosophy of education and teaching practice.
The information shared here while extensive hardly scratched the surface. So, what do you next? In a traditional
pedantic situation the next step might for you to participate in a comprehension exercise. We are not going to do
that. However, the next step is comprehension. In his taxonomy Bloom lists eleven understandings of
comprehension. To comprehend seems very basic, and it is the foundation to everything that follows. Therefore,
the next step is to explore reflectively as well as interactively with your colleagues what you understand to be
the significance of the information shared. Your expressions of comprehension ought to go beyond responding
to information seeking questions. Rather, it ought to indicate your thoughts about what has been your experience
in your practice.
To what extent does this relate to you and your practice?
For the experience to have merit, you must relate it to your practice. That is, you need to do is to compare and
contrast your understanding of the information shared here with what you do in your practice. This endeavor has
not been an exercise in information sharing for information’s sake. It has not been to “cover” the material.
Rather, it has been to take the lid off “Theory into Practice” and “consider” how the theory applies to your
Next, you should evaluate it in the context of what merit and application it has for you? Theory not applied is
useless. Application not based in theory is reckless. Assuming that it does apply, then your next move is to
consider strategies and tactics for application. My guess is that you will find this more rewarding if you work on
this with colleagues.
Finally in order to grow in your practice you need to synthesize it and take it to a new – at least for you –
horizon. The gull that flies the highest sees the farthest.
For the practitioner the process of coming know is a never-ending pursuit. Piet Hein put it this way:
The road to wisdom is plain and simple to express
To err, and err, and err again
But less and less and less.
P.S. Did you notice that Bloom’s taxonomy was just applied?
Ipse dixit
Lawrence P. Creedon
From Cape Cod, MA USA
For Framingham master’s .degree candidates, Costa Rica, 6 – 2008. Modified 1-2009

The What and the Why of Philosophy of Education

December 18, 2009

The What and the Why of Philosophy of Education
Lawrence P. Creedon
It is commonplace for educators at all levels from pre-school through graduate school and
beyond to speak of philosophy as it relates to their own practice and to the education
enterprise as a whole. However, all too frequently, the clear and distinct meaning of the
term “philosophy” is flawed.
In informal conversation among professionals, or what the contemporary American
philosopher Cornell West calls “Chit-Chat,” opinions and personal belief statements have
merit. However, they seldom meet the criteria of being philosophical statements. “Chitchat”
ought not to characterize the level of professional discourse among educators as
they dialogue on what ought to the foundation upon which a platform for education rests.
A platform for education ought to rest on a philosophically sound foundation. That being
said, the issue is: What makes an opinion or a personal belief statement, philosophically
sound? A philosophically sound position, or point of view, is internally consistent
relative to the three traditional domains of philosophy.
Three Domains of Philosophy
The three domains of philosophy have traditionally been identified as metaphysics,
epistemology and axiology. Metaphysics is further divvied into ontology and cosmology.
At this point the reader might be ready to conclude: Well, I can skip reading the rest of
this essay. It will have no relevance for what goes on in my classroom.
Obviously, I take issue with that position. Among the hallmarks of a profession is that it
has philosophically sound characteristics. The roots of those characteristics are found in
the three traditional domains of philosophy. This essay will consider those roots and
relate them to everyday practice.
Metaphysics: Metaphysics relates to how learners come to know. It does so in the
context of the two major subcategories of metaphysics: ontology and cosmology.
Ontology: Ontology has to do with the nature of being. It addresses the question of what
is human about a human being? For educators, among the responses to that question is
that human beings:
› Can come to know
› Are aware that they know
› Can learn how they do come to know.
Educators take it for granted that human beings do come to know. Frequently critics of
progressive approaches to education assert that pedagogy is of minor importance.
However, the reality is that schools frequently all but ignore the question of how learners
come to know. If you don’t know how a learner comes to know, how can you effectively
facilitate how he/she comes to know? Introspection must precede action.
Many students are labeled non-learners or under-achievers for a variety of reasons. Often
conclusions about a learner’s ability to come to know are reached by teachers acting on
very limited information. Seldom are learners engaged in studying how they come to
know. From personal experience I know it can be construed to be none of the students
business and not a matter of serious concern to the school. Again, personal experience
suggests to me that this is more characteristic of secondary schools than it is of
elementary schools. When parents ask their children: What did you learn in school
today? It is not uncommon for the child to respond by answering – Nothin!
The most distinguishing characteristic of the education profession is that more than those
from any other profession its practitioners are charged with the responsibility of knowing
how their learners come to know. And, then applying what they know to the learning
needs of their clients. This is what it means to be a practitioner in education. The
ontological question for educator is: How do our learners come to know?.
Cosmology: The cosmological question for educators considers the issue: Of all the
things that learners can come to know, what is it that they need to know now and why? A
response to that question is that learners need to know what is real. Considering what is
real is the cosmological question.
What is real is seems obvious, to be self evident. Simply look around you and there you
have it: Reality. However, it is not that simple. What is real is not the same for everyone.
It was John Dewey who popularized the notion that while all people engage in
experiences, and while an experience being engaged by two people may appear to be the
same experience, the reality is that no two people actually have the exact same
experience. For one it may be a joyous occasion, for another the same experience may be
one of sorrow. The source or origin of the experience may be ideologically based. It may
be based in power or fear. It may be based in the environment, cultural influence or some
other point of origin.
A reality about the human experience is that an ideal is seldom, if ever, the same as that
which is real. There is a chasm between the ideal and the achievable. While the
promotional literature of the school often focuses on the ideal, what goes on behind the
classroom deals in what is achievable? What is achievable is reality.
Teachers are frequently instructing learners on what in someone’s judgment, opinion, or
belief is real and needs to be known. Standards and benchmarks are an example in an era
when standardized testing controls much of what goes on behind the classroom door.
Existential thought or thinking outside and beyond the cognitive box of the curriculum is
not as highly prized in education as is compliance and conformity. Both of these
extremes deal with a perception as to what is real. They deal with what needs to be
known. In one
a focus is on the question: How does learning come about? In the other it is on
disseminating information and checking on comprehension related to what has been
disseminated. Either way it relates to the cosmological question.
Cognitive Taxonomy and Multiple Intelligence [MI]: In a practical sense for educators
the cosmological question can focus on the cognitive taxonomical structure of
knowledge, as well as on the concept of multiple intelligences. A good source for
considering the cognitive structure of knowledge is Benjamin Bloom’s six category
cognitive taxonomy. The six categories present the process of coming to know as: i
› Exposure to information
› Comprehending the information shared
› Analyzing that which has been understood by comparing and contrasting it with
other information
› Evaluating what has been understood and analyzed
› Synthesizing what has been analyzed into something that goes beyond the status
› Applying what has been learned.
To Bloom and his colleagues knowledge is the fruit of the sum total of the six categories.
Understood in this manner, knowledge goes beyond promoting low order cognitive
information and comprehension as knowledge. A criticism of the standardized testing
movement is that it focuses on low order cognitive skill development such as information
gathering and comprehension regurgitation.ii
Multiple Intelligence [M]): The concept of multiple intelligences provides a compatible
vehicle to Bloom’s taxonomy. It is commonly associated with Harvard University
psychologist Howard Gardner. His thesis is that all human beings have to some degree
dimensions of the same eight gifts. It is the eight gifts that he identified as intelligence. In
Gardner’s view while individuals usually have more than one of the eight gifts, they do
not have each of those that they do have to the same degree. The eight are:
› Verbal linguistic
› Logical/Mathematical
› Visual/Spatial
› Bodily Kinesthetic
› Intrapersonal
› Interpersonal
› Musical/Rhythmic
› Naturalist
The concept of multiple intelligence challenges the long held assumption that all
‘normal” students learn the same way. The focus of the school is on what Gardner and
others long before him identified as verbal linguistic and logical mathematical.iii
Epistemology: Epistemology addresses the question of: What is knowledge? Information
is not the same as knowledge. It is commonplace to assume that a person with a great
deal of information is knowledgeable. That is not necessarily the case. A reality is that
schools frequently deal in information while identifying it as knowledge.
Theories abound as to what is knowledge. Many theories are in conflict with one another.
Among the theories addressing the epistemological question are these:
› Knowledge and information are not synonymous.
› Knowledge has structure. It is systemic as opposed to being ad hoc and random.
› There are conflicting views as to what is the source of knowledge? Among
them are that the source of all knowledge is:
– An all knowing force commonly known as God, G-d, Allah, Jehovah or some
other name for a primary cause.
– Natural law as the result of evolution.
– Truth is arrived at existentially as a result of engaging in and undergoing
– Constructed by each individual as the result of cognitive and affective
experiences and influences.
– Nihilistic, random and without lasting structure or purpose.
Admittedly these are complex questions. They do not relate on a one-to-one basis to
teaching the three Rs of reading writing and arithmetic. Nor to they relate to preparing
learners to do well on a standardized test.
Consideration of the question of what is knowledge ought to be an on-going topic of
dialogue among educators. However, that is not necessarily the case either in professional
development sessions or informal chat among teachers.
It is not uncommon for teachers to function as “information dispensers” and oracles of
wisdom, rather than as facilitators of learning. The epistemological question as to what is
knowledge is seldom raised either directly or by implication. An example of “by
implication’ would be when a syllabus, benchmarks, or the content of a text are
challenged. Often what is information is cloaked as knowledge. The information may be
cited in the syllabus, codified in the benchmarks, contained in the text, or pronounced by
the teacher. Inquiry and discovery are of secondary concern.
The epistemological query plays itself out in the context of two questions. The first is:
What should be offered in the curriculum? The second is: How should the instructional
program be organized and implemented?
What is offered in the curriculum and how it is presented addresses the question of: What
is valued? Is what is valued in content determined by third parties? Is the instructional
program to be presented consistent with the traditional method of a whole class teacherdirected
approach? An alternative would that what is offered in the curriculum will be
consistent with what diagnostic data indicates is what the learner needs to know next.
Applied pedagogy would be in response to an individual’s continuous progress and
learning style.
Whether you are conscious of it or not, as you implement your own system for classroom
management, skill mastery and the development of critical thinking skills you are
influenced by what you believe about the source of knowledge and how your students
come to know. You run into conflict when colleagues believe something incompatible
with what you believe.
This is an area where compatibility in thought leads to harmony in practice.
Compatibility is not the same as consensus. For example, for the purposes of the school,
different views relative to the source of knowledge being an all knowing force, or the
result of natural law can be compatible. Philosophically they are not, but for its purposes
the school need not dig very deep into the distinction. In similar fashion views about the
role of experience, as well as about knowledge being created by each individual, can be
compatible with each other. However, none of the four theories alluded to here can be
compatible with the fifth. The fifth is that knowledge has no structure or lasting purpose.
Harmony in the faculty lounge is more likely to exist if there is compatibility among
faculty members on the ontological and cosmological questions of:
› What do we know about how our learners come to know?
› Of all the things that our learners can come to know what do they need to know
now and why?
The history of the United States, including that of public education, provides a plethora of
examples where the immediate goal was not harmony or to work toward building bridges
between conflicting views. Self interest prevailed over accommodating diversity. Two
examples will be cited farther on in this piece. However, in the long view unity within
diversity has been and continues to be the ultimate goal of the nation and its schools.iv
My sense is that what is inherently valuable, especially to parents concerned about the
welfare of their own children, is continuous progress. However, the same parents support
as valued teacher-directed whole class instruction. That is a dichotomy that leads to lack
of harmony.
Axiology: Axiology deals with values. It is here that the following questions are asked:
› What are values?
› What is the source and origin of values?
› How are values transmitted to the young?
› Who has that responsibility to transmit values?
This area is fraught with difficulty. Value conflicts result in the never ending court
battles. The U.S. Supreme Court frequently is engaged in axiological disputes. Among
those that occupy the time of the court are issues related to religion. On a smaller and
more direct scale, local school boards frequently are involved in policy making related to
In a secular democratic society such as the United States there is no official position
relative to metaphysics, epistemology or axiology. However questions related to all three
are continuously under consideration. Discord exists between what is considered
valuable and what is valued.
What is valuable and what is valued are not always the same. In the United States what is
valuable is individual liberty, freedom from coercion and the interference of government
in the lives of individual citizens. However, frequently, what is reality is the effort of
groups to have their particular views codified into law or policy. While individual liberty
is promoted as valuable, attempts are made to restrict the valuable through legislation and
policy. When this happens it is what is pragmatically pursued as valued that is in conflict
with what is ideologically held to be valuable.
The schools are constantly challenged to “teach” democratic nationally recognized
values. Yet those values are repeatedly the source of discord. Frequently the courts are
called upon to sort it all out. Reoccurring themes are frequently anchored in religion
based and biased perceptions related to the ontological and cosmological questions. For
example, the ontological question is expressed in the controversy over abortion into prolife
and pro-choice proponents. Sex education in the schools is another volatile issue. The
cosmological question finds expression in the controversy over divine creation of the
universe versus evolution.
In a historical context the proliferation of religion based schools in contrast to the public
schools emerged in response to the axiological question. In the 19th century public
schools in the United States were openly anti-Roman Catholic. The allegation was that
Catholic paid primary allegiance to a foreign power (The Pope) and as a result their
allegiance to the United States was suspect. Catholics denied the allegation. However, to
protect their children from further prejudicial treatment in the public schools they created
their own parochial school system.
Until 1954 African Americans in many states in the United States were barred from
attending public school with white children. Ultimately the U.S. Supreme Court struck
down discrimination against African Americans and ordered that all public schools be
racially integrated.
Both examples find their root cause in either the axiological or ontological domains. In
both the long term valuable ultimately prevailed over the short term valued. Public
schools are no longer prejudicial to Catholic students and Africans American students are
no longer legally segregated.
Ironically, many Catholic parochial schools in urban centers now cater primarily to non-
Catholic students. And, some African Americans are opposed to having their children
transported from their inner-city neighborhoods in order to gain racial balance in school.
A Philosophically Sound Platform for Education
A philosophically sound platform for education is one that reflects a consistent approach
to ontology, cosmology, epistemology and axiology. It cannot be less. It is one where:
› How young people come to know and what it is that they need to know now and
why they need to know it characterizes the learning community.
› The pedagogy used within the learning community is compatible among all
professionals and is based on the individual and diverse needs of the learners.
Compatible does not mean identical.
› The learning community is organized in such a way as to reflect what is known
about how learners come to know. It maximizes the capacity for each learner to
learner what needs to be known.
› What the learning community believes is valuable is clear and embraced by the
learning community.
› What is valuable is consistent with what is valued.
.Conclusion: As individuals our philosophical views are at the root of who we
understand ourselves to be as individuals, and what we understand to be the purpose of
our society. Philosophy addresses the issue of what we know and what we perceive to be
knowledge. It gives structure and clarification to what we believe ought to be valuable as
well as to what we value in our lives. The term philosophy is not a synonym for an
opinion, or an unsupported or unexamined belief. It is not chit-chat.
Educators ought to practice consistent with a sound, coherent and defensible philosophy
of education. Practice not based on a sound philosophical basis is indefensible. A
philosophy of education not carried out in practice is neither valuable nor valued.
Ipse dixit!
Lawrence P. Creedon, October, 2004.
i Bloom,,editor, et al.,, Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, 1956; Creedon: Bloom Revisited, 2004.
ii Kohn: The Schools Our Children Deserve, 1999; Sacks: Standardized Minds, 1999. An opposing view
is Hirsch: The Schools We Need and Why We Don’t Have Them, 1996.
iii A contemporary proponent of this view is E.D. Hirsch. (Hirsch, ibid.)
iv iv Creedon: Public Education in the United States – Purpose and Brief History, 2004.

Philosophy of Education and Teaching Practice

December 18, 2009

Philosophy of Education and Teaching Practice
Theory not applied is useless;
Application not based on theory is reckless
It has been suggest that the study of the foundations of education which includes the
philosophy of education is of limited value in the preparation of school leaders. The topic
is seen as not relevant to the practical needs of school leaders and the view is that many
such courses of study lack academic rigor. If the topic is without honor in the preparation
of leaders in education then by logical extension the shoe fits for other practitioners. I
disagree with the allegation and in so doing propose that the topic is very important and
ought to be considered routinely in the professional preparation and development of
educators., “Educating School Leaders.” Dr.
Levine is principle author of the study where the allegation is made. Dr. Levine is
the former president of Columbia University’s Teachers College He is now director
of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship program.
All too often philosophical study is seen as remote and of little practical value. However,
ironically, it is common place for individuals to use the term philosophy when describing
their views on a particular topic. Frequently the term is used in a non-philosophical
context. It is common place to use and understand the term in reference to an opinion,
preference, attitude or approach. None of these are synonyms of the term philosophy.