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The philosophy of education is primarily concerned with the nature, aims and means of education, and also with the character and structure of educational theory, and its own place in that structure. Educational theory is best regarded as a kind of practical theory which would ideally furnish useful guidance for every aspect and office of educational practice. Such guidance would rest in a well-grounded and elaborated account of educational aims and the moral and political dimensions of education, and also in adequate conceptions and knowledge of teaching, learning, evaluation, the structure and dynamics of educational and social systems, the roles of relevant stake-holders and the like.
Philosophers of education often approach educational issues from the vantage points of other philosophical sub-disciplines, and contribute in a variety of ways to the larger unfinished project of educational theory. These contributions may be divided into work on the nature and aims of education, on the normative dimensions of the methods and circumstances of education, and on the conceptual and methodological underpinnings of its methods and circumstances – either directly or through work on the foundations of other forms of research relied upon by education theory.
Philosophical analysis and argument have suggested certain aims as essential to education, and various movements and branches of philosophy, from Marxism and existentialism to epistemology and ethics, have suggested aims, in every case controversially. Thus, one encounters normative theories of thought, conduct and the aims of education inspired by a broad consideration of epistemology, logic, aesthetics and ethics, as well as Marxism, feminism and a host of other ‘-isms’. In this mode of educational philosophizing, the objects of various branches of philosophical study are proposed as the ends of education, and the significance of pursuing those ends is elaborated with reference to those branches of study.
A second form of educational philosophy derives from substantive arguments and theories of ethics, social and political philosophy and philosophy of law, and concerns itself with the aims of education and the acceptability of various means to achieve them. It revolves around arguments concerning the moral, social and political appropriateness of educational aims, initiatives and policies, and moral evaluation of the methods, circumstances and effects of education. Recent debate has been dominated by concerns about children’s rights and freedom, educational equality and justice, moral and political education, and issues of authority, control and professional ethics.
The philosophy of education has also sought to guide educational practice through examining its assumptions about the structure of specific knowledge domains and the minds of learners; about learning, development, motivation, and the communication and acquisition of knowledge and understanding. Philosophy of science and mathematics have informed the design of curriculum, pedagogy and evaluation in the teaching of science and mathematics. Philosophy of mind, language and psychology bear on the foundations of our understanding of how learning occurs, and thus how teaching may best promote it.
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