Educational Philosophy and the Nature Thesis

  • Length: 13 pages
  • Sources: 9
  • Subject: Teaching
  • Type: Thesis
  • Paper: #25649946

Excerpt from Thesis :

Here the emphasis is on complete neutrality, the child being exposed to all different ways of thinking and believing (Cahn, p. 421). In the end the child will make his own choice as to what is best. Such complete freedom; however, rests upon a notion that children might indeed make incorrect choices; ones that are base don incomplete knowledge of the real world. The need to make rational choice requires that some limitations be placed on children's own personal developmental choices and possibilities (Cahn, p. 423). The author's own notion of the Democratic State is largely derived from this last concept. Education must be divided between a concept of absolute individual choice and societal necessity. Societal necessity demands that children be allowed enough choice for free and individualized expression, while at the same time being prohibited from choosing lifestyles that take as their express point-of-view the idea that they are superior to those of other groups (Cahn, p. 429).


Guttman dismisses the three older, and more traditional, theories of education based on their failure to fulfill what she appears to take as the absolute universal and fundamental values of all societies -- namely the goals of pluralism and individuality. In so doing, she ignores the fact that her beliefs are just as dogmatic as those she condemns, for had these been the shared beliefs of all societies they would have been expressed in the older theories, as well as in her own. What is condemned, or praised, has clearly been changed by time and circumstance. In her discussion of the religious situation of Nineteenth Century America, for example, she fails to note how it was that the mere presence of Catholic students somehow changed the anti-Catholic bias of the schools and political system, while at the same time ignoring the fact that the parochial school system was created largely in response to the very anti-Catholicism of the public schools. Mere exposure to other lifestyles does not bring acceptance. At the same time, imposing by fiat, notions of what is acceptable and unacceptable would seem just as much to entrench prejudice toward specific ideas and concepts. By not allowing the individuals or families within a democratic society to freely choose how to educate their children, that society is saying, without doubt, that some individuals are clearly less equal than others in the fact that they possess inferior, or incorrect values -- the very antithesis of what Guttman hopes to achieve. Indeed, Guttman is claiming to champion the equality of different lifestyles while creating a clear hierarchy of thought. The Amish believe what they believe because of their cultural assumptions, just as Guttman believes what she believes because of her own cultural assumptions. A world of Amish might find Guttman's assumptions just as dangerous to children as she finds theirs. In such cases, inculcating the values of one means destroying the values of the other.

"Moral Education and the Democratic Ideal" by Israel Scheffler

Major Ideas

Scheffler's piece was originally given as background information to the United States Congress during a hearing on education. Its main thrust is the specific purpose served by education in a democratic society. As democracies are base don the notion that the people govern themselves, it therefore follows form this point that those who govern should be as informed as possible about the nature of their world and society. Democratic societies are dynamic works in progress, their values and social arrangements shaped through the medium of an active and informed public discourse (Cahn, p. 436). The article quotes Ralph Barton Perry on the idea that a successful democracy literally depends on the existence of a well-educated citizenry, one in which all citizens regardless of circumstance and origin are educated to potentially undertake any role within the society (Cahn, p. 437). To this end, access to education must never be limited, and must also be as broad as possible in the scope of its subject matter. Education is not, as in Plato's Republic, or the then contemporary Soviet Union, an instrument of state control and propaganda (Cahn, p. 437). Democratic education aims to create an individual who is capable of making her own choices, and choosing his own destiny in careful consultation with all those others who make up that society. The inculcation of specific forms of morality is beyond the competency of the school system. Rather, the educational system is beholden to higher and more universal notion of morality that is perfectly consonant with the democratic ideal, one that recognizes the fact that attitudes change over time, and in response to differing circumstances (Cahn, p.439). In short, a democratic educational system tries to create a society that strives toward what is reasonable (Cahn, p. 440).


Scheffler discusses at length notions of what constitutes right and wrong, deciding that such dilemmas cannot often be resolved absolutely (Cahn, p. 439). To say that something is right indicates that that something should be implemented. It implies that an objective analysis of the facts of the situation would lead any reasonable individual to the same conclusion (Cahn, p. 439). What seems acceptable now appears moral because it conforms to current notions of how things should be. Yet, Scheffler warns also against irrational loyalty to institutions, and their confusion with absolute moral principles (Cahn, p. 439). The teaching of knowledge must always be coupled with the teaching of the method of obtaining that knowledge (Cahn, p. 440), for without the necessary understanding of how to arrive at a conclusion it would impossible to have any sort of reasoned understanding at all.


Scheffler's article represents education as the underpinning of a democratic society. He makes the point that, to be successful, a democratic society depends on its citizens being able both to understand, and to argue, the facts that shape their world. By understanding how to think, individuals obtain the tools to explore more deeply into the issues that concern them. They learn to analyze the views of others in a rational manner, and to take them into consideration when debating necessary changes. And as societies are always changing, it is essentially, that this education never be dogmatic, for such apparently institutionalized concepts change over time, and with them, societies as a whole.

"Caring" by Nel Noddings

Major Points

Noddings treats the idea of "caring" as a concept essential to education itself. All individual are either those who care, or are cared for; roles that can change with each potential situation. Any time an individual undertakes to assist another individual, or to assume a directorial role, that individual assumes the role of "one-caring." One becomes involved with one's subject to the extent that that person' success or failure, happiness or unhappiness, and responsiveness or unresponsiveness, become intimate concerns of the "one-caring." One receives the object of one's caring "completely and nonselectively" (Cahn, p. 472). To reach their students teachers must care for them -- be able to see the subject matter as they would see the subject matter, and be able to appraise the teacher's responses, attempts at encouragement, commiseration, etc., as they would see them (Cahn, p. 473). Everything teachers do influences the moral and ethical development of their students, thus every interaction is again a sign of caring. (Cahn, p. 474). Students, as the "ones cared for" must be able to respond in a way that further encourages the caring of the "one caring," showing by their words, gestures, and interactions that they understand the goals of the lesson (Cahn, p. 476). Their warm and human responses build up the relationship, and permit the formulation of the caring bonds that allow the work of the teacher to go forward.


Thus, Noddings creates a foundation of caring and trust upon which to build a successful educational system. Caring involves the establishment of genuine personal relationships with students, relationships that are not intimate, like romantic relationships, but which nevertheless embody a deep interest of teacher in student, and vice-versa (Cahn, p. 472). Such close caring does not necessarily entail permissiveness -- a good teacher knows when to impose rules and boundaries (Cahn, p. 472). Children want to be included in the teaching process, but they also wish to develop an innate sense of their own abilities and accomplishments (Cahn, p. 473). All subjects must be presented, as John Dewey insisted, in a fashion that brings out their moral and ethical implications (Cahn, p. 474). True caring can lead to the kind of understanding of students' needs that can obviate the necessity for expensive small schools, and greater numbers of trained teachers. By understanding a student's needs and sentiments, teachers can better reach those students with current resources (Cahn, p. 475).


Noddings makes some excellent points about the teacher-student relationship. Too often,…

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