As a teacher of the very young therefore, idealism in the sense of the attainment of higher values and aims has a special and positive significance in my profession and personal life. Dealing with very young minds places a particularly heavy burden on the teacher. The teacher has a responsibility to shape these minds. It is a truism but also a reality that the early years of education are often the most important, as it is at this age that young minds are shaped for there future. As an elementary school teacher I therefore feel from a profession standpoint that idealism and higher education ideals are essential to adhere to; especially in the early stages of educative development.
The view of idealism that seems to be the most fitting in terms of my role as an educator can be seen in the following quotation." Idealism in life is the characteristic of those who regard the ideas of truth and right, goodness and beauty, as standards and directive forces." (Idealism) Therefore idealism as a philosophy provides us with a way of thinking that emphasizes higher levels of achievement and excellence that are essential for the educator as well as for all professions. This philosophical stance would also be advantageous in terms of advancement and promotion within the profession, as those with higher ideas are more likely to set and strive for advanced goals and achievements. The loss of the idealistic motive in education would be disastrous to the profession as it would mean a loss of incentive and higher aspirations in education.
However, idealism and the idealistic stance are not always easy to achieve or to maintain in the contemporary world and working environment. To large extent idealism as a practical philosophy has been discredited and replaced by a more materialist and realist approach to education in the modern world. This is unfortunately the case not only in education but in all areas of modern profession life.
This fact is related to the question of idealism in the history of philosophy. The views of philosophers like Nietzsche and others in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries tended to question the views of a transcendent idealism and suggested rather the view that the material world is all that there is.
While it is strictly outside the ambit of this paper, in a general sense the history of philosophy shows that in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries there was a decisive move away for religious transcendentalism and idealism and a movement towards materialism and relativism of meaning in life and in the professions. This can be seen in the social history of the time. In the 1920's there was "...disillusionment with the war, a weariness with doing good and a general abandonment of moral earnestness for a new hedonism; and the decline of idealism as a reigning philosophy." (Social Gospel)
By relativism is meant that there was a tendency in the early twentieth century to view all values as relative to one another in terms of their significance and importance.
Social relevance rather than the ideals was taken as the context for correct views and actions. This modern and postmodern view resulted in the decline of idealism in general. In more practical terms in the education arena this decline or change can be seen in the emphasis in many institutions on "skills training" and materialistically orientated education.
In other words there has been a move away from the high ideals of education. This is, I think, a negative factor in that idealism, translated into everyday teaching, encourages high levels of achievement. This view is stated by many educationists today. "High standards make you excel, and to excel you have to look up to something above yourself as you are now. You have to aspire to something. The gravest fault of our education today is that its content gives us nothing to aspire to." (Mansfield 2000)
The decline of the social acceptance of idealism has obviously resulted in problems for the professional who believes in ideals. The idealist in the field of education is often criticized as having standards that are too high, or out of line with the social context or the needs of the community. The idealist if often placed in the position of being seen as having unrealistic expectations and in some cases of acting in a way that prejudices the materialistic view of education. This can result in conflict with colleagues and even with higher education authorities.
In the final analysis I believe that idealism is a concept that is essential for good teaching and education. The education professional should have higher ideals and models or patterns that he or she aspires to. This is particularly important in my case as a teacher of the very young where educational ideals and norms can be encouraged in young minds
On the other hand account must also be taken of practical imperatives and the reality of the modern world. Idealism should not be taken to extremes at the neglect of everyday problems and educative needs. In other words, idealism as an education philosophy should not be blindly applied to the extent that social realities and educational ideals become incompatible. Therefore I feel that idealism has an underlying importance that should become part of an educator's daily teaching praxis. At the same time it should not be dogmatic or exclusive of the implications of ordinary life and reality
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It is not the intention of this study, not is it possible within the brief, to explore all the philosophical issues involved in idealism - but rather to present some of central and cogent aspects.