Philosophy of Education

Greg Moses

Marist College


Course Description: This course will provide a general introduction to terms, issues, and methods in the philosophy of education in the 20th Century. Throughout the course, students will be invited to reflect upon the current state of education in our world.

Course Objectives: By the end of the term, students should have become familiar with terms, issues, and methods of philosophical discourse pertaining to education, and have acquaintance with some of the contributions made by major figures in the 20th Century. In addition, students should have developed some preliminary theories about the role of education in our world today. Furthermore, students should have acquired basic research skills that would allow them to pursue the philosophy of education according to their own interests in the future.

Required Texts:

Montessori, Maria. The Secret of Childhood. New York: Ballantine, 1972.

Dewey, John. Democracy and Education. New York: Free Press, 1966.

Woodson, Carter G. The Mis-Education of the Negro. Trenton, N.J.: Africa World Press, 1990.

Gadotti, Moacir. Pedagogy of Praxis. Albany: SUNY, 1996.

Recommended Text:

Cummins, Jim & Dennis Sayers. Brave New Schools. New York: St. Martinís Press, 1997.

Assessing Outcomes: Take-home tests will assess studentsí abilities to comprehend terms, methods, and values of major figures. At the end of the semester, each student will prepare a class presentation and paper about a contemporary issue in the philosophy of education. Accomplishment of this task will demonstrate ability to do research with the contemporary expert literature (not popular journalism.) A final essay asks students to apply the lessons of this course to their own reflections about the role of education in the world.

Grading Policy: The final grade will be based upon the following components:

A number grade from 1 to 100 will be assigned to each component and the final grade will be derived from an average of the components, each given equal weight. Letter grades will be assigned according to college policy.

Class attendance and participation are expected. Students who have more than two unexcused absences will receive a penalty of one letter grade off the final average; more than four unexcused absences will result in a failing grade. Excused absences are always documented in some form. Excuses will be accepted within ten days of the absence.

Penalties will apply for late work (5 pts./day).

Students are also expected to abide by high standards of academic honesty.

Daily Exercises: Normally, students will prepare brief exercises for each class. These assignments will be evaluated and scored on a 10-point basis. The 6-point paper fails to meet minimal standards of college work. The 7-point paper meets expectations of college work and shows that the material has been somewhat understood. The 8-point paper demonstrates not only that material has been understood, but that the student has begun to translate the material into terms of her own. The 9-point paper suggests applications and insights beyond the usual fare. The 10-point paper is unusually distinctive in its presentation, style, and application. These assignments should be brief (1-2 pages). Additional length is not encouraged.

Contemporary Issues Assignment: For this assignment, each student will select a contemporary issue based upon their own interest. The following questions should be answered:

    1. What is the issue? (1 page)
    2. How are sides of the issue represented in the professional literature? (2 pages)
    3. How do your resolve the issue based upon the evidence at hand? (1 page)

Final Exam: The final exam is a take-home assignment that will ask for your own meditation on the role of philosophy in the world. The paper will fall into two parts:

    1. A critical review of representative voices in this course. (5 pages)
    2. Your own theory, reflecting engagement with contemporary professional literature. (5 pages).

A Note on Method: In this class, the instructor will emphasize development of independent thinking through active reading and seminar-style discussions. Students will be challenged to analyze the larger, logical structure of texts in order to locate key arguments, conclusions, and terms. In addition, students are encouraged to integrate their own experience as students and teachers. As we approach each text, the instructor will represent the most sympathetic construction possible, postponing more wholesale criticism until the concluding session on each figure. This method is designed to encourage deeper engagement with each thinker as students challenge the instructor to help make sense of the material. Critical questions are welcome at all times. It is the chief value of philosophy students to state the reasons why they disagree.

The usual drill: Your instructor is prepared to present material that will help clarify the complex readings, but he prefers to speak in response to student questions. For this reason, each student should come to each class prepared with questions or comments on specific passages in the readings. Students will thus be able to present their contribution or question when the instructor calls on them. Class participation grades will reflect the instructorís assessment of overall preparedness.

Plan of Activity by Class Session:



What is the difference between method and philosophy? Method is what we do, philosophy is a critical reflection upon why we do it and systematic investigation into the criteria we formulate in order to assess its value. From this point of view, "teaching effectiveness" is an empty term until it is brought into critical relation with a philosophy of education. Likewise with learning, intelligence, thinking, etc.--what do these terms mean?

In-class exercise--Briefly describe (in one or two sentences) a teaching method that you have learned or tried. Briefly explain why you used or plan to use that method.

Self-Assessment--What terms of value appear in your explanation?

Assignment for next class--Please prepare a very short paper (2 pages) in three parts:

A. Who are you, what are your teaching plans, and what experience do you have in the classroom as a teacher?

B. Share the in-class exercise about methods and terms above.

C. For one term of value, explain what it means to you.


In-class exercise--Share the results of our assignment above.

Discussion questions--What terms are important to us? How do we explain their meanings? What patterns of comparison or contrast do we notice?

Assignment for next class--Prepare a very short paper in three parts. For each part identify a term of value that you find in the Montessori table of contents and describe Montessoriís explanation.


In-class groups--In groups of five, compare notes from the completed assignment and make arrangements for each group member to present one term of value to the class. Each presenter should be prepared to note if other group members identified the same term and how various descriptions compared.

In-class presentations--Some terms of value in Montessori.

Assignment for next class--Select two "pivotal" chapters in Montessori (i.e. chapters that look like they are comparatively important to the overall argument of the work) and discuss one sentence (or "pivotal proposition") from each chapter that you think best conveys the heart of the matter.


Poll--What are the pivotal chapters?

In-class groups--Share pivotal propositions and nominate selections from chapters identified by the poll.

In-class presentations--Pivotal propositions from pivotal chapters.

Assignment for next class--Prepare brief answers for the following questions.


A. What is the socioeconomic status of the first M. class?

B. What are the characteristic traits of a normalized child?

C. What is the role of the teacher?

D. What are sensitive periods?

E. How does M. use Biblical sources?

In-class groups--Divide the questions among group members.

In-class discussion--Review the five questions.

Assignment for next class--What is the proper role of religion in education? (One page.)


In-class groups--Discuss answers to assignment. Nominate two contrary views.

In-class presentations--Review and discuss various views.

Assignment for next class--Short paper (2 pages) that: a) summarizes what is most important to you about M. b) briefly evaluates the contributions


In-class groups--Share papers, nominate two contrary views.

In-class presentations--Review and discuss assignments.

Assignment for next time--How has your philosophy of education been affected by M.? (One page)

9. (Feb. 19) WHERE WE ARE AT

In class groups--Summarize results.

In-class presentations--Summary discussion (please join issue or take issue as the topics come up).


Each of the following reading assignments is divided into sections, with study questions for each section. Please prepare summaries that reflect your preliminary answers based upon the readings. Each class will begin with group work followed by general discussion


10. (Feb. 23) Dewey 1-5 / 6-9

A. D.ís organic conception of education--How is education an everyday process? What is the purpose of formal education?

B. The democratic conception-- What is it? Is this worth pursuing? How close are we?

11. (Feb. 26) Dewey 10-13 / 14-18

A. Pragmatist epistemology--What is thinking? How do we teach it?

B. Case studies in geography and science--Are there values apart from attitudes? What kinds of attitudes are valued?

12. (Mar. 2) Dewey 19-22 / 23-26

A. Deconstructing dualisms--Whatís the difference between distinctions and dichotomies?

B. Where is the moral life of the school?

13. (Mar. 5) Critical Review of Dewey

A. How does a philosophy of education depend upon a conception of the "good" society?

B. How does a philosophy of education depend upon a theory of knowledge?

14. (Mar. 9) Where we are at

A. How has our philosophy of education been affected by D.?

B. How may we compare or contrast M. & D.

15. (Mar. 12) Open discussion and midterm assessment

Anonymous one-page midterm evaluations of course--with suggestions for improvement.



In-class individual reading--Title, Contents, Index, Pivotal Chapters & Pivotal Propositions

In-class groups--Sharing results, nominating presenter.

In-class presentations--Sharing preliminary results.

17. (Mar. 26) Woodson 1-10 / 11-18


A. The special case of struggling classes--should schools encourage adjustment or reform?

B. The presumption of inferiority--how are conceptions of merit socialized?

18. (Mar. 30) Critical Review of Woodson

A. What does W. say about the special predicament of black Americans?

B. How can W.ís results be generalized for a philosophy of education?

19. (Apr. 2) Where we are at

A. How has our philosophy of education been affected by W.?

B. How would you summarize the relationship between M., D., & W.?

20. (Apr. 6) Gadotti Introductory Material / 1-4--LECTURE! (No assignment due.)

A. Marxism 101--why bother with Marx anymore?

B. Pedagogy of conflict (and the color line too)--what bourgeois habits endure?

21. (Apr. 9) Critical Review of Gadotti: Ch. 5 & Conclusion

A. What is Gadottiís vision of the "autonomous school"?

B. How does he treat the problem of mass media?

C. What is the difference between equity and equality?

D. What is the pedagogy of conflict and how is it different from dialogue?

22. (Apr. 16) Presentations of Issues: 1-4

23. (Apr. 20) Presentations 5-8

24. (Apr. 23) Presentations 9-12

25. (Apr. 27) Presentations 13-16

26. (Apr. 30) Presentations 17-20

27. (May 4) Presentations 21-25

28. (May 7) Reviewing Education Today

(Final Exam Due on Last Day of Exam Period)

Instructor contact:

OFFICE: Fontaine 316

PHONE: x2217


HOME: 473-4737

Back to the top


Back to Home Page for Prof. Moses