Ed Camp 123 Reflections

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Aug 31, 2016 Summer Camp Reflections. For many of us, summer camp was an unforgettable part of our childhood. We made friends, learned new skills, and experienced different surroundingsall adding up to memories that last a lifetime. Breaking Cincinnati news, traffic, weather and local headlines from The Cincinnati Enquirer newspaper.

First published Mon Jun 2, 2008; substantive revision Sun Oct 7, 2018

Philosophy of education is the branch of applied or practicalphilosophy concerned with the nature and aims of education and thephilosophical problems arising from educational theory and practice.Because that practice is ubiquitous in and across human societies, itssocial and individual manifestations so varied, and its influence soprofound, the subject is wide-ranging, involving issues in ethics andsocial/political philosophy, epistemology, metaphysics, philosophy ofmind and language, and other areas of philosophy. Because it looksboth inward to the parent discipline and outward to educationalpractice and the social, legal, and institutional contexts in which ittakes place, philosophy of education concerns itself with both sidesof the traditional theory/practice divide. Its subject matter includesboth basic philosophical issues (e.g., the nature of the knowledgeworth teaching, the character of educational equality and justice,etc.) and problems concerning specific educational policies andpractices (e.g., the desirability of standardized curricula andtesting, the social, economic, legal and moral dimensions of specificfunding arrangements, the justification of curriculum decisions,etc.). In all this the philosopher of education prizes conceptualclarity, argumentative rigor, the fair-minded consideration of theinterests of all involved in or affected by educational efforts andarrangements, and informed and well-reasoned valuation of educationalaims and interventions.

Philosophy of education has a long and distinguished history in theWestern philosophical tradition, from Socrates’ battles with thesophists to the present day. Many of the most distinguished figures inthat tradition incorporated educational concerns into their broaderphilosophical agendas (Curren 2000, 2018; Rorty 1998). While thathistory is not the focus here, it is worth noting that the ideals ofreasoned inquiry championed by Socrates and his descendants have longinformed the view that education should foster in all students, to theextent possible, the disposition to seek reasons and the ability toevaluate them cogently, and to be guided by their evaluations inmatters of belief, action and judgment. This view, that educationcentrally involves the fostering of reason or rationality, has withvarying articulations and qualifications been embraced by most ofthose historical figures; it continues to be defended by contemporaryphilosophers of education as well (Scheffler 1973 [1989]; Siegel 1988,1997, 2007, 2017). As with any philosophical thesis it iscontroversial; some dimensions of the controversy are exploredbelow.

This entry is a selective survey of important contemporary work in Anglophone philosophy of education; it does not treat in detail recent scholarship outside that context.

  • 3. Areas of Contemporary Activity

1. Problems in Delineating the Field

The inward/outward looking nature of the field of philosophy ofeducation alluded to above makes the task of delineating the field, ofgiving an over-all picture of the intellectual landscape, somewhatcomplicated (for a detailed account of this topography, see Phillips1985, 2010). Suffice it to say that some philosophers, as well asfocusing inward on the abstract philosophical issues that concernthem, are drawn outwards to discuss or comment on issues that are morecommonly regarded as falling within the purview of professionaleducators, educational researchers, policy-makers and the like. (Anexample is Michael Scriven, who in his early career was a prominentphilosopher of science; later he became a central figure in thedevelopment of the field of evaluation of educational and socialprograms. See Scriven 1991a, 1991b.) At the same time, there areprofessionals in the educational or closely related spheres who aredrawn to discuss one or another of the philosophical issues that theyencounter in the course of their work. (An example here is thebehaviorist psychologist B.F. Skinner, the central figure in thedevelopment of operant conditioning and programmed learning, who inworks such as Walden Two (1948) and Beyond Freedom andDignity (1972) grappled—albeit controversially—withmajor philosophical issues that were related to his work.)

What makes the field even more amorphous is the existence of works oneducational topics, written by well-regarded philosophers who havemade major contributions to their discipline; these educationalreflections have little or no philosophical content, illustrating thetruth that philosophers do not always write philosophy. However,despite this, works in this genre have often been treated ascontributions to philosophy of education. (Examples include JohnLocke’s Some Thoughts Concerning Education [1693] andBertrand Russell’s rollicking pieces written primarily to raisefunds to support a progressive school he ran with his wife. (See Park 1965.)

Finally, as indicated earlier, the domain of education is vast, theissues it raises are almost overwhelmingly numerous and are of greatcomplexity, and the social significance of the field is second tonone. These features make the phenomena and problems of education ofgreat interest to a wide range of socially-concerned intellectuals,who bring with them their own favored conceptualframeworks—concepts, theories and ideologies, methods ofanalysis and argumentation, metaphysical and other assumptions, andthe like. It is not surprising that scholars who work in this broadgenre also find a home in the field of philosophy of education.

As a result of these various factors, the significant intellectual andsocial trends of the past few centuries, together with the significantdevelopments in philosophy, all have had an impact on the content ofarguments and methods of argumentation in philosophy ofeducation—Marxism, psycho-analysis, existentialism,phenomenology, positivism, post-modernism, pragmatism, neo-liberalism,the several waves of feminism, analytic philosophy in both itsordinary language and more formal guises, are merely the tip of theiceberg.

2. Analytic Philosophy of Education and Its Influence

Conceptual analysis, careful assessment of arguments, the rooting outof ambiguity, the drawing of clarifying distinctions—all ofwhich are at least part of the philosophical toolkit—have beenrespected activities within philosophy from the dawn of the field. Nodoubt it somewhat over-simplifies the complex path of intellectualhistory to suggest that what happened in the twentiethcentury—early on, in the home discipline itself, and with a lagof a decade or more in philosophy of education—is thatphilosophical analysis came to be viewed by some scholars as being themajor philosophical activity (or set of activities), or even as beingthe only viable or reputable activity. In any case, as theygained prominence and for a time hegemonic influence during the riseof analytic philosophy early in the twentieth century analytictechniques came to dominate philosophy of education in the middlethird of that century (Curren, Robertson, & Hager 2003).

The pioneering work in the modern period entirely in an analytic modewas the short monograph by C.D. Hardie, Truth and Fallacy inEducational Theory (1941; reissued in 1962). In his Introduction,Hardie (who had studied with C.D. Broad and I.A. Richards) made itclear that he was putting all his eggs into theordinary-language-analysis basket:

The Cambridge analytical school, led by Moore, Broad and Wittgenstein,has attempted so to analyse propositions that it will always beapparent whether the disagreement between philosophers is oneconcerning matters of fact, or is one concerning the use of words, oris, as is frequently the case, a purely emotive one. It is time, Ithink, that a similar attitude became common in the field ofeducational theory. (Hardie 1962: xix)

About a decade after the end of the Second World War the floodgatesopened and a stream of work in the analytic mode appeared; thefollowing is merely a sample. D. J. O’Connor published AnIntroduction to Philosophy of Education (1957) in which, amongother things, he argued that the word “theory” as it isused in educational contexts is merely a courtesy title, foreducational theories are nothing like what bear this title in thenatural sciences. Israel Scheffler, who became the paramountphilosopher of education in North America, produced a number ofimportant works including The Language of Education (1960),which contained clarifying and influential analyses of definitions (hedistinguished reportive, stipulative, and programmatic types) and thelogic of slogans (often these are literally meaningless, and, heargued, should be seen as truncated arguments), Conditions ofKnowledge (1965), still the best introduction to theepistemological side of philosophy of education, and Reason andTeaching (1973 [1989]), which in a wide-ranging and influentialseries of essays makes the case for regarding the fostering ofrationality/critical thinking as a fundamental educational ideal (cf.Siegel 2016). B. O. Smith and R. H. Ennis edited the volumeLanguage and Concepts in Education (1961); and R.D.Archambault edited Philosophical Analysis and Education(1965), consisting of essays by a number of prominent British writers,most notably R. S. Peters (whose status in Britain paralleled that ofScheffler in the United States), Paul Hirst, and John Wilson. Topicscovered in the Archambault volume were typical of those that becamethe “bread and butter” of analytic philosophy of education(APE) throughout the English-speaking world—education as aprocess of initiation, liberal education, the nature of knowledge,types of teaching, and instruction versus indoctrination.

Among the most influential products of APE was the analysis developedby Hirst and Peters (1970) and Peters (1973) of the concept ofeducation itself. Using as a touchstone “normal Englishusage,” it was concluded that a person who has been educated(rather than instructed or indoctrinated) has been (i) changed for thebetter; (ii) this change has involved the acquisition of knowledge andintellectual skills and the development of understanding; and (iii)the person has come to care for, or be committed to, the domains ofknowledge and skill into which he or she has been initiated. Themethod used by Hirst and Peters comes across clearly in their handlingof the analogy with the concept of “reform”, one theysometimes drew upon for expository purposes. A criminal who has beenreformed has changed for the better, and has developed a commitment tothe new mode of life (if one or other of these conditions does nothold, a speaker of standard English would not say the criminal hasbeen reformed). Clearly the analogy with reform breaks down withrespect to the knowledge and understanding conditions. ElsewherePeters developed the fruitful notion of “education asinitiation”.

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The concept of indoctrination was also of great interest to analyticphilosophers of education, for, it was argued, getting clear aboutprecisely what constitutes indoctrination also would serve to clarifythe border that demarcates it from acceptable educational processes.Thus, whether or not an instructional episode was a case ofindoctrination was determined by the content taught, the intention ofthe instructor, the methods of instruction used, the outcomes of theinstruction, or by some combination of these. Adherents of thedifferent analyses used the same general type of argument to maketheir case, namely, appeal to normal and aberrant usage.Unfortunately, ordinary language analysis did not lead to unanimity ofopinion about where this border was located, and rival analyses of theconcept were put forward (Snook 1972). The danger of restrictinganalysis to ordinary language (“normal English usage”) wasrecognized early on by Scheffler, whose preferred view of analysisemphasized

first, its greater sophistication as regards language, and theinterpenetration of language and inquiry, second, its attempt tofollow the modern example of the sciences in empirical spirit, inrigor, in attention to detail, in respect for alternatives, and inobjectivity of method, and third, its use of techniques of symboliclogic brought to full development only in the last fifty years…It is…this union of scientific spirit and logical methodapplied toward the clarification of basic ideas that characterizescurrent analytic philosophy [and that ought to characterize analyticphilosophy of education]. (Scheffler 1973 [1989: 9–10])

After a period of dominance, for a number of important reasons theinfluence of APE went into decline. First, there were growingcriticisms that the work of analytic philosophers of education hadbecome focused upon minutiae and in the main was bereft of practicalimport. (It is worth noting that a 1966 article in Time,reprinted in Lucas 1969, had put forward the same criticism ofmainstream philosophy.) Second, in the early 1970’s radicalstudents in Britain accused Peters’ brand of linguistic analysisof conservatism, and of tacitly giving support to “traditionalvalues”—they raised the issue of whose English usage wasbeing analyzed?

Third, criticisms of language analysis in mainstream philosophy hadbeen mounting for some time, and finally after a lag of many yearswere reaching the attention of philosophers of education; there evenhad been a surprising degree of interest on the part of the generalreading public in the United Kingdom as early as 1959, when GilbertRyle, editor of the journal Mind, refused to commission areview of Ernest Gellner’s Words and Things(1959)—a detailed and quite acerbic critique ofWittgenstein’s philosophy and its espousal of ordinary languageanalysis. (Ryle argued that Gellner’s book was too insulting, aview that drew Bertrand Russell into the fray on Gellner’sside—in the daily press, no less; Russell produced a list ofinsulting remarks drawn from the work of great philosophers of thepast. See Mehta 1963.)

Richard Peters had been given warning that all was not well with APEat a conference in Canada in 1966; after delivering a paper on“The aims of education: A conceptual inquiry” that wasbased on ordinary language analysis, a philosopher in the audience(William Dray) asked Peters “whose concepts do weanalyze?” Dray went on to suggest that different people, anddifferent groups within society, have different concepts of education.Five years before the radical students raised the same issue, Draypointed to the possibility that what Peters had presented under theguise of a “logical analysis” was nothing but the favoredusage of a certain class of persons—a class that Peters happenedto identify with (see Peters 1973, where to the editor’s creditthe interaction with Dray is reprinted).

Fourth, during the decade of the seventies when these variouscritiques of analytic philosophy were in the process of eroding itsluster, a spate of translations from the Continent stimulated somephilosophers of education in Britain and North America to set out innew directions, and to adopt a new style of writing and argumentation.Key works by Gadamer, Foucault and Derrida appeared in English, andthese were followed in 1984 by Lyotard’s The PostmodernCondition. The classic works of Heidegger and Husserl also found new admirers; andfeminist philosophers of education were finding theirvoices—Maxine Greene published a number of pieces in the 1970sand 1980s, including The Dialectic of Freedom (1988); theinfluential book by Nel Noddings, Caring: A Feminine Approach toEthics and Moral Education, appeared the same year as the work byLyotard, followed a year later by Jane Roland Martin’sReclaiming a Conversation. In more recent years all thesetrends have continued. APE was and is no longer the center ofinterest, although, as indicated below, it still retains itsvoice.

3. Areas of Contemporary Activity

As was stressed at the outset, the field of education is huge andcontains within it a virtually inexhaustible number of issues that areof philosophical interest. To attempt comprehensive coverage of howphilosophers of education have been working within this thicket wouldbe a quixotic task for a large single volume and is out of thequestion for a solitary encyclopedia entry. Nevertheless, a valiantattempt to give an overview was made in A Companion to thePhilosophy of Education (Curren 2003), which contains more thansix-hundred pages divided into forty-five chapters each of whichsurveys a subfield of work. The following random selection of chaptertopics gives a sense of the enormous scope of the field: Sexeducation, special education, science education, aesthetic education,theories of teaching and learning, religious education, knowledge,truth and learning, cultivating reason, the measurement of learning,multicultural education, education and the politics of identity,education and standards of living, motivation and classroommanagement, feminism, critical theory, postmodernism, romanticism, thepurposes of universities, affirmative action in higher education, andprofessional education. The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy ofEducation (Siegel 2009) contains a similarly broad range ofarticles on (among other things) the epistemic and moral aims ofeducation, liberal education and its imminent demise, thinking andreasoning, fallibilism and fallibility, indoctrination, authenticity,the development of rationality, Socratic teaching, educating theimagination, caring and empathy in moral education, the limits ofmoral education, the cultivation of character, values education,curriculum and the value of knowledge, education and democracy, artand education, science education and religious toleration,constructivism and scientific methods, multicultural education,prejudice, authority and the interests of children, and on pragmatist,feminist, and postmodernist approaches to philosophy of education.

Given this enormous range, there is no non-arbitrary way to select asmall number of topics for further discussion, nor can the topics thatare chosen be pursued in great depth. The choice of those below hasbeen made with an eye to highlighting contemporary work that makessolid contact with and contributes to important discussions in generalphilosophy and/or the academic educational and educational researchcommunities.

3.1 The Content of the Curriculum and the Aims and Functions of Schooling

The issue of what should be taught to students at all levels ofeducation—the issue of curriculum content—obviously is afundamental one, and it is an extraordinarily difficult one with whichto grapple. In tackling it, care needs to be taken to distinguishbetween education and schooling—for although education can occurin schools, so can mis-education, and many other things can take placethere that are educationally orthogonal (such as the provision of freeor subsidized lunches and the development of social networks); and italso must be recognized that education can occur in the home, inlibraries and museums, in churches and clubs, in solitary interactionwith the public media, and the like.

In developing a curriculum (whether in a specific subject area, ormore broadly as the whole range of offerings in an educationalinstitution or system), a number of difficult decisions need to bemade. Issues such as the proper ordering or sequencing of topics inthe chosen subject, the time to be allocated to each topic, the labwork or excursions or projects that are appropriate for particulartopics, can all be regarded as technical issues best resolved eitherby educationists who have a depth of experience with the target agegroup or by experts in the psychology of learning and the like. Butthere are deeper issues, ones concerning the validity of thejustifications that have been given for including/excluding particularsubjects or topics in the offerings of formal educationalinstitutions. (Why should evolution or creation “science”be included, or excluded, as a topic within the standard high schoolsubject Biology? Is the justification that is given for teachingEconomics in some schools coherent and convincing? Do thejustifications for including/excluding materials on birth control,patriotism, the Holocaust or wartime atrocities in the curriculum insome school districts stand up to critical scrutiny?)

The different justifications for particular items of curriculumcontent that have been put forward by philosophers and others sincePlato’s pioneering efforts all draw, explicitly or implicitly,upon the positions that the respective theorists hold about at leastthree sets of issues.

First, what are the aims and/or functions of education (aims andfunctions are not necessarily the same)? Many aims have been proposed;a short list includes the production of knowledge and knowledgeablestudents, the fostering of curiosity and inquisitiveness, theenhancement of understanding, the enlargement of the imagination, thecivilizing of students, the fostering of rationality and/or autonomy,and the development in students of care, concern and associateddispositions and attitudes (see Siegel 2007 for a longer list). Thejustifications offered for all such aims have been controversial, andalternative justifications of a single proposed aim can provokephilosophical controversy. Consider the aim of autonomy. Aristotleasked, what constitutes the good life and/or human flourishing, suchthat education should foster these (Curren 2013)? These twoformulations are related, for it is arguable that our educationalinstitutions should aim to equip individuals to pursue this goodlife—although this is not obvious, both because it is not clearthat there is one conception of the good or flourishing life that isthe good or flourishing life for everyone, and it is not clear thatthis is a question that should be settled in advance rather thandetermined by students for themselves. Thus, for example, if our viewof human flourishing includes the capacity to think and actautonomously, then the case can be made that educationalinstitutions—and their curricula—should aim to prepare, orhelp to prepare, autonomous individuals. A rival justification of theaim of autonomy, associated with Kant, champions the educationalfostering of autonomy not on the basis of its contribution to humanflourishing, but rather the obligation to treat students with respectas persons (Scheffler 1973 [1989]; Siegel 1988). Still others urge thefostering of autonomy on the basis of students’ fundamentalinterests, in ways that draw upon both Aristotelian and Kantianconceptual resources (Brighouse 2005, 2009). It is also possible toreject the fostering of autonomy as an educational aim (Hand2006).

Assuming that the aim can be justified, how students should be helpedto become autonomous or develop a conception of the good life andpursue it is of course not immediately obvious, and much philosophicalink has been spilled on the general question of how best to determinecurriculum content. One influential line of argument was developed byPaul Hirst, who argued that knowledge is essential for developing andthen pursuing a conception of the good life, and because logicalanalysis shows, he argued, that there are seven basic forms ofknowledge, the case can be made that the function of the curriculum isto introduce students to each of these forms (Hirst 1965; see Phillips1987: ch. 11). Another, suggested by Scheffler, is that curriculumcontent should be selected so as “to help the learner attainmaximum self-sufficiency as economically as possible.” Therelevant sorts of economy include those of resources, teacher effort,student effort, and the generalizability or transfer value of content,while the self-sufficiency in question includes

self-awareness, imaginative weighing of alternative courses of action,understanding of other people’s choices and ways of life,decisiveness without rigidity, emancipation from stereotyped ways ofthinking and perceiving…empathy… intuition, criticismand independent judgment. (Scheffler 1973 [1989: 123–5])

Both impose important constraints on the curricular content to betaught.

Second, is it justifiable to treat the curriculum of an educationalinstitution as a vehicle for furthering the socio-political interestsand goals of a dominant group, or any particular group, includingone’s own; and relatedly, is it justifiable to design thecurriculum so that it serves as an instrument of control or of socialengineering? In the closing decades of the twentieth century therewere numerous discussions of curriculum theory, particularly fromMarxist and postmodern perspectives, that offered the soberinganalysis that in many educational systems, including those in Westerndemocracies, the curriculum did indeed reflect and serve the interestsof powerful cultural elites. What to do about this situation (if it isindeed the situation of contemporary educational institutions) is farfrom clear and is the focus of much work at the interface ofphilosophy of education and social/political philosophy, some of whichis discussed in the next section. A closely related question is this:ought educational institutions be designed to further pre-determinedsocial ends, or rather to enable students to competently evaluate allsuch ends? Scheffler argued that we should opt for the latter: we must

surrender the idea of shaping or molding the mind of the pupil. Thefunction of education…is rather to liberate the mind,strengthen its critical powers, [and] inform it with knowledge and thecapacity for independent inquiry. (Scheffler 1973 [1989: 139])

Third, should educational programs at the elementary and secondarylevels be made up of a number of disparate offerings, so thatindividuals with different interests and abilities and affinities forlearning can pursue curricula that are suitable? Or should everystudent pursue the same curriculum as far as each is able?—acurriculum, it should be noted, that in past cases nearly always wasbased on the needs or interests of those students who wereacademically inclined or were destined for elite social roles.Mortimer Adler and others in the late twentieth century sometimes usedthe aphorism “the best education for the best is the besteducation for all.”

The thinking here can be explicated in terms of the analogy of anout-of-control virulent disease, for which there is only one type ofmedicine available; taking a large dose of this medicine is extremelybeneficial, and the hope is that taking only a little—while lesseffective—is better than taking none at all. Medically, this isdubious, while the educational version—forcing students to work,until they exit the system, on topics that do not interest them andfor which they have no facility or motivation—has even lessmerit. (For a critique of Adler and his Paideia Proposal, seeNoddings 2015.) It is interesting to compare the modern “onecurriculum track for all” position with Plato’s systemoutlined in the Republic, according to which allstudents—and importantly this included girls—set out onthe same course of study. Over time, as they moved up the educationalladder it would become obvious that some had reached the limit imposedupon them by nature, and they would be directed off into appropriatesocial roles in which they would find fulfillment, for their abilitieswould match the demands of these roles. Those who continued on withtheir education would eventually become members of the ruling class ofGuardians.


3.2 Social, Political and Moral Philosophy

The publication of John Rawls’s A Theory of Justice in1971 was the most notable event in the history of political philosophyover the last century. The book spurred a period of ferment inpolitical philosophy that included, among other things, new researchon educationally fundamental themes. The principles of justice ineducational distribution have perhaps been the dominant theme in thisliterature, and Rawls’s influence on its development has beenpervasive.

Rawls’s theory of justice made so-called “fair equality ofopportunity” one of its constitutive principles. Fair equalityof opportunity entailed that the distribution of education would notput the children of those who currently occupied coveted socialpositions at any competitive advantage over other, equally talentedand motivated children seeking the qualifications for those positions(Rawls 1971: 72–75). Its purpose was to prevent socio-economicdifferences from hardening into social castes that were perpetuatedacross generations. One obvious criticism of fair equality ofopportunity is that it does not prohibit an educational distributionthat lavished resources on the most talented children while offeringminimal opportunities to others. So long as untalented students fromwealthy families were assigned opportunities no better than thoseavailable to their untalented peers among the poor, no breach of theprinciple would occur. Even the most moderate egalitarians might findsuch a distributive regime to be intuitively repugnant.

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Repugnance might be mitigated somewhat by the ways in which theoverall structure of Rawls’s conception of justice protects theinterests of those who fare badly in educational competition. Allcitizens must enjoy the same basic liberties, and equal liberty alwayshas moral priority over equal opportunity: the former can never becompromised to advance the latter. Further, inequality in thedistribution of income and wealth are permitted only to the degreethat it serves the interests of the least advantaged group in society.But even with these qualifications, fair equality of opportunity isarguably less than really fair to anyone. The fact that theireducation should secure ends other than access to the most selectivesocial positions—ends such as artistic appreciation, the kind ofself-knowledge that humanistic study can furnish, or civicvirtue—is deemed irrelevant according to Rawls’sprinciple. But surely it is relevant, given that a principle ofeducational justice must be responsive to the full range ofeducationally important goods.

Suppose we revise our account of the goods included in educationaldistribution so that aesthetic appreciation, say, and the necessaryunderstanding and virtue for conscientious citizenship count for justas much as job-related skills. An interesting implication of doing sois that the rationale for requiring equality under any justdistribution becomes decreasingly clear. That is because job-relatedskills are positional whereas the other educational goods are not(Hollis 1982). If you and I both aspire to a career in businessmanagement for which we are equally qualified, any increase in yourjob-related skills is a corresponding disadvantage to me unless I cancatch up. Positional goods have a competitive structure by definition,though the ends of civic or aesthetic education do not fit thatstructure. If you and I aspire to be good citizens and are equal incivic understanding and virtue, an advance in your civic education isno disadvantage to me. On the contrary, it is easier to be a goodcitizen the better other citizens learn to be. At the very least, sofar as non-positional goods figure in our conception of what counts asa good education, the moral stakes of inequality are therebylowered.

In fact, an emerging alternative to fair equality of opportunity is aprinciple that stipulates some benchmark of adequacy in achievement oropportunity as the relevant standard of distribution. But it ismisleading to represent this as a contrast between egalitarian andsufficientarian conceptions. Philosophically serious interpretationsof adequacy derive from the ideal of equal citizenship (Satz 2007;Anderson 2007). Then again, fair equality of opportunity inRawls’s theory is derived from a more fundamental ideal ofequality among citizens. This was arguably true in A Theory ofJustice but it is certainly true in his later work (Dworkin 1977:150–183; Rawls 1993). So, both Rawls’s principle and theemerging alternative share an egalitarian foundation. The debatebetween adherents of equal opportunity and those misnamed assufficientarians is certainly not over (e.g., Brighouse & Swift2009; Jacobs 2010; Warnick 2015). Further progress will likely hingeon explicating the most compelling conception of the egalitarianfoundation from which distributive principles are to be inferred.Another Rawls-inspired alternative is that a“prioritarian” distribution of achievement or opportunitymight turn out to be the best principle we can come upwith—i.e., one that favors the interests of the least advantagedstudents (Schouten 2012).

The publication of Rawls’s Political Liberalism in 1993signaled a decisive turning point in his thinking about justice. Inhis earlier book, the theory of justice had been presented as if itwere universally valid. But Rawls had come to think that any theory ofjustice presented as such was open to reasonable rejection. A morecircumspect approach to justification would seek grounds for justiceas fairness in an overlapping consensus between the many reasonablevalues and doctrines that thrive in a democratic political culture.Rawls argued that such a culture is informed by a shared ideal of freeand equal citizenship that provided a new, distinctively democraticframework for justifying a conception of justice. The shift topolitical liberalism involved little revision on Rawls’s part tothe content of the principles he favored. But the salience it gave toquestions about citizenship in the fabric of liberal political theoryhad important educational implications. How was the ideal of free andequal citizenship to be instantiated in education in a way thataccommodated the range of reasonable values and doctrines encompassedin an overlapping consensus? Political Liberalism hasinspired a range of answers to that question (cf. Callan 1997; Clayton2006; Bull 2008).

Other philosophers besides Rawls in the 1990s took up a cluster ofquestions about civic education, and not always from a liberalperspective. Alasdair Macintyre’s After Virtue (1984)strongly influenced the development of communitarian political theorywhich, as its very name might suggest, argued that the cultivation ofcommunity could preempt many of the problems with conflictingindividual rights at the core of liberalism. As a full-standingalternative to liberalism, communitarianism might have little torecommend it. But it was a spur for liberal philosophers to thinkabout how communities could be built and sustained to support the morefamiliar projects of liberal politics (e.g., Strike 2010).Furthermore, its arguments often converged with those advanced byfeminist exponents of the ethic of care (Noddings 1984; Gilligan1982). Noddings’ work is particularly notable because sheinferred a cogent and radical agenda for the reform of schools fromher conception of care (Noddings 1992).

One persistent controversy in citizenship theory has been aboutwhether patriotism is correctly deemed a virtue, given our obligationsto those who are not our fellow citizens in an increasinglyinterdependent world and the sordid history of xenophobia with whichmodern nation states are associated. The controversy is partly aboutwhat we should teach in our schools and is commonly discussed byphilosophers in that context (Galston 1991; Ben-Porath 2006; Callan2006; Miller 2007; Curren & Dorn 2018). The controversy is relatedto a deeper and more pervasive question about how morally orintellectually taxing the best conception of our citizenship shouldbe. The more taxing it is, the more constraining its derivativeconception of civic education will be. Contemporary politicalphilosophers offer divergent arguments about these matters. Forexample, Gutmann and Thompson claim that citizens of diversedemocracies need to “understand the diverse ways of life oftheir fellow citizens” (Gutmann & Thompson 1996: 66). Theneed arises from the obligation of reciprocity which they (like Rawls)believe to be integral to citizenship. Because I must seek tocooperate with others politically on terms that make sense fromtheir moral perspective as well as my own, I must be ready toenter that perspective imaginatively so as to grasp its distinctivecontent. Many such perspectives prosper in liberal democracies, and sothe task of reciprocal understanding is necessarily onerous. Still,our actions qua deliberative citizen must be grounded in suchreciprocity if political cooperation on terms acceptable to us as(diversely) morally motivated citizens is to be possible at all. Thisis tantamount to an imperative to think autonomously inside the roleof citizen because I cannot close-mindedly resist criticalconsideration of moral views alien to my own without flouting myresponsibilities as a deliberative citizen.

Civic education does not exhaust the domain of moral education, eventhough the more robust conceptions of equal citizenship havefar-reaching implications for just relations in civil society and thefamily. The study of moral education has traditionally taken itsbearings from normative ethics rather than political philosophy, andthis is largely true of work undertaken in recent decades. The majordevelopment here has been the revival of virtue ethics as analternative to the deontological and consequentialist theories thatdominated discussion for much of the twentieth century.

The defining idea of virtue ethics is that our criterion of moralright and wrong must derive from a conception of how the ideallyvirtuous agent would distinguish between the two. Virtue ethics isthus an alternative to both consequentialism and deontology whichlocate the relevant criterion in producing good consequences ormeeting the requirements of moral duty respectively. The debate aboutthe comparative merits of these theories is not resolved, but from aneducational perspective that may be less important than it hassometimes seemed to antagonists in the debate. To be sure,adjudicating between rival theories in normative ethics might shedlight on how best to construe the process of moral education, andphilosophical reflection on the process might help us to adjudicatebetween the theories. There has been extensive work on habituation andvirtue, largely inspired by Aristotle (Burnyeat 1980; Peters 1981).But whether this does anything to establish the superiority of virtueethics over its competitors is far from obvious. Other aspects ofmoral education—in particular, the paired processes ofrole-modelling and identification—deserve much more scrutinythan they have received (Audi 2017; Kristjánsson 2015, 2017).

3.3 Social Epistemology, Virtue Epistemology, and the Epistemology of Education

Related to the issues concerning the aims and functions of educationand schooling rehearsed above are those involving the specificallyepistemic aims of education and attendant issues treated bysocial and virtue epistemologists. (The papers collected in Kotzee2013 and Baehr 2016 highlight the current and growing interactionsamong social epistemologists, virtue epistemologists, and philosophersof education.)

There is, first, a lively debate concerning putative epistemic aims.Alvin Goldman argues that truth (or knowledge understood inthe “weak” sense of true belief) is the fundamentalepistemic aim of education (Goldman 1999). Others, including themajority of historically significant philosophers of education, holdthat critical thinking or rationality and rationalbelief (or knowledge in the “strong” sense thatincludes justification) is the basic epistemic educational aim (Bailin& Siegel 2003; Scheffler 1965, 1973 [1989]; Siegel 1988, 1997,2005, 2017). Catherine Z. Elgin (1999a,b) and Duncan Pritchard (2013,2016; Carter & Pritchard 2017) have independently urged thatunderstanding is the basic aim. Pritchard’s viewcombines understanding with intellectual virtue; Jason Baehr(2011) systematically defends the fostering of the intellectualvirtues as the fundamental epistemic aim of education. This cluster ofviews continues to engender ongoing discussion and debate. (Itscomplex literature is collected in Carter and Kotzee 2015, summarizedin Siegel 2018, and helpfully analyzed in Watson 2016.)

A further controversy concerns the places of testimony andtrust in the classroom: In what circumstances if any oughtstudents to trust their teachers’ pronouncements, and why? Herethe epistemology of education is informed by social epistemology,specifically the epistemology of testimony; the familiarreductionism/anti-reductionism controversy there is applicable tostudents and teachers. Anti-reductionists, who regard testimony as abasic source of justification, may with equanimity approve ofstudents’ taking their teachers’ word at face value andbelieving what they say; reductionists may balk. Does teachertestimony itself constitute good reason for student belief?

The correct answer here seems clearly enough to be “itdepends”. For very young children who have yet to acquire ordevelop the ability to subject teacher declarations to criticalscrutiny, there seems to be little alternative to accepting what theirteachers tell them. For older and more cognitively sophisticatedstudents there seem to be more options: they can assess them forplausibility, compare them with other opinions, assess theteachers’ proffered reasons, subject them to independentevaluation, etc. Regarding “the teacher says thatp” as itself a good reason to believe it appearsmoreover to contravene the widely shared conviction that an importanteducational aim is helping students to become able to evaluatecandidate beliefs for themselves and believe accordingly. That said,all sides agree that sometimes believers, including students, havegood reasons simply to trust what others tell them. There is thus morework to do here by both social epistemologists and philosophers ofeducation (for further discussion see Goldberg 2013; Siegel 2005,2018).

A further cluster of questions, of long-standing interest tophilosophers of education, concerns indoctrination: How if atall does it differ from legitimate teaching? Is it inevitable, and ifso is it not always necessarily bad? First, what is it? As we sawearlier, extant analyses focus on the aims orintentions of the indoctrinator, the methodsemployed, or the content transmitted. If the indoctrinationis successful, all have the result that students/victims eitherdon’t, won’t, or can’t subject the indoctrinatedmaterial to proper epistemic evaluation. In this way it produces bothbelief that is evidentially unsupported or contravened and uncriticaldispositions to believe. It might seem obvious that indoctrination, sounderstood, is educationally undesirable. But it equally seems thatvery young children, at least, have no alternative but to believesans evidence; they have yet to acquire the dispositions toseek and evaluate evidence, or the abilities to recognize evidence orevaluate it. Thus we seem driven to the views that indoctrination isboth unavoidable and yet bad and to be avoided. It is not obvious howthis conundrum is best handled. One option is to distinguish betweenacceptable and unacceptable indoctrination. Another is to distinguishbetween indoctrination (which is always bad) and non-indoctrinatingbelief inculcation, the latter being such that students are taughtsome things without reasons (the alphabet, the numbers, how to readand count, etc.), but in such a way that critical evaluation of allsuch material (and everything else) is prized and fostered (Siegel1988: ch. 5). In the end the distinctions required by the two optionsmight be extensionally equivalent (Siegel 2018).

Education, it is generally granted, fosters belief: in thetypical propositional case, Smith teaches Jones that p, andif all goes well Jones learns it and comes to believe it. Educationalso has the task of fostering open-mindedness and anappreciation of our fallibility: All the theorists mentionedthus far, especially those in the critical thinking and intellectualvirtue camps, urge their importance. But these two might seem at odds.If Jones (fully) believes that p, can she also be open-mindedabout it? Can she believe, for example, that earthquakes are caused bythe movements of tectonic plates, while also believing that perhapsthey aren’t? This cluster of italicized notions requires carefulhandling; it is helpfully discussed by Jonathan Adler (2002, 2003),who recommends regarding the latter two as meta-attitudes concerningone’s first-order beliefs rather than lessened degrees of beliefor commitments to those beliefs.

Other traditional epistemological worries that impinge upon theepistemology of education concern (a) absolutism,pluralism and relativism with respect to knowledge,truth and justification as these relate to what is taught, (b) thecharacter and status of group epistemologies and theprospects for understanding such epistemic goods“universalistically” in the face of“particularist” challenges, (c) the relation between“knowledge-how” and “knowledge-that” and theirrespective places in the curriculum, (d) concerns raised bymulticulturalism and the inclusion/exclusion of marginalizedperspectives in curriculum content and the classroom, and (e) furtherissues concerning teaching and learning. (There is more here than canbe briefly summarized; for more references and systematic treatmentcf. Bailin & Siegel 2003; Carter & Kotzee 2015; Cleverley& Phillips 1986; Robertson 2009; Siegel 2004, 2017; and Watson2016.)

3.4 Philosophical Disputes Concerning Empirical Education Research

The educational research enterprise has been criticized for a centuryor more by politicians, policymakers, administrators, curriculumdevelopers, teachers, philosophers of education, and by researchersthemselves—but the criticisms have been contradictory. Chargesof being “too ivory tower and theory-oriented” are foundalongside “too focused on practice and too atheoretical”;but in light of the views of John Dewey and William James that thefunction of theory is to guide intelligent practice andproblem-solving, it is becoming more fashionable to hold that the“theory v. practice” dichotomy is a false one. (For anilluminating account of the historical development of educationalresearch and its tribulations, see Lagemann 2000.)

A similar trend can be discerned with respect to the long warfarebetween two rival groups of research methods—on one handquantitative/statistical approaches to research, and on the other handthe qualitative/ethnographic family. (The choice of labels here is notentirely risk-free, for they have been contested; furthermore thefirst approach is quite often associated with“experimental” studies, and the latter with “casestudies”, but this is an over-simplification.) For severaldecades these two rival methodological camps were treated byresearchers and a few philosophers of education as being rivalparadigms (Kuhn’s ideas, albeit in a very loose form, have beeninfluential in the field of educational research), and the disputebetween them was commonly referred to as “the paradigmwars”. In essence the issue at stake was epistemological:members of the quantitative/experimental camp believed that only theirmethods could lead to well-warranted knowledge claims, especiallyabout the causal factors at play in educational phenomena, and on thewhole they regarded qualitative methods as lacking in rigor; on theother hand the adherents of qualitative/ethnographic approaches heldthat the other camp was too “positivistic” and wasoperating with an inadequate view of causation in humanaffairs—one that ignored the role of motives and reasons,possession of relevant background knowledge, awareness of culturalnorms, and the like. Few if any commentators in the “paradigmwars” suggested that there was anything prohibiting the use ofboth approaches in the one research program—provided that ifboth were used, they were used only sequentially or in parallel, forthey were underwritten by different epistemologies and hence could notbe blended together. But recently the trend has been towardsrapprochement, towards the view that the two methodological familiesare, in fact, compatible and are not at all like paradigms in theKuhnian sense(s) of the term; the melding of the two approaches isoften called “mixed methods research”, and it is growingin popularity. (For more detailed discussion of these“wars” see Howe 2003 and Phillips 2009.)

The most lively contemporary debates about education research,however, were set in motion around the turn of the millennium when theUS Federal Government moved in the direction of funding onlyrigorously scientific educational research—the kind that couldestablish causal factors which could then guide the development ofpractically effective policies. (It was held that such a causalknowledge base was available for medical decision-making.) Thedefinition of “rigorously scientific”, however, wasdecided by politicians and not by the research community, and it wasgiven in terms of the use of a specific research method—the neteffect being that the only research projects to receive Federalfunding were those that carried out randomized controlled experimentsor field trials (RFTs). It has become common over the last decade torefer to the RFT as the “gold standard” methodology.

The National Research Council (NRC)—an arm of the US NationalAcademies of Science—issued a report, influenced bypostpostivistic philosophy of science (NRC 2002), that argued thatthis criterion was far too narrow. Numerous essays have appearedsubsequently that point out how the “gold standard”account of scientific rigor distorts the history of science, how thecomplex nature of the relation between evidence and policy-making hasbeen distorted and made to appear overly simple (for instance the roleof value-judgments in linking empirical findings to policy directivesis often overlooked), and qualitative researchers have insisted uponthe scientific nature of their work. Nevertheless, and possiblybecause it tried to be balanced and supported the use of RFTs in someresearch contexts, the NRC report has been the subject of symposia infour journals, where it has been supported by a few and attacked froma variety of philosophical fronts: Its authors were positivists, theyerroneously believed that educational inquiry could be value neutraland that it could ignore the ways in which the exercise of powerconstrains the research process, they misunderstood the nature ofeducational phenomena, and so on. This cluster of issues continues tobe debated by educational researchers and by philosophers of educationand of science, and often involves basic topics in philosophy ofscience: the constitution of warranting evidence, the nature oftheories and of confirmation and explanation, etc. NancyCartwright’s important recent work on causation, evidence, andevidence-based policy adds layers of both philosophical sophisticationand real world practical analysis to the central issues just discussed(Cartwright & Hardie 2012, Cartwright 2013; cf. Kvernbekk 2015 foran overview of the controversies regarding evidence in the educationand philosophy of education literatures).

4. Concluding Remarks

As stressed earlier, it is impossible to do justice to the whole field ofphilosophy of education in a single encyclopedia entry. Differentcountries around the world have their own intellectual traditions andtheir own ways of institutionalizing philosophy of education in theacademic universe, and no discussion of any of this appears in thepresent essay. But even in the Anglo-American world there is such adiversity of approaches that any author attempting to produce asynoptic account will quickly run into the borders of his or hercompetence. Clearly this has happened in the present case.

Fortunately, in the last thirty years or so resources have becomeavailable that significantly alleviate these problems. There has beena flood of encyclopedia entries, both on the field as a whole and alsoon many specific topics not well-covered in the present essay (see, asa sample, Burbules 1994; Chambliss 1996b; Curren 1998, 2018; Phillips1985, 2010; Siegel 2007; Smeyers 1994), two“Encyclopedias” (Chambliss 1996a; Phillips 2014), a“Guide” (Blake, Smeyers, Smith, & Standish 2003), a“Companion” (Curren 2003), two “Handbooks”(Siegel 2009; Bailey, Barrow, Carr, & McCarthy 2010), acomprehensive anthology (Curren 2007), a dictionary of key concepts inthe field (Winch & Gingell 1999), and a good textbook or two (Carr2003; Noddings 2015). In addition there are numerous volumes both ofreprinted selections and of specially commissioned essays on specifictopics, some of which were given short shrift here (for anothersampling see A. Rorty 1998, Stone 1994), and several internationaljournals, including Theory and Research in Education,Journal of Philosophy of Education, EducationalTheory, Studies in Philosophy and Education, andEducational Philosophy and Theory. Thus there is more thanenough material available to keep the interested reader busy.


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The authors and editors would like to thank Randall Curren for sendinga number of constructive suggestions for the Summer 2018 update ofthis entry.

Ed Camp 123 Reflections Youtube

Copyright © 2018 by
Harvey Siegel<[email protected]>
D.C. Phillips<[email protected]>
Eamonn Callan<[email protected]>

Ed Camp 123 Reflections Youtube

This camping trip was a great experience for our class. Being around nature, like we were, gave us the oppertunity to understand our outside environment better. Water testing, canoeing, discussing philosophical connections to nature, exploring, and of course campfire stories, were some of the fun things we got to do with our peers while interacting with nature. Scott Lewis, from the Geography Department at UWEC came and discussed how to use GPS devices and why they are so useful for people in his field. I come from a very rural area so being outside is where I love to be. Being surrounded by nothing but trees, water, wildlife, and the sky allows me to reflect and think about anything without disturbance. It's so great what the outdoors can do for a person. Nothing about this trip (being cold 95% of the time) changed my view of nature and the outdoors--it just made me more appreciative of the natural beauty that our environment has to offer. Even though I thought I lost my toes by dawn, I still had an incredible time getting to know my environment, classmates, and professors. And I will never forget Ben's creepy 'little boy/girl stories'.....ever. :)

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