John Goodland (2012) stated “philosophy is the beginning point in curriculum decision making and is the basis for all subsequent decisions regarding curriculum” (para. 18). The critical function of philosophy on curriculum assists educators to “determine what schools are for, what subjects have value, how students learn and what methods or materials to use” (Ornstein & Hunkins, 2009, p. 32). Within education, philosophy is a meditative activity which requires an individual to be reflective on their experiences including the ideas, attitudes and belief about society, culture and learning. When these aspects are considered they direct both the curriculum content and its organization (Ritz, 2006).
Furthermore, philosophy contributes and gives meaning to both the actions and the decision making of those involved in the curriculum development for schools and classrooms. It also provides educators with a basis for dealing with individual tasks and for making judgment calls about which textbooks or other cognitive and non-cognitive activities, how to use these materials, what homework to give to students and how much homework is needed, how to assess students, how to use assessment results, as well as what subject matter to emphasize (Ornstein, 1990).
There are four principle philosophies within education which can be sorted into either traditional or contemporary views. Idealism and realism are both considered to be more traditional than their contemporary counterparts of pragmatism and existentialism. However, they each share distinct characteristics.
Idealism focuses on the spiritual and moral development of the student. Educators who base their educational philosophy in this arena believe that all knowledge is truth. Values are absolute and timeless. These truths are universal and cross all interdisciplinary lines (Ritz, 2006). Also, it uses knowledge to cultivate higher levels of thinking and reasoning skills. All learning is an intellectual process which uses facts and ideas to relate to other concepts (Ornstein & Hunkins, 2009).
The other traditional philosophy is realism. The development of this philosophy is linked to Aristotle. Realists believe that the world is known through reasoning and senses as it is experienced through nature (Ornstein & Hunkins, 2009). Realism emphasizes logic and activities or experiences that will develop additional reasoning and thoughts. Curriculum for realists consists of reading, writing arithmetic, science and the arts (Ritz, 2006).
A contemporary philosophy counterpart to idealism and realism is pragmatism. Within this domain, knowledge is accepted as consistently changing. It is not a matter of a timeless truth but of an experience between the learner and his interactions within his environment (Ornstein, 1990). The most essential skills to be considered are problem solving and critical thinking as a student learns how to deal with their surroundings (Ritz, 2006). Teachers are considered guides as they help their students explore the world. Learning how to think is more important than learning what to think (Ornstein & Hunkins, 2009).
Lastly, existentialism focuses on both individualism and self-fulfillment. Individuals are encouraged to create their own meanings in life (Ritz, 2006). Students are to makes choices which define themselves. The consciously develop themselves through daily decisions and experiences. They “cultivate self-expressions and portray the human condition and situations involving choices” (Ornstein & Hunkins, 2009, p. 37).
Ornstein, A. C. (1990). Philosophy as a basis for curriculum decisions. Retrieved from wiki.usask.ca/download/attachments/44564505/Philosophy_%20Curriculum.pdf
Ornstein, A. C., & Hunkins, F. P. (2009). Curriculum: Foundations, principles, and issues. Allyn & Bacon.
Ritz, J. (2006). Notetaking guides on philosophy. Retrieved from www.odu.edu/~jritz/oted885/ntg5.shtml
By Tracy Harrington-Atkinson
Tracy Harrington-Atkinson, mother of six, lives in the Midwest with her husband. She is a teacher, having taught elementary school to higher education, holding degrees in elementary education, a master’s in higher education and continued on to a PhD in curriculum design. She has published several titles, including Calais: The Annals of the Hidden, Lemosa: The Annals of the Hidden, Book Two, Rachel’s 8 and Securing Your Tent. She is currently working on a non-fiction text exploring the attributes of self-directed learners: The Five Characteristics of Self-directed Learners.