Friday, January 31, 2014

Educational Philosophies - Part One: Neo-Scholasticism, Pragmatism/Experimentalism/Progressivism

Neo-Scholasticism: scholasticism is an approach to understanding and blending the study of philosophy and theology.  Early in the movement, which began in the ninth century, scholastic teachers considered themselves to be Christian educators.[1]  Scholastic scholars were far more interested in proving existing truth through rational processes than they were in seeking out new truth.  Scholasticism was more than simply teaching the seven liberal arts but rather also sought to help Christians become more critically thinking individuals.[2]  Neo-scholasticism is a new or updated form of scholasticism that emphasizes human reason.[3]

Neo-scholasticism in the twentieth century has two branches: religious and secular.  The religious branch formed the underpinnings of the Roman Catholic educational philosophy and is often referred to as “scholastic realism”, “religious realism”, and “ecclesiastical neo-Thomism”.[4]  Both the religious and secular branches of neo-scholasticism rely on reason and deductive forms of Aristotelian logic though induction is not rejected.  Also, there is a consistency between the philosophy and educational recommendations of neo-scholasticism.[5]  Both camps see the student as a rational being with a natural ability to acquire truth and knowledge though religious neo-scholastics also see students as spiritual beings who can relate to God.  It is the school’s job to develop these abilities in their students.

Pragmatism/Experimentalism/Progressivism: used more or less synonymously, pragmatism/experimentalism/progressivism focuses on the nature of knowledge with a preference for allowing context and setting to determine the degree of truth involved.[6]  The subtle nuances of the individual terms bear mentioning though.  Pragmatism is a branch of philosophy and framework for viewing a particular issue; experimentalism is a method one uses to apply this philosophy; progressivism attempts to instill this philosophy and methodology into education.[7]  This contribution to Western philosophy is uniquely American.

One of the hallmarks for pragmatism/experimentalism/progressivism is problem-solving.  This type of learning, by its nature, is action or experience oriented.  Since, from an epistemological perspective, truth is what a given individual defines it to be and thus can vary widely from person to person, reality is centered on individuals and is not universal.[8]  Knight emphasizes the need to distinguish knowledge from belief.  For pragmatic/experimentalist/progressive perspective, belief is private while knowledge must be capable of demonstration to impartial, qualified observers.[9]  Of course, “demonstrating” God of biblical truth is not possible in the minds of those who hold this point of view.
Education is viewed through the experiential lens and is part of life rather than preparation for it.[10]  From this perspective, teachers are learners with their students experiencing the world though they do have more experience from which to draw.  The school environment is democratic consistent with the views of no absolutes.  Since one cannot “demonstrate” God, there does not seem to be a place for the supernatural in this philosophy aside from private belief.

[1] Anthony, Michael J., ed. Evangelical Dictionary of Christian Education. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001), 615.
[2] Anthony, Michael J., and Warren S. Benson. Exploring the History & Philosophy of Christian Education: Principles for the 21st Century. (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2003), 148.
[3] Knight, George R. Philosophy & Education, 4th ed. (Berrien Springs, MI: Andrews University Press, 2006), 54-55.
[4] Ibid, 55-56.
[5] Ibid, 58-59.
[6] Anthony and Benson, 399.
[7] Anthony, 277-78.
[8] Anthony and Benson, 402.
[9] Knight 69.
[10] Ibid, 71.