Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Educational Philosophies - Part Two: Behaviorism and Perennialism

Behaviorism: a major force in education since the middle of the twentieth century welcomed by those who prefer scientific methodology and so-called objectivity.  Behaviorism as an approach to education was also embraced by much of the business community that had a penchant for seeing immediate results, efficiency, and economy. [1] Behaviorism has roots in realism, positivism, and materialism.
Denying any sort of supernatural component, behaviorists believe that people are simply highly developed animals who learn in the same manner as other animals.  As a philosophy, behaviorism holds that human beings behave in accordance with universal behavioral laws and science should ignore all knowledge that cannot be verified empirically.[2] Outward change is the definition of learning to the exclusion of the mind and inner states.[3]  As such, the behaviorist approaches education with the express purpose of engineering behavior of students.[4] The appropriate role of teachers then is to create an effective environment in which desired behaviors are reinforced.

Perennialism: this view arose in opposition to pragmatism/experimentalism/progressivism and is sometimes referred to as traditionalism, neo-Thomism, and neo-scholasticism.  Perennialists favor returning to absolutes and time-honored ideas that have stood the test of time.[5]  The universe and everything in it is moving towards a prescribed end.[6]  With origins dating back to Aristotle who established realism, the cause for perennialism was taken up by Thomas Aquinas who added a spiritual dimension to the discussion.[7] 
Education in the liberal arts is seen as being higher than vocational training by the perennialist.  The student is a natural being seeking knowledge and truth but does so as a spiritual being with the capability of coming to know God.  The job of the perennialist teacher is one of mental disciplinarian determining what is best for students and training them in rational thought.[8]  This philosophical view strikes me as being compatible with a Christian worldview given the belief in absolutes and that people can have relationship with God.

[1] Anthony and Benson, 132.
[2] Benner, David G., and Peter C. Hill, ed. Baker Encyclopedia of Psychology & Counseling, 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999.
[3] Anthony, Michael J., 67.
[4] Knight, 135-36.
[5] Knight, 114-15.
[6] Anthony and Benson 396-97.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Ibid, 398.

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