The battle for education
Socrates was an idealist, believing that reality is subjective, and that it is represented differently in each human mind. In the idealist perspective, reality is personally constructed by the individual, learning is also believed to be constructed, and all meaning is therefore negotiable. In Socratic discourse, no destination can be arrived at, nor can a definitive answer be found to any question, but other questions are generated and discussed. Social constructivist theory clearly derived from this set of tenets.
Alternatively, Aristotle, an acolyte of Socrates' student Plato, subscribed to the realist perspective, believing that reality is objective. From these ancient roots grew two separate and opposing philosophies on how education should be conducted. Aristolean realist theory became the basis for behaviourist beliefs that content was central to education, under the control of experts. Adherents of behaviourism also argued that observable and measurable behaviour was central to understanding learning, giving rise to standardised testing.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Socratic idealist philosophy heavily influenced constructivist and humanist approaches to education, which privileged the learner at the centre of the process, and emphasised the importance of the student making meaning. Progressive educators see teachers as co-learners who work alongside their students, rather than experts who control content. A battle of words and ideals is raging about which is the most effective, and indeed, the most appropriate approach to adopt for the needs of today's society.
The chart above (my design), comes courtesy of Wingra School in Madison, Wisconsin is derived from the work of a number of educational theorists. It highlights several key counter views between the two positions, and is quite revealing. It shows where the battle lines have been drawn. Have a look at the list and see which one you subscribe to the most - are you a progressive or a traditionalist?
Photo by Stuart Pilbrow on Flickr
NB: I acknowledge that this is a binary, and that these positions represent extreme ends of a very wide spectrum of teacher beliefs, but hopefully it will provoke some useful dialogue.
The battle for education by Steve Wheeler was written in Plymouth, England and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.