George Lucas Educational Foundation

Philosophy of Education

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"Education is applied philosophy."

What we believe about who students are, how they learn, and why they learn matters, because it informs how we teach them.  It dictates our methods, content, and the environment we create.

I do not remember having this discussion in my graduate school classes.

I do not remember having this conversation in any school where I have worked, save one.

There is no discussion topic for "Philosophy of Education" on Edutopia.

Does it matter if a teacher does not have a defined, expressly stated and relatively comprehensive philosophy of education?

What are your answers to the key questions of education philosophy:  "What is a child?"  "How do they learn?"  "Why should they learn?"

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John S. Thomas's picture
John S. Thomas
First & Second Grade Teacher/Adjunct Faculty Antioch University New England, former Elementary Principal

Stephen, I'm sorry you've had 1 sschool/program valuing philosophy. I've had a different experience. Both my teaching undergraduate & education administration graduate req'd me to create a detailed "Philosophy" in a philosophy of education class in which we studied philosophies of many and worked to establish our own. I am continually altering mine- and I believe I will never be "done." My philosophy is a living breathing statement that adapts to the world around me.

My current school(K-6) has created and revisits our guiding mission statement to make sure we have a school that supports our students. Our administration works to have a staff with complimentary philosophies. We have staff/school board retreats in which we set goals based on that mission. We revisit the goals each spring by reflecting on our work AND learning results to be sure we are on the right path. Then we work on goals for the coming year. Then repeat.

I attended Antioch University New England for my graduate work, and for full disclosure- now I co-teach one class in finances, but they integrate educational philosophy into everything they do. From

"Perhaps the most unique feature of the education programs at Antioch University New England lies in the relationship between philosophy and pedagogy. Noted educator Herb Kohl related the feeling of a group of visiting European educators who found that what characterized schooling in the United States was a lack of informed coherent thought about what could be called the philosophy of teaching and learning. In our programs, major emphasis is placed on clarifying a teacher's vision of the possible person and society and translating this into a plan of action for the classroom curriculum."

Hopefully this is happening more often at teacher and administrator development programs around the country.

Dan Callahan's picture
Dan Callahan
Professional Learning Specialist, Edcamper, Graduate Professor

Hi Stephen,
I think that a teacher can be adequate without a comprehensive philosophy, but that it's difficult to go beyond that in the good to great range without building a philosophy. I don't necessarily think that the philosophy needs to be explicitly written out, as it can easily be an internal set of guiding principles without the formality that is required of the written word.

I do think, however, that it is extremely important for a school and district to have very detailed discussions about the underlying philosophies it has about teaching and learning, and to make those much more explicit. I've gone through some difficult times in my career where written policies about the kind of teaching and learning expected in the district would have lead to less fractiousness in the faculty or better decisions when it comes to curricula.

Gaetan Pappalardo's picture
Gaetan Pappalardo
Teacher, Author, Guitar––Word.


Even though Edutopia doesn't have a specific section for Ed. Philosophy, there's more than enough info on this site to create one and generate answers to those questions you mentioned Above. There are many different opinions in education. A philosophy is just weaving your own together to make a statement. Teachers need to believe in something, which will constantly change as you learn and grow as a human and educator.

John S. Thomas's picture
John S. Thomas
First & Second Grade Teacher/Adjunct Faculty Antioch University New England, former Elementary Principal

I believe establishing an educational philosophy is of the utmost importance and it should be a comprehensive, living/breathing document that is reflected on. I have an excerpt of mine posted in the "About me" in my profile here on Edutopia. But perhaps we need a way for community members to easily post, share, and discuss their educational philosophies to ultimately learn more about ourselves as educators. I'll make the suggestion.

Perhaps you could share thoughts on your own educational philosophy here. I will try and post mine when I get back into my classroom (its closed for deep cleaning this week) It is time to revisit it again anyway. :)

Stephen Zedler's picture

I think it would be great. My purpose in pointing out the lack of a dedicated topic on Edutopia was not as a criticism of the website (which I think is great). It was to point out that, in the grand scheme, philosophy seems to have been forgotten. I have worked in 3 schools and have many teacher friends. I have spoken to university education professors. I have done a good amount of reading on the subject. All of this has led me to the conclusion that there are few teachers and fewer schools who are asking the question, "Why do we do it this way?" There is certainly value in a place like Edutopia, which I can tell is a vibrant, open community. To have a dedicated area to discuss it might help people to understand the priority that should be placed on it.

I think it is important that people understand that their methods are based on a philosophy, even if they have not expressed or enumerated a philosophy themselves. Actions bespeak intent, even if you haven't bothered to understand the intent. The way you do something sends a message. That message might be contrary to what your stated goals are. How do you prevent this from happening without, at the least, actively contemplating what your philosophy is?

John S. Thomas's picture
John S. Thomas
First & Second Grade Teacher/Adjunct Faculty Antioch University New England, former Elementary Principal

I think some educators seem to take on the philosophy of the school rather than bring their own philosophy TO the school and merge it. In other words, I have seen what I believe are good educators get hired and then simply adopt the ways of the school- sort of a we've always done it this way so we will continue- rather than help mold and continually improve the school's philosophy and culture to improve student learning.

Dan Callahan's picture
Dan Callahan
Professional Learning Specialist, Edcamper, Graduate Professor

And of course, that makes those teachers highly dependent on going into a school with a good philosophy, as opposed to a bad one or none at all.

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