5.1 Foundations of Educational Philosophy

A philosophy grounds or guides practice in the study of existence and knowledge while developing an ontology (the study of being) on what it means for something or someone to be—or exist. Educational philosophy, then, provides a foundation which constructs and guides the ways knowledge is generated and passed on to others. Therefore, it is of critical import that teachers begin to develop a clear understanding of philosophical traditions and how the philosophical underpinnings inform their educational philosophies; because, a clear educational philosophy will help guide and develop cohesive reasons for how each teacher designs classroom spaces and learning interactions with both teachers and students. A clear philosophy also frames the curriculum along a spectrum from teacher-centered curriculum to student-centered curriculum to society-centered curriculum.  

Over the course of history, philosophy has had several paradigm shifts that influence teaching and learning. Each of these paradigm shifts altered the ontology, epistemology, axiology and school of philosophy, which also shaped what it means to be a teacher within each historical era. While Occidental metaphysical traditions are grounded in the tradition of the Ancient Greeks and the philosophies of Plato and Aristotle, philosophical traditions from the 19th century helped ground the early foundations of educational philosophy and the development of public education in Europe and the United States.

“What does it mean to be?” is the guiding question of ontology, and stemming from one’s stance on this foundational question, a general structure (Table 1) guides an educator’s general stance on epistemology, axiology, educational philosophy, and psychological orientations; these, then, inform, or should inform, an educator’s choice of instructional methods and classroom management techniques.

Visual Literacy Activity

Rather than focusing on the difficult and the abstract, let’s focus on the concrete and work our way up.  Use Table 1 to help answer the following questions:

  1. Choose one instructional activity from Table 1 you feel is an effective method of instruction. Explain why?
  2. Choose one classroom management technique from Table 1 you feel is an effective classroom management technique. Explain why?
  3. Do your two choices align in a similar area of the outlined shape? If so, explain why they might align? If not, explain why they might not align.
  4. Trace your two choices up the table to psychological orientations, educational philosophy, axiology, epistemology, and ontology. Does this line align with where you placed on the philosophy of education assessment survey? If so, you are beginning to construct an outline for your philosophy of education. If not, you may need to explore more on what you feel is important in being a teacher. In either case, you will use the rest of this chapter to help guide your (re)developing philosophy of education.

Table 1: Philosophies of Education Matrix