The intellectual roots of educational philosophy can be traced back to ancient Greece and Rome. Socrates (469-399 B.C.) made contributions to teaching and the value of knowledge by searching for basic meanings and truth and by bringing others together to do the same (Power, 1991). He attempted to educate social and political leaders by connecting knowledge and civic duty, and he used probing questions to explore the worth of human acts. Socrates’ philosophy and his teaching methodology are widely known to us through his student, friend, and constant companion, Plato (427-347 B.C.). Many feel that all educational philosophy originated with Plato’s ideas. He suggested that societies and the character of societies are highly dependent on the humans who exercise authority within society. He was convinced that good citizenship and intellectual accomplishment were closely connected and that strong social structures were dependent on the education of citizens, although he had a clear preference for educating only the elite to provide leadership (Power, 1991).
Aristotle (384-322 B.C.) studied in Plato’s academy for seventeen years and introduced a novel educational philosophy—scientific empiricism—which became the basis for the philosophy known as realism. Aristotle felt that dialogue and questioning were too emotional and personal and that the process failed to make good use of data. Realists focus on skills of reasoning and believe the major purposes of education are to promote thinking and to understand subjects. Pestalozzi, Locke, Jefferson, and Mann were all realists. The current drive for accountability is based on a philosophy of realism (Myers & Myers, 1995). Aristotle’s emphases on the virtues required and nurtured by the good life have strongly influenced contemporary advocates for character education (Nodding’s, 1997).
The theory of pragmatism constantly questions what is viewed as truth. John Dewey, founder of pragmatism, established experimental education and influenced notions of educational research. In this philosophy, knowledge is obtained and develops through experiences and interactions with the environment (Tanner, 1997). From this perspective, education is defined as the reconstruction or reorganization of experiences (Dewey, 1916). A teacher who is a pragmatist will help students understand that what is known is changeable, that there are a number of…