The Philosophy of Education

Presentation to the Melbourne Philosophy Forum, Sunday September 1st, 2013

1.0 Definitions
1.1 The Philosophy of Education is an applied philosophy that examines the aims, forms, methods, and results of education as both a process and a field of study. It concerns itself primarily with epistemological questions (e.g., learning methodologies), and ontological questions (e.g., cognitive facts of being), and the logical relationships in education. It also connects with moral reasoning and institutional requirements, as the sociology and economics of education, and issues in learning and motivation, the psychology of education.

2.0 Education and Learning
2.1 A first distinction can be made between education and learning. Education (from Latin educare to rear, educate, from ducere to lead) is what societies do to learners (Old English leornian to receive knowledge, to be cultivated). An individual comes into this world ignorant and illiterate; a society seeks to provide knowledge and experience to the individual for functional social integration.
2.2 In a society that values reflexive learning (e.g., a liberal democracy), it also embodies a sense of the creative and the critical (progressive education e.g., Rousseau's Emile, Dewey's Democracy and Education) and radical education (e.g., Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed).
2.3 There is a tension between education and learning, especially prominent in adult education. The former represents system imperatives and expectations, where as the latter can represent learner autonomy with an autodidactic approach. Education does mean that learning is subject to summative assessment. The latter tends towards self-concordance and internalised motivations and cultural integration. Attempts to bring the two together are evident in self-motivated pedagogical schools (e.g., Montesorri, Steiner)
2.4 The relationship between motivation and learning outcomes quite a strong one, although with empirical difficulties (e.g., intelligence is considered to be one of the strongest predictor of outcomes, people with high intelligence also tend to be highly motivated). Adult learners are more prone to increasing intrinsic motivations, rather than extrinsic ones. Extrinsic motivations include fear of punishment, loss or gain of social status and/or wealth, whereas intrinsic motivations include self-identity or value for its own sake.

3.0 Historical and Individual Development
3.1 In non-literate societies the provision of oral information by elders is the educational norm. With the advent of literacy, from the axial age to late feudalism, a specialist professions exist for literacy, numeracy, and contemplation (associations with civil administration, law, long distance trade or commerce, and religion), which was extended with the renaissance.
3.2 Modern industrial society witnessed the introduction of mass literacy and numeracy, which again served the many purposes of social integration (including control factors, c.f., Willis, Collins) and modern progressive ideology (e.g., L'ecole republicaine as free and secular).
3.2 Contemporary society - with the elements of increasing cultural, technical, and economic globalisation - is moving towards a "knowledge economy". As a result there is increased emphasis on lifelong learning and lifelong education and as a result, adult education.
3.3 Adult education (andragogy) (c.f., Knowles) is different from child education (pedagogy) with a continuum of characteristics between the two states resulting from the relative social independence (rights and responsibilities) of the former, status (learners as equals to teachers), experience, and cognitive and moral capacity.

4.0 The Acquisition of Knowledge
4.1 Even considering the distinction between education and learning and (historical, individual) development issues, the questions concerning how people acquire knowledge remains a philosophical concern sui generis. Two broad trajectories can be stated; within knowledge itself the distinction between the empirical (inductive) and the rational (deductive), and within individuals the debate of between intrinsic and extrinsic capacity. A nuanced approach will seek to combine these approaches in such a manner that allows for both approaches and variation within specific subjects (e.g., intrinsic deductive reasoning and inductive extrinsic learning).
4.2 There is a popular misconception that individuals have learning styles, differentiated into the visual, auditory, tactile etc for example. Empirical evidence suggests that this is not the case, but there is some value in different learning styles for different subjects and evidence for individuals having learnings style preferences (c.f., Pashler et al and Drysdale et al respectively).
4.3 Empirical studies into knowledge and skill acquisition have generated some basic facts; rote-learning and traditional examinations is not conducive to long-term understanding, deep knowledge can be generated through structured and integrated information where the connections can be inferred, elaborated, and built on what the learner already knows (Svinicki). Material should be contextually relevant and assessment and feedback should be orientated towards the formative (Schunk, Ramsden); use several small items of assessable material is much better than one large one.. Development is proximal (Vygotsky) and socially integrated into communities of practise (Billett); use cooperative and collaborative learning with a division of labour. There is an increasing moving on the integration of apprenticeship-style vocational learning with the classic theoretical approach of the university.