Sunday, September 23, 2007

09.11.07 Chapter 1 outline from “Philosophy of Education” by Nel Noddings

Text outline

From “Philosophy of Education” by Nel Noddings – Westview press 1998

Chapter 1 – Philosophy of Education Before the Twentieth Century

Text Summary

  • This text will talk about how different famous philosophers before the 20th century addressed concepts and questions of education. It will describe ideas formulated by Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and Rousseau, and how those thoughts still affect the way we think today.

The text is incomplete, other thinkers like Pestalozzi, Herbart and Froebel are mentioned, but the section is cut before it gets to the end.



  • There have been philosophical questions central to education for a long time.

  • What should be the aim and purpose of education?

  • Who should be educated?

  • Should education differ according to natural interests and abilities?

  • What role should the state play in education?

  • Philosophers and Educators have concerned themselves with these questions throughout the history of education.

  • Today there are professional Philosophers of Education

  • they are the ones that analyze those questions today

  • they are hired by schools and/or departments of education.

  • They try to philosophical concepts and questions central to education.

  • The Role of philosophy of Education

    • These questions require philosophical methods to their investigation

    • Argumentation from basic premises to persuade others of consequences we seek.

    • Empirical methods (experiments and observation) can be used to exemplify – they will show that our choices will in fact have that desired result, but will not, for instance, be the basis for an argument to decide what should be the goals of education.

    • To analyze the language used in arguments and offer alternative language to draw attention to other possibilities and perspectives, constructing questions and reasoning.

      • In the 4th and 5th paragraphs of page 5 we can read the choices concerning the voucher system, and Noddings argumentation against it. Questions can be formulated to reveal the one-sidedness of his argumentation.

  • Why ask those questions if they can't be answered for good?

    • Every society must answer them.

    • An answer from a society at a specific time does not answer the question for all time

    • A society's answer to those questions aims to benefit its people and the future.

    • There have been better or worse answers to those questions throughout time

    • We continue to examine old responses and change them or they might elicit new questions to be answered.

      • For instance, today the debate is not so much who to be educated (almost unanimous opinion - everyone should), but how should everyone be educated.

      • This raises policy debates issues. In the U.S. today there is the question of the voucher system.

        • Philosophical analyses is needed to identify and clarify some basic issues here.

    • All these questions require “careful thought, imagination, and a great capacity for patience in casting both questions and answers in a variety of ways designed to shed light on a problem of considerable importance.”

question to the reader – as the philophers' theories are being described ask yourself :

  1. How perenial questions change according to the context.

  2. How old questions fade away and leave similar questions as legacies.

  3. How answers to old questions generate new questions

Socrates and Plato – philosophers from the 4th century B.C.

  • Socrates never wrote anything, all we know from him comes from his disciples.

  • Socrates's main source is Plato – According to a professor I had in college, after being a professor for a while and knowing his student's notes, it i scary to think that all we have from someone's thinking are the notes of his disciples.

    • Scholars do have a hard time to tell which thoughts are Socrates's and which are Plato's himself.

  • Socrates

    • What is the “Socratic Method” or destructive cross-examination.

      • It was Socrates's way engaging in dialogue with others.

      • He asked a question, and then reply to the answer with another question, making the person rethink their answer and offer a new one. The questioning continued until the person's argument had been defeated.

      • This is very popular today in Law Schools and among professors and teachers in many places.

    • Should this method be used in schools today? Question for teachers to ask themselves

      • one could spend weeks on this case analyzing what it implies to current education.

      • Would Socrates even agree with it being used as a teaching method?

      • He did not consider himself a teacher, but a thinker.

      • This method was a method of inquiry, or learning, not necessarily of teaching.

      • Not being a teacher he did not have students, but people that could come and go at will, no power relation as it is the case with the teacher-student relationship.

      • But even though, was his use of the method always appropriate? Did he sometimes go too far forcing his opinion on the other person? I personally think so, judging by the dialog described on page 7. I believe that he did force his opinion by not even allowing the other party to formulate his counter-arguments. And I believe some of his arguments could easily be destroyed if that had been allowed.

      • Socrates never used this method with menial, trivial questions, but only with great questions of life.

        • How can we find the truth? What does it mean to know something? How should human beings live their lives? What is evil? What do we owe the state and what the state owes us? What does it mean to be just?

      • Is it then valid for us today use it to menial questions or should be using it to ask important questions and maybe question the state and bring people to charge?

      • Would we even be allowed to do such a thing?

      • His questions eventually led him to be charged and sentenced to death under accusation (among others) of corrupting the youth of Atenas. Would we be willing to go that far? Not to be sentenced to death, but to lose positions and prestige?

  • Most of the ideas that follow are Plato's even though he had Socrates voice them in his writings.

  • That is why what follows will be referred to as Plato's philosophy.

  • Plato

    • The Republic

      • Plato explored sensitive and complex questions about the relation of citizens to their state and its functions.

      • In The Republic he created an utopian state to illustrate his beliefs and principles.

      • Much of The Republic addresses issued of education. To have the ideal state we must have adults that meet its needs. We'll understand why when we see what is the purpose of the “funcionalist model”

    • Education ideas

      • Plato's model was “functionalist”

        • the point is to produce competent adults to meet the needs of the state.

      • Students should not all have the same education - education tailored to the student

        • they should be educated according to their capacities.

      • He supposed though that human beings followed in exactly 3 categories

        • Workers and artisans, guardians or soldiers, and rulers (the upper echelon of the guardian class)

        • He had a hierarchical organization for those categories

      • Educational Justice

        • because he had the hierarchical organization of the categories in which human beings are to fall, he also had an idea that self-actualization as to those of the higher category.

          • Self-actualization meant to have leisure time to think reflectively and engage in lifelong study.

          • The good life was the contemplative life.

        • Only a few people could enjoy the good life and self-actualization. The manual work should still be done.

        • Justice would be done if students were prepared to do each kind of work according to their own capacities.

          • Plato did not belive that everyone had the capacity for reflective thinking.

          • All children were to be given opportunities to show their abilities and this way they'd be sorted out.

        • This idea of justice influences our society educational policy-making today.

          • Our idea of good life has to do with high salary and prestige.

          • Children are supposed to be given equal opportunities to achieve that ideal, and they will be sorted out if they succeed or not at these opportunities.

      • Here's a table that compares Plato's and Dewey's ideas:



education tailored to the student


human beings followed in exactly 3 categories

Disagreed. Education should fit each individual child.

Hierarchical positions for the categories

Disagreed. No category should be better than other

Functionalism - produce competent adults to meet the needs of the state

Agreed. There is no inherent conflict between individual and state.

Self actualization is restricted to those who have the higher position

Disagreed. “people in vastly different occupations could exemplify the truly human.”

      • Questioning Plato's idea of Justice

        • Noddings demonstrates that there is a wide variety of examples of good life others than the one single ideal of Plato – questions his idea of sorting out for the good life.

        • Noddings points that justice is not to have equal opportunities, but equal outcomes

        • Noddings points that all children can learn whatever the school set out for them to learn.

I agree with Plato though on the idea of justice. I do think that justice means to provide equal opportunities and I am not sure what Noddings means by equal outcomes. I believe the teacher's and the school's goal should be to have equal outcomes for the students in each everyone will succeed in life. But I don't understand how one can argue that justice is satisfied with equal outcomes when people are different.

Also I am not sure I agree with the idea that all children can learn whatever the school sets out for them to learn. I read some books during the summer that talked about differences between man and women and one of these differences is the way they learn, and the types of things they will be able to master. It looks like of the things that are praised today in school, some are essentially male and some are essentially female, and it would be unrealistic to expect both boys and girls to succeed equally in those different areas.

But it looks like this argumentation of mine can't stand when against the next opposition to Plato's Justice by Jane R. Martin :

        • She argues that Plato's model of education is a traditional male model. He fails to talk about children day to day care, the family life.

          • When he argues that a woman could be educated, she is educated according to masculine values.

          • He proposes an education that is equal, but only exalts male values. According to Martin, an equal education would include features of both male and female traditions. (And I agree with Martin, but I am still not sure if we should do that expecting equal outcomes)

    • Plato's idea has been accepted by liberal education for over 2,000 years.

    • Questions to be asked:

      • The appropriateness of his recommendation for today's schooling.

      • The appropriateness of his recommendation even for his own time, for he exalted war and warriors

        • Let's consider if that love for war might have played a part in the end of Athens.

        • If that is so, we should identify which elements in his idea had the goal of producing warriors?

        • And are there elements of our curriculum that have the purpose of producing warriors?

      • The role of state in education

      • the aims of education

      • the genderized nature of traditional curriculum

      • the wisdom of traditional curriculum for today's students

      • the possibility of using the Socratic method in today's classrooms

    • Noddings suggests that these questions are likely to remain with us after this course is over, but that we should be able to ask questions and to identify non-sense, and make recommendations based on sound analysis.

  • Aristotle

    • He wrote about moral education mainly

    • He differed from Plato in which he did not create a utopian state, but analyzed actual things

    • He agreed with Plato in which he thought that children should be educated according to what should be their place in society.

      • As they'd perform tasks, they'd develop their particular excellences inherent to the occupations they'd have in their adult life.

    • He wrote about moral and ethics

      • He sought the best behaviors represented in Athens society.

      • Even in deciding what was good, he used criteria found in real life.

    • His approach to moral is highly influential and his model of moral education is fairly popular in our days.

      • In the 19th century an organization called Character development League issued “Character Lessons” to be used at home and at school.

      • They organized their lessons by traits of character – obedience, honesty, unselfishness, consecration to duty, uindustry, courage, justice, patriotism, et. all.

    • Contemporary communitarians admire Aritotle's ideas:

      • Moral life grows out of 1)the practices in our communities, 2)the demands these practices make on us.

      • A community's needs and welfare can override individual rights

      • A good citizen is expected to contribute to the state, not only demand protection of his/her rights.

    • There have been only 2 serious challenges to Aristotle's idea's:

      • Nietzche's nihilism

      • Kant's logical individualism

    • Aristotle's model of moral education – Character education apporach

      • children should be trained in morally appropriate models of conduct.

        • It's compatible with the biblical teaching to train up the child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it.

      • It had much to do with practice than reasoning

        • the community should have the children immersed in supervised activities designed to develop relevant virtues.

        • Values should be inculcated in them.

      • People are not ready for reasoning until sometime in their 20's (I think he went too far in the age, but there's a good reason for that):

        • ethical conduct springs from habit

        • people can be able to analyze moral issues, but in a difficult situation the character that is built out of habit is more likely to respond in an ethical manner

        • the habit can later serve as a base for the critical reasoning and not the other way around.

    • Objections:

      • Indoctrination seems inevitable.

      • Other models have edged out this one in the 2nd half of the 20th century. Lawrence Kohlberg's cognitive developmental.

    • Educators are looking back at Aristotles model now, because of the bad choices and harmful practices of the youth in our days.

      • Worried about indoctrination, many contemporary philosophers would defend a mix of cognitive and character approaches. Noddings will deal with that in later chapters.

    • Aristotle believed that circumstances do affect us and when faced with overwhelming conditions, even heroes will fall. This theme is very popular in contemporary philosophy.

  • Rousseau - 18th century - Noddings justifies his jump bc we're looking at philosophical questions and not at history of education.

    • the philosopher of freedom - he belives that the man is born free, and could ideally maintain that state if he wasn't put to live in society. Corruption that comes with society,

    • Rousseau creates what he calls “Social contract theory”

    • But the ideal state of nature could not be more than a short experience, Rousseau had to be concerned with education.

    • His education idea

      • Based on how people should be educated to preserve their natural goodness, and achieve a maximized sense of civic responsibility, connection to God, love of nature, compassion and self-reliance.

        • His work of education theory “Émile” describes how the boy should not be restrained much, so he would be preserved in his natural state, and how all the settings of his education should contribute to the preservation of that state. He should be in a rural setting to avoid the corruption from the city setting, he should not be pressured to learn, there should be a lot of pursuing of his own interests and a lod of hands-on learning. The teacher had to be prepared to lead emile's interests in a healthy direction, instead of imposing his own objectives on him.

        • These idea became popular in the 20th century. In the 60's and 70's, there was a movement in California called “open education” . (I had never heard of it, but some students in class and even the professor mentioned th have had some experience with it.)

        • Psychologist and Educator A.S. Neil condemned formal lessons, religious and moral education. In his school, children only came to classes when they wanted and decided how the school should be run.

        • Dewey has some major differences from Rousseau, but also some similarities



Believed the child is born good

Chidren are not born good or bad.

Emphasized education based on the child's own motivation and direction

Same idea.

Hands-on activities

Same idea.

      • Timing is crucial in education

        • Children are ready at certain times to learn certain things

        • Teachers must observe in order to make sure that appropriate opportunities are provided.

        • This idea is recurrent today among:

          • Developmental Psychology

          • Advocates of Open Education believe this to be very important (they are followers of Jean Piaget).

          • Jean Piaget – emphasizes subject object interaction

          • L.S. Vygotsky – emphasizes social interaction

          • Maria Montessori – she was a physician and her ideas probably came from studies in animal physiology. She believed that when a window of learning was open it should be nurtured or forever lost.

        • Rousseau did not believe in freedom for boys and girls equally.

          • He argued that it was natural for males to be free and for females to live in relation to males, instead of freedom a sheltered coercion.

          • Some people argue that we can excuse Rousseau because he is also a product of his own time, but Rousseau was indeed familiar to Plato and contemporary writings about women rights.

          • Emile's counterpart – Sophie – is many times not even mentioned is courses that talk about Rousseau.

          • Sophie was not taught to think for herself, but to guard her reputation and do what convetion prescribed. (I'd be in trouble if I were Sophie)

    • Philosophers influenced by Rousseau – many philospphers of education today ignore their works. They are included here for a number of reasons:

      1. educators tend to neglect history and often think that an idea is new when it has been proposed before; some ideas have intersting antecedents and it often pays off to know them.

      2. If we have discussed Rousseau's work it makes sense to see how it influenced other works.

      • J. H. Pestalozzi (1746-1827)

        • followed rousseau in reccomending that children be educated through the senses

        • following John Locke he created the object lesson:

          • present an object and invited the students to described it, tell how it works and so on.

        • He was very concerned with moral education, so his object lessons often ended with a moral – all lessons should have a cognitive and a moral point.

        • He has devoted to working with poor children.

          • In his school he demonstrated that poor children CAN learn AS MUCH AS wealthy children, if well cared for and well taught. (maybe that would contradict Plato)

          • Today many people that agree with him complain about the poor quality of schools attended by poor children.

        • His methodology of teaching is very likely to be what saved a young Albert Einstein from becoming just another school failure.

      • J. F. Herbart (1776-1841)

      • F. Froebel (1782-1852)

these last too philosophers were not mentioned before the photocopy ended the text.