Saturday, November 27, 2004

Philosophy of Education by Nel Noddings (Elle)

Thinking Culture

Elle Wolterbeek
November 27, 2004
Book Review #5

Philosophy of Education
By Nel Noddings
Westview Press, Boulder, Colorado, 1998.

This book is an introduction to the philosophy of education. As an instructor, I felt that this book was fascinating and highly informative. I read this book while reading Applied Grammatology by Gregory Ulmer and found it helpful in my understanding of the more complex concepts that Ulmer presented. That isn’t to say that this text is not complex, but the organization is more conducive to forming a foundational knowledge of educational philosophy. I highly recommend this text to anyone who is interested in education, as it has been extremely thought-provoking and insightful, as well as informative, for me.

In this text, Noddings covers the philosophy of education historically, moving from Socrates and Plato to Aristotle, Rosseau, Pestalozzi, Herbart, Froebel, and on to Dewey, and on to traditional philosophies which have informed and influenced education over the past centuries. Moving from continental philosophy, epistemology and education, ethics and moral education, social and political philosophy and feminism, philosophy and education, this text covers a great deal of information. Here is a limited discussion of each chapter and the main points that I believe it would be beneficial for others to be aware of (although the people in this class probably already know most of this).

Chapter One: Philosophy of Education Before the Twentieth Century
This chapter addresses such questions as:
• What should be the aims or purposes of education?
• Who should be educated?
• Should education differ according to natural interests and abilities?
• What role should the state play in education?
• Who should be educated?
Looking at Socrates and Plato, particularly in regards to the dialogue from Republic, book I, the author presents their educational philosophies. The Socratic method is regarded as more of a method of learning or inquiry than a method of thinking. Socrates tended to ask the great questions of life, such as, “What is truth? What does it mean to know something?” He did not charge his students and met with them in public places or private homes. They were free to come and go at will and were not forced to answer questions, as his method of inquiry was voluntary. Plato, on the other hand, believed that students should be educated according to their capacities and that not all students should have exactly the same education. This belief was admired by John Dewey, although the remainder of the chapter is focused primarily on the arguments others (such as Jane Roland Martin) have with the philosophies of these two men.

Aristotle, like Plato, believed that people should be educated or trained for their appropriate place in life. He believed that each person developed various skills particular to their tasks and functions and should be trained for the roles they would fill, with their ability and excellences (skills) in mind. Rousseau believed strongly in free will and in different education for boys and girls. The majority of Rosseau’s best ideas were intended for boys, although some have been integrated for both; such as the idea that children are naturally good, that the task of teachers is to preserve and encourage this goodness while facilitating the growth of various competencies required for a successful adult life. Rosseau had a great influence on Pestalozzi, Herbart and Froebel, who are also discussed.

Chapter 2: The Philosophical and Educational Thought of John Dewey
Since Darren discussed John Dewey in class, I have been looking forward to learning about him. I found this chapter particularly interesting, not only because I was excited to learn about Dewey, but also because I found his ideas and thoughts quite informative and interesting!

John Dewey believed that education is synonymous with growth and growth is one of his most common metaphors in his writings (his bibliography is 150 pages long!). Dewey believed that growth (education) is its own end and that it is not always necessary to have an aim for educational growth and experience other than the experience and growth itself. Dewey believed that experiences are educative only if they produce growth-if, that is, students leave the experience more capable or interested in engaging in new experiences. Ultimately, Dewey believed that the aim of education is more education, and that education is both an end and a means.

Chapter 3: Analytic Philosophy
This chapter focuses on Bertrand Russell and his version of analytical philosophy. Russell believed that mind and matter are two distinctly different things and that both material entities (objects) and products of mind (language and mathematical expressions) can be analyzed into their basic elements and relations. Part of the analytic philosopher’s task is to analyze language and mathematics. This depends on the idea that reality is analyzable and that every configuration of language points to something in that reality. The 1950s, ‘60s, and 70’s were primarily devoted to the analysis of educational language and concepts and this ended in many philosophers believing that it is not worthwhile to develop a philosophy of education that is coherent and consistent.

Chapter 4: Continental Philosophy
This chapter addresses the role of Existentialism, Phenomenology, Critical Theory, Hermeneutics, and Postmodernism in education. I am not going to summarize each of these because everyone else in the class already knew all of these terms, however this helped me to put my knowledge in each of these areas into the context of education, which was highly relevant and very much informed my understanding of these concepts, once I had the context.

Chapter 5: Epistemology and Education
Noddings presents this chapter with an introduction to Epistemology and why it is important for educators to understand before discussing the primary questions of educators and the responses of philosophers. These questions are:
• Should we insist that the material we teach be true, and if so, what do we mean by “true”?
• When should we credit a student with knowing-what does it mean to know?
• Should we make all knowledge accessible to all students?

Chapter 6: Philosophy of Social Science and Educational Research
This chapter introduces social science and educational research, providing an overview of the debate in philosophy of science over the nature of knowledge, the quantitative and qualitative research in education, and application of the thinking of these two questions in the case of educational research.

Chapter 7: Ethics and Moral Education
This was one of the most interesting chapters of the book. Noddings presents the views of philosophers on moral and ethical education and then reviews current educational practices with commentary on what she believes Plato, Socrates and Aristotle would have to say about current practices. She also reviews the criticism surrounding ethics and morals in education and the role of pre-enlightenment ethics in our current educational setting. Also covered are Enlightenment Ethics, Utilitarianism, Deweyan Ethics, Moral Education, and Cognative Developmentism.

Chapter 8: Social and Political Philosophy
The problems of social and political philosophy are presented with references to Socrates (primarily, although other philosophers are discussed) and the current role of liberalism-particularly individualistic liberalism-in this chapter. Noddings suggests that the problems presented are primarily problems in Western education. This uses Kant’s notion of the individual and considers the role of ethics in current educational settings, suggesting that the church, community and educational settings are no longer the “appropriate” place for educating and discussing ethical and moral attitudes. Noddings believes that these are the only places for such instruction and discussion and talks about the role of morality and ethics in our society and the role of the individual as a moral and ethical member of society. She presents this debate extremely well, and ties the entire book together here by covering each area again in regards to the philosophy of education and morality and how inseparable these are.

Uses for the text:
This text is extremely useful for me for a variety of reasons. Again, as did Ulmer’s text, this text provided me with a foundation of knowledge on the philosophy of education. It also provided a context for a great deal of other information I’ve read about these philosophers. Before reading these books, I was not particularly interested in philosophy because it seemed rather dense and not particularly applicable for my situation and interests- however, I see now that I was wrong. Philosophy is directly related to education! This book had discussion questions at the end of each chapter which I reviewed and this, as well, ensured my understanding of the reading as well as its uses in my life and in my career. This book provided a variety of wonderful ideas and thoughts, and made me think a great deal about my own education and my beliefs about what a perfect education would be like.


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