Explain five views of formal education.

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In seeking to articulate five views of formal education, specific and distinct differences emerge.  In the Platonic Idealist view of formal education, there is a defined notion of the good that drives education.  Formal instruction must be geared towards the forms and the function of the individuals in this social order is critical.  At the same time, Plato's Idealistic view of formal education places primacy on this order and the cultivation of the philosopher- king. For Plato, "The object of education is to teach us to love what is beautiful."  Platonic Idealism asserts that the forms and their construction of the social order is what defines beauty. All else is subservient to this ideal.

Rousseau's view of formal education was a bit different than Plato's.  Whereas Plato saw the perfection in the social order built in accordance to the forms, Rousseau understood that the child themselves was perfect and the social order embodied corruption.  Isolating the child from this condition and enabling the perfect notion of self- love to develop within the child is where Rousseau's view of formal education is fundamentally different than Plato's Idealism.  In praising the perfected notion of humanity that exists outside of the corrupting clutches of the social order, Rousseau's cultivation of the inner notion of the child is what differentiates his philosophy from Plato's Idealism:

The more I study the works of men in their institutions, the more clearly I see that, in their efforts after independence, they become slaves, and that their very freedom is wasted in vain attempts to assure its continuance. That they may not be carried away by the flood of things, they form all sorts of attachments; then as soon as they wish to move forward they are surprised to find that everything drags them back. It seems to me that to set oneself free we need do nothing, we need only continue to desire freedom.

The praising of freedom is something that Plato would repudiate.  It is in the educational philosophy of Rousseau that one sees a distinct difference between both view of formal education.

John Dewey took the individual experience of student freedom as a significant portion of his view of formal education.  Dewey argued that the individual student experience in learning is essential, placing more emphasis on this than on any other component in his view of formal education.  Dewey's primacy on the "audacity of imagination" as well as the reflective element of student learning form critical aspects of his view of formal education:  "Were all instructors to realize that the quality of mental process, not the production of correct answers, is the measure of educative growth something hardly less than a revolution in teaching would be worked."  Dewey's Pragmatic view of education place a great deal of importance on an individualized experience in which students are able to make sense of the world and their place in it.  This condition is different from Platonic or Rousseauian notions of the educational good.

Another view of formal education that applies many Deweyian ideas into a social and material context can be seen in the works of Paolo Freire.  Paolo Friere articulated a Critical Theory view of formal education.  This position argued that education has to be geared towards understanding the reality of social justice and freedom.  Freire understood that the education constructs in the Status Quo perpetuate "oppression."  For Freire, acknowledging unjust conditions through instruction is the first step towards changing such a reality:

Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.

Freire's view of formal education asserts that there is injustice in the world. Instruction that fails to acknowledge this perpetuates such a system.  Friere's view of formal education argues that the conditions in which the powerless remain at the hands of the powerless is where all education should be geared. The structure in which power rests in the hands of the few can be transformed if education becomes a looking glass through which the student can realize transformation.

Freire would oppose the Essentialist view of formal education.  The Essentialist stresses that there are essential concepts that the student must know.  This "common core" of knowledge is what should guide education.  Teacher efforts should be geared towards rigorous training in understanding these elements of the essential basics.  From this, more advanced understanding of the basics can continue.  Emphasizing the structure in which "teacher teaches, students learn" is of critical importance in the Essentialist view of education.  What Freire would say as "banking of knowledge" represents the transmission of instruction in the Essentialist view of formal education.   

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