Philosophies of Education

Describe four main philosophies of education – perennialism, progressivism, essentialism, and reconstructivism – and at least one philosopher who influenced the development of the philosophy, and the timeframe in which it was developed. Be sure to include the following:

  • A description for each of the philosophies of education (origin, proponents, and main tenets).
  • A philosopher associated with each philosophy and the timeframe in which it was developed.
  • How each philosophy aligns with NAEYC standards and the child-centered approach.

Describe four main philosophies of education – perennialism, progressivism, essentialism, and reconstructivism – and at least one philosopher who influenced the development of the philosophy


The history of education includes many different philosophies, many of which have been dominant at different points in time. Philosophies of education are important to understand because they influence the development of schools and other educational institutions. The four major philosophies of education— perennialism, progressivism, essentialism and reconstructivism—are shown below:


Perennialism is the belief that education should be based on what has been taught for centuries. Education is based on the fundamentals of knowledge and skills, and these are timeless truths that have been passed down through the ages. It’s not about what we know now, but rather how we know it—and what we can learn from our predecessors.

This philosophy finds its roots in Plato’s idealistic notion of “the perfect city,” wherein all citizens would possess similar levels of expertise in mathematics, music theory and astronomy; they would also work together harmoniously toward common goals (such as picking flowers). In contrast with this view was Socrates’ idea that each individual must find his own path through life; he believed there were no set paths to enlightenment because each person had different experiences which shaped their worldviews differently than other people’s experiences did theirs (i..e., why someone might become an artist when others become lawyers).


  • Progressivism is a philosophy of education that emphasizes the importance of the child and the development of the child. It’s also known as “child-centered” or “child-focused.”
  • The main goal of progressivism is to make sure children grow up healthy and educated. Progressives want to give children opportunities to learn what they need to know, when they need it, in order for them to be successful in life.
  • Progressives believe that we should not just teach what we already know; instead we should teach new things based on where our society has come from historically—and where it’s going now.*


The essentialism philosophy of education is the belief that the curriculum should be based on the essential knowledge and skills students need to know. Essentials are those things which can be learned for life and are needed in order to succeed. Essentialist educators believe that students should not be exposed to material which is out of their age range or level of comprehension. Instead, they want their students’ attention focused on mastering basic skills such as reading, writing and math before moving on from there.

Essentialists often use children’s literature as examples when discussing this topic because it’s often said that young readers will benefit most from these books if they have a solid grasp on what has already been taught through other sources before entering into this medium (such as school).


The main idea of reconstructivism is that schools should focus on developing critical thinking skills and the ability to think critically about the world. This philosophy is based on the idea that students need to be taught how to learn, not just what to learn.

The first person who heavily influenced this idea was John Dewey, who wrote extensively about it in his book “How We Think.” He argued that students are capable of being educated themselves and thus don’t need teachers or any other kind of authority figures telling them what they should do or how they should behave—they can make their own choices based on their own experiences and beliefs!

These philosophies are all important to understand the history of education.

These philosophies are all important to understand the history of education.

  • The perennialist philosophy is based on the idea that education should be based on a set of principles that have been passed down through time, rather than being created by an individual teacher.
  • The progressivist philosophy says that knowledge changes over time and therefore teachers should embrace change in their classrooms.
  • Essentialism believes in teaching students what they need to know at any given moment in time; reconstructivism believes that everything we learn can be improved upon with new information or technology.


Education is a very broad subject, and it’s important to understand the philosophies that have influenced the development of education over time. If you’re looking to learn more about this topic, here are four major philosophies: perennialism (also called classical education), progressivism (also known as modernism or Western culture), essentialism (which focuses on values and morals) and reconstructivism (which explores new ways of thinking about traditional subjects).


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