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Differences Between Philosophy and Theory in Education

by Christine Jax

Philosophy is conceptual. A philosophy is made up of beliefs based on theories. Theories are practical. Theories answer the questions that arise within the context of a philosophy. There are several different philosophies of education, such as perennialism, essentialism, progressivism, behaviorism and reconstructionism, and each philosophy has theories supporting it to provide validity, order and integration of beliefs.

Origins

The philosophy of education began with Plato when he discussed in "The Republic" the education of warriors and philosopher-kings. Plato believed that the education of warriors was to instill knowledge, whereas the education of philosopher-kings was to identify those with the capacity for philosophizing and refine and strengthen their character. Plato, a student of Socrates, developed the Socratic method of teaching based on his belief that critical thinking is enhanced during discussion as original questions are challenged and revised.

Education Philosophy

According to Princeton University, when associated with education as a discipline, “an educational philosophy is a normative theory of education that unifies pedagogy, curriculum, learning theory, and the purpose of education and is grounded in specific metaphysical, epistemological, and axiological assumptions.” This unification seeks to describe and inform practice, and it's based on a multitude of theories that seek to test and prove. It may or may not incorporate into a philosophy of beliefs that seek to understand.

Education Theory

Theories are based on observations and can refer to a hypothesis or set of hypotheses. They can be studied, tested, described, used to predict behavior and provide a basis for action. Theories of education answer such questions as “do children read faster in the morning?” and “do women make better kindergarten teachers?” While theories support an educational philosophy or normative theory, they are also fluid. For instance, the theory that women make better kindergarten teachers could be tested as part of a theory of education, a theory of gender or a theory of culture.

Application

According to Professor D.C. Phillips of Stanford University, education philosophy “lacks intellectual cohesion” because education philosophers tend to be rooted in academia and have the goal of influencing policy and practice more than thought. They are also trained teachers rather than trained philosophers, and colleges of education often take education thought and label it as education philosophy. As a result, education theories are not neatly embedded in particular philosophies, and a theory of education is easily confused with a philosophy of education.

About the Author

Christine Jax has been a writer since 1991 in the areas of education, parenting and family relationships. Professor Jax has a Ph.D. in education policy and administration, a Master of Arts in public administration and a Bachelor of Arts in child psychology. She has worked in PK-12 and higher education for more than 20 years.

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