Common Educational Philosophies, an Overview For HomeSchoolers – Part 1

When I started homeschooling over twelve years ago, I was so wet-behind-the-ears when it came to any formal understanding of the whole teaching process that I was not even aware that there were common educational philosophies carving the end results of what was being delivered by teachers and instructors. About a year or so into the homeschool journey, I overcame my ignorance by reading summaries, definitions, and outlines of four common educational philosophies influencing education – Perennialism, Progressivism, Existentialism, and Essentialism. The most common homeschool teaching methods (or styles) include components of these four common educational philosophies, or “thought-processes”.

Hooby dooby what-y? Yes, exactly. I said the same thing. Then, I dug a little deeper for clarity. I’ll break it down in simple layman’s terms, so all of us novices can chew, digest, and understand.

First, a simple summation of “What is an educational philosophy” is this – Educational philosophies represent the underlying thought processes or theories about what encompasses an education. It also addresses what concepts, ideas, facts, etc. that the teaching materials should cover within the course of study. Ask yourself this – What defines a good education? What defines a quality education? An educational philosophy would address these questions by giving definition to what constitutes a good education.

Let’s start with Essentialism. This philosophy, in a nutshell, would assume that there is a certain list of knowledge characteristics to be mastered in order for the student to be considered educated. Perhaps a standard list of subjects, concepts, or drills to learn and master would be mandated. This philosophy has emphasis on the “essential” things to be learned, or the “basics”. Some would phrase this philosophy as “back to the basics” or “traditional”. Essentialism concentrates on the “information” and is focused on subjects. Someone that teaches with this thought process might tell his students that the key to a successful education is proper or sufficient “information”.

Essentialism and many other educational philosophies are relevant in today’s homeschool curriculum. This brief overview should serve only as a springboard to getting familiar with common educational philosophies as there are several others to be introduced before having a “general” understanding. Please continue with Part 2 of this overview for completion.