Raphael's School of Athens, detail of Socrates

PHIL 432
Philosophy of Education

Course Description and Syllabus

Course Description
Outline of Study
Course Goals
Teaching Methodology
    Submitting Your Work to the Instructor
    Course Participation
    Course Journal
    Current Controversies Workshops
Required Readings



Contact me by email at calhoun@calvin.gonzaga.edu


Course Description

Philosophy of Education is a systematic reflection upon the variety of activities and practices by which we seek to impart knowledge and information and develop human capacities.  As such, it involves sustained inquiry into (1) the aims or goals of the educational process (the hoped-for end result of the activities and practices), (2) the most effective means to attain those goals (teaching methods), and (3) the proper content or subject matter of education (the curriculum).  Further, since education concerns the set of processes by which young people are introduced to and brought into participation in their culture and society, educational philosophy necessarily includes (4) reflections about the role of individuals in the social and political order.  Questions related to these four key themes include:

In addition to "theoretical" questions such as these, we will address related philosophical and practical problems that are closely related to education.  Topics of this type include education and human nature, moral development, authority and cooperation in learning, censorship, differences in student abilities, and multiculturalism.

Outline of Study

The course will feature a mix of historical and contemporary texts from the ancient Greeks to the present day to spur critical and creative thinking on different educational models and to explore current controversies in educational theory and practice.  The course will be organized in three divisions:

1.  Raising Questions.  We will begin with a reading of Platoís Republic in part to see what his educational theory was, but more importantly, to get a sense of the range of issues, questions, and problems in educational theory.

2.  Major Philosophical Theories of Education.  We will use the questions we generate in reading Plato to help us focus our thinking on two prominent and influential educational theories, those of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and John Dewey.  In addition, we will consider briefly a few other important figures and movements in philosophy of education, such as Socrates.

3.  Contemporary Problems in Education Workshops.  On a series of days scattered throughout the course we will apply the questions and theories to specific disputes in contemporary education.  While the entire class will be responsible for participating in the workshops, each workshop will be led by a group of two students who will have special responsibility for researching additional information and presenting it to the class.  Each student in the class will be required to help lead one of the workshops.

Course Goals

Understanding the Nature of Education.  This course is primarily intended to help students reflect on the nature of education by cultivating a sophisticated knowledge of the most prominent educational theories.  Our framework for studying each of these theories will be the four main themes identified in the course description: (1) educational aims, (2) teaching and educational method, (3) educational content, and (4) the social and political ramifications of education.  As a result of the course readings and class discussions, students should be conversant concerning problems and issues in educational theory and how those issues work out in educational practice.

Knowledge of the History of Philosophy.  More broadly, students will have the opportunity to develop an informed historical sense of the tradition of western philosophy and some facility in tracing the lines of influence between specific major thinkers.

Academic Skills.  Like any philosophy course, this course is also intended to aid students in the development of specific philosophical and academic skills.  As a result of the work in this course, students should be able to read philosophical texts more closely and carefully and to express their own positions more clearly both verbally and in writing.

Teaching Methodology

The course is structured to include a significant role for active student participation through discussions, workshops, small group activities, and class reports.  While some class time will be used for background and clarification lectures, student discussion will be the norm.

The class will be organized into standing discussion/study groups of four to five students.  Typically, we will take the first 5-8 minutes of each class meeting to "warm up" discussion in our small groups.  In addition, we will occasionally meet for a few minutes in these groups at the end of class to review and debrief.  Students should recognize the importance of their contributions to their discussion group and to the class as a whole, and hence should make every effort to keep up with the readings and attend class regularly.


Grades for the course will be computed on the following basis:
1.  Course participation 15%
2.  Course Journal 20%
3.  Plato paper 20%
4.  Educational Theory paper 25%
5.  Current Controversies Workshops (each student must help lead one) 20%

All required assignments must be completed successfully in order to pass the course.  If you wish to check your grade at any time during the course, you can do so via the Check Your Grade feature on the Student Tools area of the PHIL432 Blackboard Resource Page.

Submitting Your Work to the Instructor

All written work should be submitted to the instructor in electronic form.  In order to do this you must first establish a Blackboard account, and "enroll" in the Blackboard resource for this course.  You will find instructions on doing this on Getting Started with Blackboard CourseInfo.

Once you have established your Blackboard account and enrolled in the Blackboard resource, you can submit written course work using the Blackboard Student Drop Box.  The Drop Box can be accessed from the PHIL432 Blackboard Resource Page (select "Student Tools," and then click on "Student Drop Box").  Alternatively, you can go to it directly from this site via this link: PHIL432 Student Drop Box.  Please note that written work should be submitted in one of two formats: Microsoft Word (any version is OK) or as a simple text file.  If you do not use Microsoft Word, complete your document and save it, and then select "Save As . . ." and save another copy of the document as a text file (should have a .txt suffix if you are using a PC).  If you have trouble doing this, please let me know as soon as possible by Email.

Short written assignments such as the daily Journal entries may be submitted to the instructor by Email.  If you write them in your word processor, simply copy the text and then paste it into an Email message.

Course Participation

Course participation will be graded on the basis of evidence of preparation for class by completing the reading, participation in the class study group, willingness to take part in class discussion, and other broadly conceived contributions to the course.

Attendance, Group Discussion, and In-class Discussion.  Regular attendance is absolutely necessary to achieve satisfactory course participation.  Iíve already mentioned the importance of participation in your discussion group;  attendance is also critical for your grasp of course material and for the processing of the material through discussion and lecture.  Philosophy is a written discipline, but it is also in significant ways a verbal discipline.  The best way to develop and refine your understanding of the material we will read and to develop your own views is to discuss the issues in class (and outside of class with your classmates).  For this reason I will encourage and reward discussion.  Ideally, discussion in class would be conducted on a voluntary basis, but I value including all students enough to occasionally call on those students who have not volunteered comments.  You may "pass" when I call on you, but you should recognize that repeated passes will harm your participation grade.  (Of course, for your discussion groups to work at all, you must be willing to participate in discussion!)  It is very important as well to note that while several students will lead the Current Controversy Workshops, all students in the class will be expected to prepare for and participate in the Workshops.

Contributions to the online class discussion board, Email exchanges, or class chats.  From time to time, questions arising from the text or from our class discussions will be only partially treated in the time we have in class.  Students are invited to post questions to the class on electronic mail, or to contribute to on-line discussions.  Alternatively, students may wish to post a few paragraphs of reflection or critical evaluation of a text that we study to promote further discussion.  All such contributions will be regarded as evidence of participation in the course.

Study and discussion groups.  Willingness to plan and organize groups to discuss issues raised in class outside of class with classmates will be rewarded.  Of course, youíll have to find some way to let me know about these activities.

Course Journal

For each day that the class meets, students are required to submit a short (about 150 words) written journal entry that records your interaction with the assigned reading for the day.  These journals will form the basis for your initial small group discussion every day in class (I suggest that you record insights from your fellow group members on the bottom of the journal page as you discuss).  The journals will be checked off as they are submitted, and will together form the basis for the Journal grade.  The journal also will provide you with a very valuable study record of your work in the course.

The reponse to the assigned reading in the report can take many forms: overview of the entire reading, summary of key points, discussion of an important idea or passage, or comparison of the ideas in the reading to something else you have read or studied.  Even if you find the material difficult to understand, you can try to discuss the main topic of the reading and indicate some questions the reading raises for you.  The best reports will contain at least some reporting on what the author said and some critical response indicating your own view.  If you cannot think of anything to write, use the study questions on the reading schedule for ideas.

Journal entries should be submitted to the Instructor's electronic drop box before each class meeting.  Journals submitted late will not receive credit.  Since you will use the journal in class discussion, you should print a hard copy as well and bring it to class.


The papers are intended to increase your comprehension of the primary text based on your reading, in-class lectures, and class discussion.  You are not required to consult with me concerning your paper, but I do invite you to do so.  I also encourage you to discuss the paper topic with your classmates, with the understanding that the actual writing of the paper is to be your own individual work.

Plato Paper.  In this paper your task is to select some aspect of Platoís educational theory (tracking, moral education, religious education, censorship, control of education by elites, philosophical education, the curriculum, education as "conversion," etc.), clearly explain Platoís position, discuss the reasons why he holds that position, place his view in the context of his general educational theory, and critically evaluate his view.  The paper should be approximately 1500 words.

Educational Theory Paper.  In the second part of the course we will examine two major educational theories--those offered by Jean-Jacques Rousseau and John Dewey--and briefly consider several others.  I would like you select one of these theories and try to become an "expert" on it.  To do this, you might want to read more about the theory than the assigned passages, read some background or secondary literature, or discuss the theory with me outside of class.  On the basis of this study, you should try to articulate what the key positions are in the educational theory, why they are held, and what benefits you see to the theory.  Finally, you should try to critically evaluate the theory, by thinking about how it works (or would work) in actual practice.  This paper should be approximately 1750 words.

Paper Guidelines
Papers must be cleanly typed and proofread, and pages must be numbered.  Papers failing to meet reasonable standards of writing quality will be returned to students for revision prior to grading.

The paper should begin with a clear introduction that defines the issues to be discussed and indicates the approach you will take and the position you will defend in the paper.  Your position may be interpretive, concerning the best way to understand a difficult point in the text, or analytic, involving a critical appraisal of some key assertion made by the author.  In either case you should articulate a clear thesis that states your position and sets out the task and objectives for your paper.  The bodyÝof the paper is devoted to two tasks: the first, exposition, has to do with setting out your selected problem (e.g., what is the mind?  how is the mind related to the body?) and stating the positions of the relevant author(s) on the subject, including, to the extent necessary, explaining what the author(s) means.  The second task is evaluation, which involves critical reflection on the views presented by the author(s).  A well-constructed paper closes with a conclusion that summarizes the main points discussed in the paper and states the result of the paperís research.

You should support your interpretations of the primary texts by reference to specific passages of those texts.  Quotations that support your interpretations should be explicitly identified as such with quotation marks, and fully documented with parenthetical notes, footnotes, or endnotes.  If you choose to use secondary sources, information or quotations from those sources must be properly acknowledged as well.

Any use of any undocumented source in the research or writing of your paper constitutes plagiarism, which is a serious academic offense with very serious consequences.  The penalty for plagiarism will be automatic failure of the assignment, and may also include other consequences as a result of the Universityís academic dishonesty policy (see the discussion of Academic Honesty in the Gonzaga University Catalogue).  If you have any questions about plagiarism do not hesitate to ask.  Other forms of academic dishonesty (such as presenting work done by someone else as your own) will be dealt with in similar ways.

Late papers will incur a penalty of my choosing, and will receive no written comments.  See the Course Schedule for due dates.  If your paper is lost, you are responsible for providing a replacement copy.  Always keep a disk or hard copy of any work you turn in.

Common Paper Problems
Use this list of key problems to check your paper before you submit it.  In comments on your paper I will refer to this list (by letter) to indicate some of the more common problems.
A.  Pages of your paper should be numbered (if you submit your paper as an unformatted text file (.txt), do not worry about paging)
B.  Titles of books should be underlined or put in italics type.
C.  Quotations or closely paraphrased ideas from a book should be properly cited to give credit in parenthetical notes, footnotes, or endnotes.
D.  Paragraphs should be coherently structured to cover a single theme or closely related group of ideas.  Single paragraphs should ideally not be more than a half-page or so long.
E.  Don't try to summarize the entire book (or large chunks of it) in a point-by-point way.  Select out what you believe are the most important ideas and arguments, and critically respond to them.
F.  While I am not an English teacher, I expect papers to be proofread carefully so that grammar and spelling are consistently correct, and so that sentence structure is clear and readable.  In particular, I am a stickler about proper use of apostrophes.  Learn to use them!
G.  Your introduction should introduce the issue of your paper, briefly explain the positions you will discuss, and also, in a thesis, state clearly what position you will adopt and defend in the paper.
H.  A good paper critically discusses the views of the philosopher you are explaining.  An excellent paper builds on this critical discussion by developing the ideas further in some way (for example, imagining how Plato might respond to your criticisms, showing how some idea of his might be altered or developed, or applying your critical discussion to examples or problems outside of the text).

Current Controversies Workshops

On ten days throughout the semester, we will hold workshops to address current controversies in education in the light of the educational theories on which we will focus.  While the entire class will be involved in these workshops (which is why they are "workshops" and not student "panels"), a group of two or three students will be responsible for leading each of the workshops.  Leading the workshop will involve researching the topic, identifying a short reading or two for the class to read to prepare for the workshop, and organizing additional relevant information for presentation to the class on the day of the workshop.  Student workshop leaders might wish to prepare handouts or presentation materials to enhance the discussion in class on the workshop day.

Finally, each student involved in the leading the workshop will write a workshop report of approximately 1200 words, which is due one week after the day of the workshop itself.  The primary focus of the grade for the workshop leaders will be the written report, but I will also take into account the depth of the research and preparation and the quality of the discussion generated by the class in the workshop.

Each student in the class must help lead one workshop.  Students may sign up to lead a workshop by sending an Email to the course instructor at any time.  Since all of the workshops must have student leaders assigned, if there is a particular workshop on which you would like to work you should sign up for it as soon as possible.

Required Readings

Plato, Republic, trans. Grube/Reeve (Hackett)
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Emile, trans. Bloom (Basic)
John Dewey, Democracy and Education (Institute for Learning Technologies)
    (available online at: http://www.ilt.columbia.edu/academic/texts/dewey/d_e/contents.html)
Online and library reserve materials

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©1998-2000 by David H. Calhoun.  This page last updated on January 22, 2000.