Quotes on Philosophies on Education & How Children Learn

"I do not like those distinctions between schools and academies which result in giving different and separate education to the richer and to the poorer nobility. All, being equal under the constitution of the state, ought to be educated together and in the same fashion; and if it is impossible to set up an absolutely free system of public education, the cost must at least be set at a level the poor can afford to pay. Would it not be possible to provide in each school a certain number of free scholarships, that is to say, supported at state expense, of the sort known in France as bursaries? These scholarships, given to the children of poor gentlemen who have deserved well of the country, given not as an act of charity but as a reward for the merit of the father, would thus become honourable, and might produce a double advantage well worth considering. To accomplish this, nominations should not be arbitrary, but made by a form of selection of which I shall speak hereafter. Those who have been chosen would be called children of the state, and distinguished by some honorific insignia which would give them precedence over other children of their own age, including even the children of magnates.

In every school a gymnasium, or place for physical exercise, should be established for the children. This much-neglected provision is, in my opinion, the most important part of education, not only for the purpose of forming robust and healthy physiques, but even more for moral purposes, which are either neglected or else sought only through a mass of vain and pedantic precepts which are simply a waste of breath. I can never sufficiently repeat that good education ought to be negative. Prevent vices from arising, and you will have done enough for virtue. In a good system of public education, the way to accomplish this is simplicity itself: it is to keep children always on the alert, not by boring studies of which they understand nothing and which they hate simply because they are forced to sit still; but by exercises which give them pleasure by satisfying the need of their growing bodies for movement, and which in other ways will be enjoyable.

They should not be allowed to play alone as their fancy dictates, but all together and in public, so that there will always be a common goal toward which they all aspire, and which will excite competition and emulation. Parents who prefer domestic education, and have their children brought up under their own eyes, ought nevertheless to send them to these exercises. Their instruction may be domestic and private, but their games ought always to be public and common to all; for here it is not only a question of keeping them busy, of giving them a robust constitution, of making them agile and muscular, but also of accustoming them at an early age to rules, to equality, to fraternity, to competition, to living under the eyes of their fellow-citizens and to desiring public approbation. Therefore the prizes and rewards of the victors should not be distributed arbitrarily by the games-coaches or by the school-officials, but by the acclamation and judgment of the spectators; and you can be sure that these judgments will always be just, above all if care is taken to make the games attractive to the public, by presenting them with some ceremony and with an eye to spectacular effect. Then we may assume that all worthy people and all good patriots will consider it a duty and a pleasure to attend."

Jean-Jacques Rousseau
April 1772
Library Topic
Library Topic: Socialism
Library Topic: What is Education?

"The relativism of the Progressives is a crucial point for their educational theories. If there is no truth, it is appropriate to inquire what education is about. Why should children be sent to school? Why should there be a huge educational establishment? ... The point here is that the relativistic position served as the point of departure for the undermining of traditional education. If there is no truth, the teacher who lectures to his class is indoctrinating or propagandizing them. If nothing is established, the giving and grading of examinations is a spurious undertaking. If there is nothing enduring, the teaching of subject matter is surely a waste of time."

Clarence B. Carson
The Freeman, Vol. 15, Issue 12
December 1965
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"I believe that the image is the great instrument of instruction. What a child gets out of any subject presented to him is simply the images which he himself forms with regard to it.

I believe that if nine tenths of the energy at present directed towards making the child learn certain things, were spent in seeing to it that the child was forming proper images, the work of instruction would be indefinitely facilitated."

John Dewey
The School Journal, Vol. LIV, No. 3
January 16, 1897
Library Topic

"When a man fits himself in America to teach history or chemistry, it scarcely seems to occur to him, or rather it scarcely seems to occur to those who prescribe his studies for him, that he ought to study history or chemistry. Instead, he studies merely 'education'. The study of education seems to be regarded as absolving a teacher from obtaining any knowledge of the subjects that he is undertaking to teach. And the pupils are being told, in effect, that the simple storing up in the mind of facts concerning the universe and human life is a drudgery from which they have now been emancipated; they are being told, in other words, that the great discovery has been made in modern times that it is possible to learn how to 'think' with a completely empty mind. It cannot be said that the result is impressive. In fact the untrammeled operation of the effects of this great American pedagogic discovery is placing American schools far behind the schools of the rest of the civilized world."

Dr. J. Gresham Machen
PCA Historical Center
August 1933
Library Topic
Library Topic: What is Education?

"This Alice in Wonderland reversal of reality has been accomplished largely by virtue of the rhetorical device that I have called 'premature polarization.' Discovery learning is labeled 'progressive,' and whole-class instruction 'traditional.' Under such descriptors, one mode is assumed to be active and engaging, the other passive and boring; one holistic and indirect, the other step-by-step and direct. As a result of such terminological polarization, the term 'direct instruction,' which is the mode advocated by a number of teachers and educational specialists, has come in for some heavy criticism from anti-traditionalists: The distinction, however, between direct and indirect instruction is an unfortunate simplification of some complex issues. It overlooks, for instance, the different pedagogical requirements for procedural learning and content learning and thus neglects the different pedagogical emphases needed at the different ages and stages of learning. Effective procedural learning requires 'overlearning,' and hence plenty of practice. Content learning is amenable to a diversity of methods that accommodate themselves to students' prior knowledge, habits, and interests."

E. D. Hirsch Jr.
American Educator
Library Topic

"Too many middle level teachers continue to buy into the myth that young adolescents are so distracted by their social, emotional, physical, and psychological development that they have no interest in learning, and that there is no point in challenging them. . . . There are also too many middle school teachers who lack the necessary subject matter knowledge necessary to engage students in higher levels of learning and who demonstrate little interest in their own professional development to acquire the knowledge and skills they need."

Library Topic

"After reviewing the arguments mustered by the phonics and whole-language proponents, can we make a judgment as to who is right? Yes. The value of explicit, systematic phonics instruction has been well established. Hundreds of studies from a variety of fields support this conclusion. Indeed, the evidence is so strong that if the subject under discussion were, say, the treatment of the mumps, there would be no discussion."

James Collins
October 27, 1997
Library Topic

"If the student hasn't learned, the teacher hasn't taught."

Siegfried Englemann
National Review
June 1, 1998
Library Topic

"I know of no research that explains this finding, but I shall hazard the guess that individualized, learner-centered instruction must be extremely boring to most students most of the time, since, by mathematical necessity, they are not receiving individualized attention most of the time. It may also be the case that the slow pace and progress of less structured teaching may fail to engage and motivate students. A teacher must be extraordinarily talented to know just how to interact engagingly with each individual child. Given the strong motivation of young children to learn about the adult world, the best way to engage them is by a dramatic, interactive, and clear presentation that incidentally brings out the inherent satisfaction in skill mastery and interest in subject matter."

E. D. Hirsch Jr.
American Educator
Library Topic

"The middle school movement of the late 1980s had as its ideological antecedent the notion that academics should take a back seat to such progressive pedagogical techniques as self-exploration, socialization, and group learning. Filling this content void is a disproportionate regard for student self-esteem and identity development, education in egalitarian principles, and attention to students' physical, sexual, social, and mental health. And the result? A precipitous decline in academic achievement."

Cheri Pierson Yecke
Thomas B. Fordham Institute
September 2005
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This short commentary piece describes how the celebrated Scripps Howard Spelling Bee promotes and encourages traditional education philosophies. Clyne notes how the children involved are bright, talented, and confident in their educational abilities, and ascribes this to the role of traditional education values rather than progressive ones.

This interview presents the reader with two different educational philosophies and those who hold to them. These two ideologies are described as the "academic achievement" and the "non-academic goal" categories, and are held to by "the public" and educators respectively. Cunningham seems to hold to the "academic achievement" philosophy of learning, and thus he cites many facts in favor of this...

This brief article reports on the relatively unheard of education philosophy of "Direct Instruction." Cheney highlights its academic success in urban schools especially, a fact attributed to the devotion the "Direct Instruction" method pays to the teacher-centered philosophy of education. Although disliked and ignored by those who hold to the student-centered philosophy of education, Cheney...

"Engelmann is a pariah in educational circles not because he grooms like a biker, dresses like a farmer, and curses like a sailor, though all those things are true. Nor are his methods shunned because he isn't part of the academic guild, although his only degree is a B.S. in philosophy from the University of Illinois. He is an outcast because for thirty years, he has succeeded by defying all...

As this article demonstrates, philosophies on how children learn are not simply limited to the public and private schools of our day. Isabel Lyman's piece explores the two main philosophies of homeschooling: the progressive approach promoted by John Holt known as "unschooling," and the traditional approach promoted by Raymond Moore. Lyman presents information on both and gives a general...

As a proponent of Piaget's educational philosophies, Seymour Papert reports on Piaget's background and his interest concerning how children learn. According to Papert, Piaget believed that correcting children on their right and wrong ideas caused their theory forming ability to be stifled. The end of this article acknowledges that some of Piaget's theories have been disproved, but the author...

Dealing with the subject of early preschool education, Elkind advances the idea that children should not be pressured into typical learning environments at extremely young ages. This article gives a quick overview of some of the various early education philosophies, such as the Montessori and Waldorf systems, while also arguing that early high pressure education leads to damaging results in...

Spaulding notes how the influence of progressive education philosophies in America have gradually led to a failure to teach our nation's history to students. In view of the recent aggressive assault against terrorism, Spaulding believes it is time for Americans to begin a mission to "relearn America's principles and purposes" in the realm of education.

Commenting on President Obama's plan for "universal preschool," Chester Finn reports that the idea is not as good as it sounds. Finn points out some of the myths involved with current preschools and then proposes alternative ways to help young children learn better.

This short opinion piece proposes the idea that progressive philosophy is not the problem with America's educational system. Jesness points out that Japan's high academic quality is undiminished by their love of Dewey's ideologies, and suggests that American education suffers from a lack of good content rather than any philosophy, traditional or progressive.

Ghate describes how despite their success, traditional education practices like phonics are often pushed aside in favor of more progressive ones like "whole language." This article gives a very brief look at how progressive philosophies originated and declares that "the use of whole language results in nothing but illiteracy."

This article finds Cheney deftly explaining the differences between two major schools of thought on child education, namely, the whole-language approach and the phonics approach. These two philosophies both claim that children learn better under their respective concepts, but Cheney cites multiple examples and research which clearly favor the effectiveness of the phonics approach. Cheney warns...

Chart or Graph

The above chart gives a quick overview between the two main educational philosophies: traditional and progressive.

"Project Follow Through" compared multiple childhood education philosophies, including the five listed in the chart above."

Analysis Report White Paper

This essay describes the author's journey in understanding the progressive educational philosophy of constructivism. Dougiamas discusses the different modes of constructivism, citing numerous opinions of experts in the field.

Focusing on quantitative achievement measures such as test scores, grades, and graduation rates, the report was prepared for educators and others to assist them in their investigation of different approaches to school reform.

Those who are looking for a document that explains detailed differences between traditional and progressive teaching philosophies will find this report very helpful.

In their comparison of both the phonics and whole language approaches to reading, Collins and Gwynne acknowledge that research is on the side of the phonics philosophy. This article gives equal time to both viewpoints, while also providing a look into the ideology of those who advocate for whole language instruction.

While much of the information concerning the philosophies on how children learn is focused on the elementary grades, this report focuses on how progressive philosophies have caused the decline in achievement in the middle grades.

As a self-ascribed "political liberal and an educational conservative," Hirsch gives a detailed study concerning how children learn better under more traditional education philosophies. This article cites both national and international studies suggesting that children learn best under repetitive, teacher-directed, challenging education standards.

This piece discusses the educational philosophies of both Piaget and Skinner, describing their similarities both to John Dewey and to each other. It also explains the supposed differences between Piaget's and Skinner's progressive educational ideas, expressing both in a positive light.

As an educational psychologist, Professor Stone believes that the philosophies on how children learn are hatched in the schools that train teachers. A majority of teachers today are being trained to follow the "learner-centered" philosophy, a method which encourages teachers to "'connect with learners, rather than simply covering the curriculum.'"

Carson believes that the rise of Progressive education was a subtle attempt to institute socialistic thought processes into the minds of children, a fact which gradually abolished traditional principles and caused education to become more child-centered.

This piece concentrates on Ohio schools and discusses whether or not their proclivity is more toward the progressive or traditional philosophies of education. Chandler's study offers interesting results which suggest that more schools desire to be on the progressive end of the philosophical education spectrum.

Douglas Carnine presents solid evidence for the effectiveness of traditional education philosophies and questions why ineffective practices are still widely promoted.


This short clip composed mainly of text explains what is involved for children to learn to read using the whole word approach. It discusses the many titles this learning philosophy is known as, and demonstrates the ease of phonetic instruction compared to whole word. Also gives numerous hard-core statistics and facts on this controversy.

A brief explanation of how English is a phonetic language and not a symbol language, a fact which shows why the whole-language method makes it so difficult for children to learn to read correctly. Price uses interesting examples and visuals to demonstrate his point clearly.

Primary Document

This speech presents facts about how children learn better when they are challenged and not squelched by the common "developmentally appropriate" educational approaches that are normally encouraged. Hirsch reports on how some education research has been overlooked in favor of research that simply supports the ideologies and philosophies of the educator population...

This link features a speech given by George Cunningham on the ideological differences between teacher's associations and the No Child Left Behind legislation. Cunningham asserts that while NCLB's philosophy focuses on high student achievement, teachers are being trained to instruct students with progressive methods. Cunningham fears that teacher associations will...

In this piece Dewey truly does lay out his own "creed" on education, even beginning each paragraph with, "I believe."  Using his extensive background in psychology and combining it with his social philosophy, Dewey presents five sections concerning education:
1)      What Education Is
2)     ...

Behaviorism advocate B.F. Skinner describes his hopes that future education methods will focus on encouraging children to learn and discover out of desire rather than out of fear of punishment. Convinced that educational methods will be much more in line with his way of thinking by 1984, Skinner believes that not only students, but also teachers will feel better...

The Christian school is to be favored for two reasons.