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  • Destiny Yarbro

3 Educational Philosophies: Essentialism, Progressivism, and Social Reconstructivism

Essentialism is the teacher-centered philosophy that there is a foundational, universal, “permanent, unalterable, and eternal” group of knowledge that must be taught to every student, regardless of their differing circumstances (Valbuena, 2016, para.1). This philosophy is embraced by many public school systems as they are federally mandated (not adaptable to individual communities and needs) such as the United States and China. Reading, writing, mathematics, history, science and literature is taught in traditional ways along with classroom discipline and nationalism. Similar, though perhaps a bit more extreme version of essentialism, is perennialism in which learning of abstract ideas through the classics, symbolism, and memorization (i.e. rote learning) is emphasized.

Progressivism is the philosophy that learning should come through experience, critical thinking, collaborative projects, and other relatable learning activities (Amidon, n-d). There is no wasted learning because students learn and apply everything to their current reality. Subjects are determined by students’ passions rather than the “acquisition of pre-determined skills” (Talebi, 2015). There is a “de-emphasis on textbooks in favor of varied learning resources” (Amidon, n-d, para. 3). Can I just say, thank you, University of the People!

Social reconstructivism is the philosophy that schools are the laboratory of social change. Learning and classroom discussion focuses on moral dilemmas found in society or the news and teachers encourage students to explore the issue, brainstorm solutions, and identify ways they can promote improvement in their communities and countries (Lynch, 2016).

I believe most subscribe to the social reconstructivist, humanist, and progressivist philosophies in my classroom. Physically, emotionally, and mentally safe, student-centered learning environments resonate with me (but with an emphasis in the role of teachers to encourage thinking outside of their passion comfort zones). The social reconstructivist philosophy especially calls to me because in order for the classroom to be an “embryonic community,” a community of growth in which new ideas and improvements can be tested, discussed, and put into action, there must be more than rote learning and more than the almost passive humanist hope for “a better world” (Dewey, 1916; Oregon State University, n-d). Otherwise, the classroom becomes a brackish community; a putrid microcosm of society played out and accepted as ‘just the way things are.’


Amidon, J., Monroe, A., & Ortwein, M. (n.d.). Progressive Education. Education, Society, & the K-12 Learner. Retrieved September 17, 2020, from

Dewey, J. (1916). Democracy and Education. New York City, NY: Macmillan. Retrieved September 03, 2020, from

Lynch, M. (2016, November 03). Philosophies of Education: 3 types of student-centered philosophies. Retrieved September 17, 2020, from

Talebi, K. (2015). John Dewey - Philosopher and Educational Reformer. European Journal of Education Studies, 1(1). Retrieved September 17, 2020,

Valbuena, J. G. (2016). Essentialism: As a philosophy and as a philosophy of education (Unpublished thesis). Philippine Normal University. Retrieved September 17, 2020, from


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