It is beyond doubt that all our knowledge begins with experience

Comes from the Greek. Philo – love. Sophia – knowledge/wisdom.
Comes from the Latin of ‘educare’ – meaning to ‘bring up’ or to ‘bring forth’. 

There is no clear definition to Philosophy or Education. But if we look at where the words originated from, and what they literally mean, we can see that the Philosophy of Education could be interpreted as to mean the love and knowledge of bringing up children. As a teacher – this would make sense as the philosophy of education is the application of philosophy being applied to the current education system. It is important as a teacher to make sure there is substantial knowledge of the main issues that face our education system today, and to philosophise on these issues.

So, in Philosophy there are many different schools or viewpoints. The two main (or most known) are Empiricism and Rationalism. Empiricists believe knowledge is derived from experience, and believe that when you are born, you are born with a ‘blank slate’. This blank slate means knowledge, opinions and experience all come from the world around us after time. On the other hand, there is Rationalism – the belief that knowledge is beyond our experience(s), and everything cannot rely completely on our senses when there are things such as ‘God’ and shapes. Important empiricists include David Hume, John Locke and the father of empiricism, Sir Francis Bacon. Important rationalists include Rene Descartes, Immanuel Kant and the most influential rationalist of all time Baruch Spinoza.

After studying Philosophy, and looking into both these views, I have never came to a ‘clear’ conclusion as to what my beliefs are, and in relation to education and Philosophy – I was really stuck. So, I took a ‘what Philosophical School to you belong to’ quiz (as you do when you have no idea). Apparently, I am neither a Rationalist or Empiricist – I am a Humanist. So, I went on Humanists UK to have a read and see if their views are similar to my own, and of course, there is a ‘How Humanist are you’ quiz. Apparently, I am 100% Humanist (learn something new everyday, and I am unsure if Humanist is different from Atheism, which I also know is a religion and not a philosophical school…?!?!). So, after looking up Humanism, I have concluded that I have some of the main beliefs of Humanism – but don’t think I actually am a ‘Humanist’. Therefore, I am going back to the ‘nature/nurture’ debate (Rationalism/Empiricism).

Empiricism is the philosophy of knowledge by observation. It holds that the best way to gain knowledge is to see, hear, touch, or otherwise sense things directly.” An empiricist would argue that we can only learn from our past experiences, as stated earlier.  In the idea of a school setting, empiricists argue that we know 1+1=2 because people have seen it in action throughout their lives. As observing adults, we know that we learn through our senses such as maths and logic. Immanuel Kant tried to join these together and argued that empiricism and rationalism didn’t work on their own – our knowledge does come from observation, however, these observations and experiences were constrained by the inherent structures of thought itself (aka, the mind is wired only to make certain observation).

Rationalism is the philosophy that knowledge comes from logic and a certain kind of intuition – when we immediately know something to be true without deduction, such as “I am conscious.” Rationalists hold that the best way to arrive at certain knowledge is using the mind’s rational abilities.” As previously mentioned, rationalists argue that there is more to learning and knowledge than observation, and that knowledge is one of those “gut feeling” kind of ideologies. On the flip side of the “1+1+2”! debate, the rationalist argues that you don’t have to observe the world or have any sort of life experiences to understand that 1+1+2. You just understand the main concept.

The middle ground of rationalism and empiricism is constructivism. “According to constructivists, we can observe the world around us and gain a lot of knowledge this way (that’s the empiricist part), but in order to understand or explain what we know, we have to fit into an existing structure. That is, we have to construct a rational set of ideas that can make sense of the empirical data (that’s the rationalist part). Constructivism is a popular idea among teachers, who find it helpful in structuring lessons: constructivist teaching involves presenting new information in a way designed to fit in with what the student already knows, so that they can gradually build up an understanding of the world for themselves.” From this information, I believe I am a constructivist. It tells me that we gain knowledge through observation (our senses), but in order to understand what we already know – we use our rational sets of ideas and merge the two to form the best ‘answer’.

“Do I dare set forth here the most important, the most useful rule of all education? It is not to save time, but to squander it.” Jean-Jacques Rousseau

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