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Idealism in education

Dr. V. K. Maheshwari Dr. Suraksha Bansal,

Ph. D Ph. D
Former Principal K.L.D.A.V College Sr. Lecturer D.I.M.S
Roorkee, India Meerut, India

An idealist is one who on, on noticing that a rose smells better than a
cabbage, concludes that it is also more nourishing.
Mencken H. L.
On Ideals and Idealism

The educational approach of this philosophy is of a holistic nature. In which self-

realization and character development is strongly supported. The idealist feels
that with the growth of a fine moral character as well as personal reflection,
wisdom is gained. The holistic approach is supported instead of a specialized
concentration on a specific targeted area. By combining experiences gained
through critical thinking and dealing with broader topics, the idealist creates an
environment in which a learner can rationalize information across curriculum.

Idealism as a philosophy had its greatest impact during the nineteenth century.
Its influence in today’s world is less important than it has been in the past..
Idealism is the conclusion that the universe is expression of intelligence and will,
that the enduring substance of the world is the nature of the mind, that the
material is explained by the mental. Idealism as a philosophy stands in contrast
with all those systems of thought that center in nature (naturalism) or in man
(humanism)." According to idealism "to be" means to be experienced by a
person. Idealism holds that the order of the world is due to the manifestation in
space and time of an eternal and spiritual reality. As to knowledge, idealism
holds that knowledge is man thinking the thoughts and purposes of this eternal
and spiritual reality as they are embodied in our world of fact. As to ethics,
idealism holds that the goodness of man's individual and social life is the
conformity of the human will with the moral administration of the universe.

Idealism as an educational philosophy is generally linked to the work of

H.H.Horne and William Hocking. In the Forty-first Yearbook of the National
Society for the Study of Education, entitled Philosophies of Education, H.H.Horne
lists ten grounds for accepting an idealistic philosophy of education. Among the
more persuasive of these arguments are:

1. The mind is the principle of explanation and knowledge of any-thing, even of

the mind itself, is a product of the mind.

2. The mind is of a different nature than matter. It is composed of a different


3. There can be no object without a subject thinking about it.

The last of these three arguments is directly related to the position taken by
Bishop George Berkeley. This will be discussed in more detail in a later section
of this chapter.

Perhaps the fullest picture of the educational concomitants of idealism can be

gained by studying the educational system of Italy as it was reformed by
Giovanni Gentile. Between 1922 and 1924 Gentile was Minister of Education in
the Mussolini government.

Gentile also developed a theoretical justification for Italian fascism and the
conception of man’s subservient relationship to the state. This places the state in
the position of being a closer approximation of the Ideal than the individual, and
for this reason the individual owes his allegiance to the state.

Idealism and realism in education are often considered together in educational

philosophy under the name essentialism. This is in part because, although their
of the universe differ radically, their view concerning the nature of truth are
similar. Both of these positions, as we shall see, view truth as immutable,
permanent, and unchanging.

Definition and meaning of Idealism

The main tenant of idealism is that ideas and knowledge are the truest reality.
Many things in the world change, but ideas and knowledge are enduring.
Idealism was often referred to as “idea-ism”. Idealists believe that ideas can
change lives. The most important part of a person is the mind. It is to be
nourished and developed.

Pronunciation: [I-'dee-ê-liz-êm]
Definition: (1) (From "idea") The Platonic theory that ultimate reality lies in a
realm beyond the real world, that the real world is a by-product of mental or
supernatural states; art that rejects realism for the world of imagination. (2) (From
"ideal") The practice of living according to a set of ideals; overly optimistic
Plato, who taught in the Grove of Academus (or simply "Academeia") in Athens,
argued that only concepts are real since they do not change over time as do the
objects they represent. Nothing exists until the idea of it exists, hence some
supreme power must have conceived of the universe before it came into
existence. Real objects are the concepts in one's mind, which must be delivered
by the teacher, a kind of mental midwife (see "maieutics" in the Archives). This
was the original, philosophical meaning of "idealism," seldom used any more
outside the philosophy classroom.

Etymology: From Greek idea "form, shape" from *weid- also the origin of the "his"
in his-tor "wise, learned" underlying English "history." In Latin this root became
videre "to see" and related words. It is the same root in Sanskrit veda "knowledge
as in the Rig-Veda. The stem entered Germanic as witan "know," seen in Modern
German wissen "to know" and in English "wisdom" and "twit," a shortened form of
Middle English atwite derived from æt "at" +witen "reproach."

In short Idealism is a philosophical position which adheres to the view that

nothing exists except as it is and idea in the mind of man, the mind of God, or in
a super – or supra-natural realm. The idealist believes that the universe has an
intelligence and a will; that all material things are explainable in terms of a mind
standing behind them.

Historical Retrospect of Idealism

Pre-Christian Origins: Plato

The origin and development of the Platonic doctrine of Ideas is one of the most
effective and fruitful processes in the entire history of western philosophy.

Plato was a follower of Socrates, a truly innovative thinker of his time, who did
not record his ideas, but shared them orally through a question and answer
approach. Plato presented his ideas in two works: The Republic and Laws. He
believed in the importance of searching for truth because truth was perfect and
eternal. He wrote about separating the world of ideas from the world of matter.
Ideas are constant, but in the world of matter, information and ideas are
constantly changing because of their sensory nature. .

The beginnings of the idealist philosophical position are generally attributed to

Plato, but may be traced back to the thought of his teacher, Socrates. Wilhelm
Wideband in his book, History of Philosophy, points out the importance of the
Platonic position for future thinkers.
Wideband points out hat “there is no question that the opposition between
Socrates and the Sophists formed the starting-point for Platonic thought. The
Socratic rejection of the Sophists was based of the feeling that it was immoral to
argue either or both sides of the question without commitment or concern as to
right as to right or wrong. This sense of the immoral led to the Platonic search for
a higher system of values.

In his writings Plato is most concerned with separating the permanent from the
temporary, the real from that which is merely illusory. To this end, Plato
separates the day to day reality of things seen and felt from the eternal reality
which can only be known through the thought processes. Those things that we
see and feel and experiences are simply temporary, they are merely reflections
as Plato points out in his allegory of the cave.

a. There is a cave in which men are chained facing a wall. On a ledge, behind
those who are chained, another group of men walk carrying things. Behind the
men on the ledge is a fire which casts their shadows on the wall for the chained
men to see.

b. Plato’s analogy indicates that he world we know, the world of our senses, is
like the shadows. It is unreal but we believe it to be the true reality because of
habit and because it is the only reality with which we are familiar. The Real
World, the World of Ideas, is of a different order, just as the men on the ledge are
of a different order than their shadows.

c. A more contemporary analogy might be made with the movies. If a person

were forced to spend his whole life watching black and white movies, benign fed
intravenously and having all of his sensations controlled so that the only
experience available to him was the screen convinced that what he saw was
reality. Experiments in sensory deprivation have shown that a person deprived of
sensory stimulation can be made to believe almost anything. Thus, when our film
viewer is finally taken out into the bright world of color he would, according to
Plato, be so shocked, upset, and disturbed that he would be unable to believe
that this was the reality and at first would want to return to the other existence
of the cave (or motion picture theatre) because it would be the only reality he
could stand.

d. Plato distinguished between the use of reason and the use of the senses. His
position was that in order to know something of the Real World (the realm of pure
Ideas) we need to withdraw from the use of our senses and rely on a purely
intellectual approach. Plato, then, was the first philosophy to lay the logical
groundwork necessary to support a theory of immaterial reality. This is clearly
seen in his explanation of the allegory of his friend Glaucon.

The prison house is the world of sight, the light of the fire is the sun, and you
will not misapprehend me if you interpret the journey upwards to be the ascent
of the soul into the intellectual world according to my poor belief, which, at
your desire, I have expressed – whether rightly or wrongly God knows. But,
whether true or false, my opinion is that in the world of knowledge the idea of
good appears last of all, and is seen only with an effort; and, when seen is also
inferred to be the universal author of all things beautiful and right, parent of light
and of the lord of light in his visible world, and the immediate source of reason an
truth in the intellectual; and that this is the power upon which he who would act
rationally either in public or private life must have his eye fixed.

Moreover, I said, you must not wonder that those who attain to this beatific vision
are unwilling to descend to descend to human affairs; for their souls ever
hastening into the upper world where they desire to dwell……

It is from the above position that Plato arrived at his won that if we are indeed to
be virtuous we cannot depend on opinions rooted in perception. The senses will
deceive us and make us believe that the purely transitory world in the Real World
and therefore we must suppress the senses as much as possible. At first this will
be extremely difficult and like the prisoner in the cave, we will want to return to
the security of the familiar but before long we will come to realize the difference
between the transitory world and the World of Ideas.

The position which advocates the use of reason or the intellect alone is usually
referred to by the technical name of rationalism.

In Plato’s opinion Idealism holds that only ideas are the truest form of reality. In
his approach to finding answers to his questions, he sought to separate the world
of matter from the world of ideas. For him and his followers including Socrates,
dialectic observations to find the true meaning of points of view were best
examined through open ended discussions and debates. It was his belief that
given enough time for discussion, those involved in the debate would eventually
meet in a middle ground and that a bridge of understanding would eventually
surface. Thus the respect for each others point of view would ultimately be
shown. For the idealist, Plato served as the father for thought. All who followed
in this field were influenced by his original quests to find the answers.

2. Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century: Berkeley and Hegel

From this movement came the development of the modern idealistic views of
Descartes, Berkley, Kant, Hegel and Royce.

Rene Descartes

Modern idealism in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries is largely defined by a

group of philosophers who were writing at the time. In his Discourse on Method
and Meditations on First Philosophy, Descartes arrived at his Cartesian first
principal “I think, therefore I am.” Descartes decided that he could throw all
things into doubt except that he was thinking and doubting. This supports the
concept of idealism because it emphasizes the centrality or importance of the
mind. Descartes, like Plato and Augustine divided his world into two areas. For
Descartes the two areas were the cogito and the Deity Descartes was a true
doubter. He attacked his thought processes by challenging the existence of
every idea including his own existence. The one truth that he proved was that in
doubting everything he arrived at the consensus that even if one doubted every
issue – the truth that couldn’t be denied was that one was thinking. Thus his
famous first principle: Cogito, ergo sum, “I think, therefore I am.” (p20) Berkeley
challenged that in order for there to be truth, the mind must acknowledge that

George Berkeley

Berkley, the author of Principles of Human Knowledge, stated that all existence
depends on some mind to know it; if no minds exist, then nothing exists unless it
is perceived by the mind of God. For Descartes a material world did not exist
independent of the mind. His philosophical views were greatly influenced by his
religious beliefs. In his view, there is no existence without perception. However
things could be considered to exist in the sense that they were perceived by God.
Berkeley has answered an important question on whether a tree falling in the
woods would make a sound if no one was around to hear it. His answer was no,
if it was not perceived by God.

Berkeley is commonly considered the father of modern idealism. He argues that

what we experience does exist in a real physical sense, but only because it
exists in the mind. A thing is the sum of our ideas of it. For example, an apple is
red, sweet, round, etc. The apple is nothing more or less than the sum of my
ideas of it. But what if I am not thinking about apples? What if I am thinking about
roses, or books, or wine? Does that mean that apples don not exist during the
time my thoughts are focused elsewhere? Common sense would indicate the
absurdity of this position. If we held to the idea that a thing did not exist unless
we were thinking of it we would too easily fall into a position philosophers call
solipsism. Solipsism ways that nothing has an existence beyond the individual’s
mind and what appears to have an existence is simply in the mind of the

Berkeley carefully avoided the pitfalls of this variant of idealism and with it the
problem of things winking in and out of existence. Instead, he suggested that
ideas exist n the mind of God as well as in our more finite minds, thus allowing
for the continuity of existence by making the universe the product of God’s
thoughts. The great value in this form of idealism is that it allows for stability,
complexity, and sophistication. Man may only be able to think or conceive of a
limited number of dimensions; God can think of them all.

Immanuel Kant

In writing his Critique of Pure Reason, and Critique of Practical Reason, Kant
tried to make sense of rationalism and empiricism within the idealist philosophy.
In his system, individuals could have a valid knowledge of human experience that
was established by the scientific laws of nature. This was in contrast to
Berkeley’s thinking that things are totally dependent on the mind. Kant’s
philosophy of education involved some aspects of character education. He
believed in the importance of treating each person as an end and not as a
means. He thought that education should include training in discipline, culture,
discretion, and moral training. Teaching children to think and an emphasis on
duty toward self and others were also vital points in his philosophies. The desire
to grow in ones understanding of being is supported through knowledge. As
seen with the Religious idealism movement when Augustine approached the idea
that learning comes from within and that a person is responsible for his learning.
These ideas lead Christianity and religious movements having a great effect on
the development of the modern world of education and schools. To support the
ideas of Christianity essentially means to believe in the Idea of a super power
that cannot be seen or touched.

His views were influenced by his strong religious beliefs. He held the existence
of God to be the Idea and without belief in God then things would not exist. Kant
supported the idea of human thought as his idealism. He held to the belief that
real knowledge could be found though teaching a child to think both morally and

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

Three of Hegel’s most famous books are Phenomenology of Mind, Logic, and
Philosophy of Right. In these readings, Hegel emphasizes three major aspects:
logic, nature, and spirit. Hegel maintained that if his logical system were applied
accurately, one would arrive at the Absolute Idea, which is similar to Plato’s
unchanging ideas. Nature was considered to be the opposite of the Absolute
idea. Idea and nature together form the Absolute Spirit which is manifested by
history, art, religion, and philosophy. Hegel’s idealism is in the search for final
Absolute Spirit. Examining any one thing required examining or referring to
another thing. Hegel’s thinking is not as prominent as it once was because his
system led to the glorification of the state at the expense of individuals. Hegel
thought that to be truly educated an individual must pass through various stages
of the cultural evolution of mankind. Additionally he reasoned that it was possible
for some individuals to know everything essential in the history of humanity. b.
Georg Wilhelm Hegel’s position is an attempt to develop an all embracing
philosophical system in to which all events and things can be fit. Since the world
is not by any means in an Ideal state, Hegel reasoned it must be part of a
dynamic process which moves toward the Ideal. Thus, for Hegel, the universe is
one absolute, evolving spiritual unity. The world is in a dynamic state of
becoming. Hegel’s position is generally referred to as objective or absolute

Hegel’s political philosophy places its emphasis on the state. Man is short-lived,
but the state is more permanent since it has an existence of its own. This
glorification of the state, as well as the search for the Ideal State is also seen in
the works of Plato. But Plato and Hegel appear to have influenced Giovanni
Gentile, the Italian philosopher. It is from Hegel that the doctrine of the individual
gaining importance only as he becomes a part of the state draws its strength

Josiah Royce.

Royce’s Ideas were best desired as plans of actions. It was his belief that the
strongest things for a person to develop is loyalty and to be of a high moral
character. He supported the idea that education should be more than just a
literal qualifying of information, that the moral lessons held high merit for creating
a good society

Many of Royce’s ideas coincide with those of Hegel. Royce conceived of ideas
as purposes or plans of action. He considered purposes as incomplete without
an external world, and the external world as meaningless unless it was the
fulfillment of these purposes. Royce believed in the importance of developing a
sense of morals. This thought influences education that involves teaching about
our purpose in life and how we become active participants in these purposes.

3. Twentieth Century: Giovanni Gentile

Gentile was appointed Italian Minister of Education by Mussolini on October 31,

1922 and held that post until July 1, 1924. A trained philosopher who felt that the
true basis of education for an entire nation which was rooted in a pattern of
philosophical beliefs. Among the more important aspects of his educational
system were:

a. An emphasis on religion and nationalism is the elementary schools. This is a

combination of the Idealist point of view that religion is one of the subjects that
can lead to knowledge of the Ideal, and a very practical point of view which is
concerned with making the individual an extension of the state.

b. Stressing the classis in the secondary schools. The classics are viewed as the
spiritual heritage of the past and as the proper intellectual training for children in
an Idealist school.
c. The view that the good of the individual is identical with the good of the state.
Where there is conflict the individual must be sacrificed to the necessities of the

d. The teacher as an intermediary. The teacher is seen as one who has made a
somewhat closer to the Ideal world than the student.

Philosophical Rationale of Idealism

Idealism is a philosophical approach that has as its central tenet that ideas are
the only true reality, the only thing worth knowing. In a search for truth, beauty,
and justice that is enduring and everlasting, the focus is on conscious reasoning
in the mind.

The Universe (Ontology or Metaphysics)

To the idealist, the nature of the universe is mind; it is an idea. The real nature of
the position is idea-ism. For the idealist the universe has two aspects. The first is
the sensory aspect, that part of life open to empirical or sensory exploration and
verification. This is a sham world; a world of illusion. This second aspect, the
Real World, lies beyond the sensory world and can only be reached through the
intellect. This is the World of Ideas.

The idealist traditionally turns away from nature in his speculation an bases his
philosophical beliefs on the assertion that there are certain timeless truths about
the universe. These truths provide us with certainty, and it is always easier to
begin to think clearly and logically from a solid base of certainty. We can know
that the world operates in a reasonable way (although we may; never be able to
quite fathom just what that “reasonable way” may be). For Hegel, for example,
the order of the universe – history – is God thinking. More recent idealists have
focused on the self as a spiritual phenomenon.

Idealism as a philosophy presents an ontological framework compatible with

religion. Wherever order is externally imposed, wherever there is an Ideal, it is a
simple step to bring in God an intermediary or intermediary class between God or
the Ideal and man. The intermediary class (whether prophet, teacher, or priest) is
composed of those better able to understand or communicate with the Ideal.
These intermediaries, in some societies, soon become a privileged class.
Plato also believed that the soul is fully formed prior to birth and is perfect and at
one with the Universal Being. The birth process checks this perfection, so
education requires bringing latent ideas (fully formed concepts) to

In Idealism, all of reality is reducible to one fundamental substance: spirit. (You

may better understand the nature of spirit in this context if you think of it as the
total absence of materiality.) Matter is not real; it is rather a notion, an abstraction
of the mind. It is only the mind that is real. Therefore, all material things that
seem to be real are reducible to mind or spirit. The chair you are sitting on is not
material; it only seems material. Its essential nature is spirit. On the universal
level, finite minds live in a purposeful world produced by an infinite mind. It is as
though the entire universe is made up of an infinite mind or spirit; which is, in
effect, everything, and we are small bits and pieces of that mind. Because man is
a part of this purposeful universe, he is an intelligent and purposeful being

Knowledge and Truth (Epistemology)

The idealist, once he accepts the ontological assumption of the existence of a

transcendent reality, must ask whether or not it is possible to know and ot come
to grips with this realm. Most idealists, to a greater or lesser degree, accept the
notion that man may know the Ideal, at least in part.

The idealist take a rationalistic approach to the knotty problems of knowledge

and truth and relies heavily on deductive logic (the process of reasoning from the
general the more specific) Although some idealist thinkers have carefully denied
reliance on empirical or sense data, such data usually serve as the basis for the
premises of deductive logic.

The idealist attempts to find in the universe general principles which can be given
the status of universal truths. In order to do this, it is necessary for the idealist to
turn inward; to see, as it were, the ocean in a drop of water and the universe in a
grain of sand. Most idealists will accept than notion that man’s being and
absolute mind are qualitatively the same, but while we have all the attributes of
the Absolute we are like the drop of water and the sea. Just as the drop of water
is not the whole ocean, man does reflect, albeit dimly, the Absolute, we can look
inward to see the true nature of reality. Idealists believe that all knowledge is
independent of sense experience. The act of knowing takes place within the
mind. The mind is active and contains innate capacities for organizing and
synthesizing the data derived through sensations. Man can know intuitively; that
is to say, he can apprehend immediately some truth without utilizing any of his
senses. Man can also know truth through the acts of reason by which an
individual examines the logical consistency of his ideas. Some Idealists believe
that all knowledge is a matter of recall. Plato was one who held this notion. He
based this conclusion upon the assumption that the spirit of man is eternal.
Whatever he knows is already contained within his spirit. Objective Idealists,
such as Plato, think that ideas are essences, which have an independent
existence. Subjective Idealists, such as George Berkeley, reason that man is
able to know only what he perceives. His only knowledge is of his mental states.
Existence depends upon mind. Every stimulus received by the mind is derived
ultimately from God. God is the Infinite Spirit.
Idealists assume, based on their ontological position, that Truth does exist. Since
Truth does exist and is not merely a creation of the individual or society but exists
independent of man or of man’s knowledge of it, it can be found. And when, it is
found, it will absolute and binding.

For the idealist the search for truth is a major emphasis. Although for each the
Idea of “truth” may have varied; the goal seems to be constant Idealists search to
challenge students to think and to learn from their schools of thought. For some
idealists, the understanding of the challenges we face in our world today need
only be derived from discussions of classics, such as Moby Dick and the Bible,
and the teaching of such classics to encourage critical thinking.

Values (Axiology)

1. What is Good (Ethics) - Idealists generally root all values either in a personal
God or in a personal spiritual force of nature. They all agree that values are
eternal. Theistic Idealists assert that eternal values exist in God. Good and evil,
beauty and ugliness are known to the extent that the idea of good and the idea of
beauty are consistent with the absolute good and the absolute beauty found in
God. Pantheistic Idealists identify God with nature. Values are absolute and
unchanging because they are a part of the determined order of nature

For the idealist the good life in living in harmony with the universe. If the Absolute
is viewed as the final and most ethical of all things and persons, or as God, who
is by definition perfect and it thus perfect in morals the idealist’s epitome of
ethical conduct and morality will lie in the imitation of Absolute Self. Man is mot
moral when his behavior is in accord wit the Ideal and Universal Moral Law which
we can and do recognize. Even if we do not recognize it as individuals, there are
in not societies those whose special function it is, either as teachers or as
ministers, to instruct, clarify, and inform us as to what behavior is in accord wit
the Universal Moral Law. We must do right simply because it is right* It is indeed
a lofty ideal of morality that suggests we do right simply to be more perfectly in
tune wit the universe.

2. Concept of beauty (Aesthetics) - idealist sees as beautiful the

approximation of the Ideal. That which in finite terms attempts to express the
Absolute is categorized as aesthetically pleasing. This would appear to leave
little ground for creativity since there must be an absolute standard against which
all art can be measured. Again, we have the teachers and the ministers defining
that which as special intermediaries they recognize as closest to the nature of the
Absolute. Thus are art critics born.
When we enjoy a work of art, say the idealists, it is because, on the one hand,
we see it as a true representation of the Ideal; and on the other hand, it serves to
bring us closer to contract wit the Ideal.

Music is considered by some idealists as the highest from of aesthetic creation

since it does not represent any thing in the phenomenal or existent world, but
instead cuts across it to the heart of the Absolute. The artist should, according to
his school for thought, attempt to idealize the world to us, that is , to present its
inner meaning rather than to portray it as it appears to the senses, to capture its
inner essence, its oneness with the Ideal.

Religious and Idealism

Religion and idealism have close ties. Judaism and Christianity were influenced
by many of the Greek philosophers. Augustine, one of the great thinkers of the
Catholic Church discussed the universe as being divided into the City of God and
The City of man. The city of God was governed by truth and goodness. The city
of man was governed by the senses. This parallels Plato’s scheme of the world
of ideas and the world of matter. Religious thinkers believed that man did not
create knowledge, but discovered it. Augustine, like Plato did not believe that
one person could teach another. Instead, they must be led to understanding
through skillful questioning. Religious idealists see individuals as creations of
God who have souls and contain elements of godliness that need to be

Plato described a utopian society in which "education to body and soul all the
beauty and perfection of which they are capable" as an ideal.
Plato believed in the importance of state involvement in education and in moving
individuals from concrete to abstract thinking. He believed that individual
differences exist and that outstanding people should be rewarded for their
knowledge. With this thinking came the view that girls and boys should have
equal opportunities for education. In Plato’s society there were three social
classes of education; workers, military personnel, and rulers. He believed that the
ruler or king would be a good person with much wisdom because it was only
ignorance that led to evil.

One of the major criticisms of idealism has been that it lacks an adequate social
policy. The ideal society is seen as a reflection of the ideal organization of the
Absolute. Society is like an organism in which each person (like the cells of the
organism) has a particular place and a particular role. When this point of view is
carried to its logical conclusion we find that it can be compatible with a totalitarian
state. This social theory would place society (or the state) over and above the
individual citizen and would make the individual good identical with the general
good or the good of state. The individual then is placed in a position in which he
is an instrument of the state and state and may be sacrificed to its needs.
The idealist relies for much of his social view on the accumulate wisdom of the
past. Particularly that wisdom which is either symbolic of , or representative of,
the Ideal. In genera, therefore, the idealist stresses an intellectual pattern for
conservation of the cultural heritage. This is a conservative position, typical of
any system based on the belief that reality has a coercive order of its own and
that we must wait to progress until we have this order made clear to us.

In discussing the ideal social order, H.H.Horne has written:

There is an ideal social order for man. This ideal nowhere fully exists on the
earth. But it haunts the imagination of man. It is real in the sense of subsistence,
if not existence. It is real in the sense that perfect circles are real. This ideal order
consists of all those values that social man should realize in the earth. The
political state exists to help conserve and mediate those ideal values. Believing
that such an ideal is real an that man can realize it is a great stimulus to improve
actual conditions. Viewed in a large way, the mission of man is to make the ideal
actual. Human society is, or should be, interested in that type of education which
brings these unchanging and eternal values into the changing and temporal lives
of men.

The Idealist believes in a world of Mind (metaphysics) and in truth as Idea

(epistemology). Furthermore, ethics is the imitation of the Absolute Self and
aesthetics is the reflection of the Ideal. From this very general philosophical
position, the Idealist would tend to view the Learner as a microscopic mind, the
Teacher as a paradigmatic self, the Curriculum as the subject matter of symbol
and idea (emphasizing literature, history, etc.), the Teaching Method as
absorbing Ideas, and the Social Policy of the school as conserving the heritage
of Western civilization

The purpose of education is to contribute to the development of the mind and self
of the learner. The education-imparting institute should emphasize intellectual
activities, moral judgments, aesthetic judgments, self-realization, individual
freedom, individual responsibility, and self-control in order to achieve this

In an idealistic education system emphasis should be placed on developing the

mind, personal discipline, and character development. A person should be
literate and of good moral character

The aim of education is to brings the child as close to Absolute Truth as possible.
All of the aims of the idealist as educator find their ground in the conception of
Ultimate Reality and the students’ relation to this Reality.
In idealism, the aim of education is to discover and develop each individual's
abilities and full moral excellence in order to better serve society

More specifically, the school can take a leading role in defining and refining our
knowledge of Truth an the Absolute. The school ha a responsibility to find and to
train future leaders. As will be seen, much of the curriculum for the idealist is
based on the study of earlier leaders. Certainly the distinguishing between and
the development of, leaders smacks of education for followership (or
subservience to the state) is found in the Gentile reforms instituted in Italy in the

The school, as one of the social institutions concerned with the Absolute must
make judgments as to what is right and what is wrong; thus, one of the aim of
education would be to develop morality.

Another aim of education is the maintenance and transmission of the established

values of the past. Once we have established that something is good, or true, or
beautiful, it is a responsibility of the school to pass it one to succeeding

The Concept of Student

There is much in idealism of the “personality cult.” As Horne has pointed out, “No
civilization or culture of a people surpasses that of its greatest leader.”

The learner is a spiritual being in the process of becoming. His is a finite

personality which, with prober molding and guidance, might more like the Ideal or
the Absolute. Man is, in a sense, a small representation of the Absolute Self. The
student must bring himself closer to the Absolute through imitation of the
exemplar (the teacher) and through study of those subjects (the humanities)
which best represent or symbolize the true ideas of which the human race has

The learner, if the is an idealist himself, or if the idealist philosophy can be

inculcated into his being, tries to do the very best he can, striving constantly
toward perfection. Horne has described the “Idealistic Pupil” as follows:

The Idealistic pupil is characterized by that admirable trait, the will to perfection.
Whatever he does as well as he can. He is ambitious to deserve honors in
scholarship. He wants to grow in knowledge and wisdom, to appreciate the
aesthetic things in life to deserve approbation, and to be a worthy person…. He
strives for perfection because the ideal person is perfect.

The Concept of Teacher

Idealists have high expectations of the teacher. The teacher must be excellent, in
order to serve as an example for the student, both intellectually and morally. No
other single element in the school system is more important than the teacher.
The teacher must excel in knowledge and in human insight into the needs and
capacities of the learners; and must demonstrate moral excellence in personal
conduct and convictions. The teacher must also exercise great creative skill in
providing opportunities for the learners' minds to discover, analyze, unify,
synthesize and create applications of knowledge to life and behavior.

The idealist holds the role of the teacher to be that of an important position. The
teacher serves as a model for the student by teaching through example and
guidance the lifelong habits of patience, tolerance and perseverance towards a
goal. It is the teacher’s responsibility to encourage the students and to provide
them with materials to encourage them to work to achieve higher goals
Just as personality is a major factor in the idealist view of the student, it plays a
major part in the idealist view of the teacher. The teacher is seen as having
perhaps the most important single role in the educative process. The teacher
serves as a living ideal or model for the student and represents, to some degree,
what the student can become.

The idealist teacher “tries to be the right sort of person himself and to develop the
right sort of personality in his pupils. The teacher should be close to the Absolute
and should be, in a very real sense, a co-worker with the Absolute in developing
the pupil’s capacities and guiding him closer to knowledge of the Ideal. The
teacher should be close to the Absolute in developing the pupil’s capacities and
guiding closer to knowledge of the Ideal. The teacher should set an example that
the student will follow. This is, of course , compatible with the notion that the real
world (the world of the senses) is a copy of the Absolute. Thus, the closer we are
to come to the Absolute, the more we must model our behavior upon those
persons that we know are paradigm cases.
Since idealists believe in character development, they also believe that the
teacher should be a role model for students to emulate. Teaching is considered
a moral calling. The teacher’s role is to be a skillful questioner who encourages
students to think and ask more questions in an environment that is suitable for

The curriculum

The important factor in education at any level for idealists is teaching children to
think. Teachers should help students to explore texts for ideas about the
purposes of life, family the nature of peer pressures, and the problems of growing
up. Idealists believe that ideas can change lives and that classical literature can
be used and explored to help solve problems in today’s world. Creativity will be
encouraged when students immerse themselves in the creative thinking of others
and when they are encouraged to reflect
The idealist curriculum which places a considerable emphasis on the study of
history and the reading of biographies. Both of these are evidently reflections of
the Hegelian influence on American education. Certainly it is assumed by the
idealists that through the study of the past, we can find appropriate truths around
which to model our present behavior.

Along with history and biography, the idealist curriculum emphasizes the study of
the humanities. Underlying the selection of materials is the concern for selection
of subject matter that deals wit ideal man and ideal society. Thus, we find the
idealists strong in their belief that the “proper study of mankind is man” and
interpreting this to mean the history of the human race.

Books are the source of this subject matter, the subject matter of ideas. To
understand society and life we must study history. To understand man we must
study literature and the humanities. The idealist wants to see the entire and
absolute pattern of life and, in order to do this, history and the humanities are the
most important subjects. The curriculum is based upon the idea or assumption of
the spiritual nature of man. This idea in turn leads to an idea of the nature of the
larger units of family, community, state, earth; the universe, and infinity. In
preserving the subject matter content, which is essential for the development of
the individual mind, the curriculum must include those subjects essential for the
realization of mental and moral development. These subjects provide one with
culture, and they should be mandated for all pupils. Moreover, the subject matter
should be kept constant for all.

The idealist tradition of subject matter is basically literary and places its primary
emphasis on the subject matter of books, especially hose literary pieces
considered the masterworks of information about ideas. Because of the idealist’s
reliance on the world of the mind, their curriculum calls for little contact with the
experiential universe. The idealist educator has little place in his curriculum for
field trips and empirical or sensory data.

Instructional Methodology

Plato’s idealism suggested moving from opinion to true knowledge in the form of
critical discussions, or the dialectic. All thinking begins with a thesis. The
dialectic looks at all points of view. At the end of the discussion, the ideas or
opinions will begin to synthesize as they work closer to truth. Knowledge is a
process of discovery that can be attained through skillful questioning Idealist
education involves depth of learning, a holistic approach that involves teaching
the whole rather than its parts. The best method of learning for Plato was the
dialectic, a process where ideas are put into battle against each other, with the
most significant idea winning the battle. Knowledge was not important just for
the material needs that it met. Idealists would feel that much of the great
literature of the past would be useful in the solving many of today’s problems.
The idealist is not concerned with turning out students with technical skills so
much as having students with a broad view and understanding of the world in
which they live. Idealism emphasizes the role of the teacher, a skillful questioner,
who should be a model for the person we want children to become. While the
lecture method is still important in an idealist’s education system, it is considered
more of a way to convey information and to help students comprehend ideas.
Self realization and self education are very important in idealism. While teachers
cannot always be present when learning occurs, they must attempt to stimulate
students so that learning occurs even when they are not present. Project based
learning is on example of a self directed learning activity where learning can
occur without a teacher’s presence

.As the curricular emphasis is subject matter of mind: literature, history,

philosophy, and religion. Teaching methods focus on handling ideas through
lecture, discussion, and Socratic dialogue (a method of teaching that uses
questioning to help students discover and clarify knowledge). Introspection,
intuition, insight, and whole-part logic are used to bring to consciousness the
forms or concepts which are latent in the mind. Character is developed through
imitating examples and heroes

The classroom structure and atmosphere should provide the learners with
opportunities to think, and to apply the criteria of moral evaluation to concrete
within the context of the subjects. The teaching methods must encourage the
acquisition of facts, as well as skill in reflecting on these facts. It is not sufficient
to teach pupils how to think. It is very important that what pupils think about be
factual; otherwise, they will simply compound their ignorance. Teaching methods
should encourage learners to enlarge their horizons; stimulate reflective thinking;
encourage personal moral choices; provide skills in logical thinking; provide
opportunities to apply knowledge to moral and social problems; stimulate interest
in the subject content; and encourage learners to accept the values of human

The methods preferred by the idealists are the logical outgrowth of their
acceptance of the doctrine of the primacy of ideas. If experience, as he have
seen, is an inferior of the primacy of ideas. If experience, as we have seen, is an
inferior reflection of Reality, the only purpose experience has for the idealist is to
distort the Truth. Since the Truth can be reached through the abstract activities of
the mind, it is in these that method must lie.

Methodology, for the idealists then, consist for the most part of lectures,
discussion, and imitation. Learning is an exercise in stretching the mind to its
fullest so that it can absorb and handle ideas. Imitation should be of some
exemplary person or persons who by their behavior give evidence that they are
close to the nature of reality.

All three methods employed by the idealists are open to criticism. All rely on
ideas that are already know and allow little or no opportunity for the student to
explore new ideas and new areas of interest. Because of this there is a tendency
to reinforce the cultural lag between education and the society.

Criticisms of Idealism

Idealism has been influential in education for a considerable amount of time. It is

considered a conservative philosophy because of its emphasis in preserving
cultural traditions. The strengths of idealism include encouraging thinking and
cognition, promoting cultural learning, and providing for character development of
students. Teachers are considered valuable parts of the educational process who
should strive to provide a comprehensive, systematic, and holistic approach to
learning that stresses self realization.

Science today has challenged idealism and brought about challenges to idealistic
principles. Science is based on hypothesis and tentativeness, but idealism
promotes a finished and absolute universe waiting to be discovered. Idealism has
often been linked with traditional religion. The weakening of religion has led to
the weakening of idealism as a philosophy. Through Plato’s ruler kings, and
Augustine’s emphasis on the monastic life, it has been said that idealism leads to
intellectual elitism. In the past, education was considered important for the upper
classes of society, marking education as a luxury. Vocational and technical
studies were considered good enough for the general public. Idealistic education
was considered bookish and lacking relevance. It is argued that the character
development aspect of the philosophy involved conformity and subservience on
the part of the learner. This type of character development was considered to
stifle creativity and self direction, making students gullible and ready to accept
ideas without serious examination.

The emphasis on the importance of knowledge and ideas in the idealist

philosophy originally led me to believe that much of my philosophy of education
included idealistic tendencies. James Madison’s quote that knowledge is power,
which sits front and center on my class webpage, seems to agree with this
premise. Because I believe strongly in project based education as a way to have
students discover and learn new information, I also began to view the idealism in
my thinking. However, as much as I value these things and continue to believe in
the importance of continually gaining knowledge, the fact that I view science and
technology as a valued part of all education, sets me apart from the philosophy.
While the idealist considered science and technical studies good enough for the
general public, I consider them an integral part of any education. However I do
believe in the importance of teaching children to think, for not doing so results in
children with book learning and no common sense.

Critics of the idealist philosophy of education have been vocal and consistent,
and there is, indeed, no lack of arguments opposing the position both
philosophically and educationally. Here then are sex of the most common
criticisms of this philosophical school.
1. Sets Unobtainable Goals

For the educator who is concerned with having the child reach out and grasp the
Ideal there are two significant problems. First, if perfection is unreachable there is
very little desire on the part of most to become perfect. For the idealist student
the goals are often too far away. Second, the idealists have set up a final goal: to
know the Ideal and become part of it. This implies a finite tend and as such
means that we have a final end in view. It argues strongly against those who take
the point of view that man is infinitely perfectible.

2. Ignores the Physical Self

The body cannot be ignored. If we try to ignore the body it soon intrudes itself
upon us. We do, whether we like the idea or not, react to and fake into our mind
an deal with, on the intellectual level, such question as whether or not we are hot,
cold, hungry, tired, happy, or sad. We will often give our greatest thought to
changing or modifying our physical realm, particularly where we are trying to
avoid discomfort. In the classroom the teacher who would forget that the student
has a body as well as a mind will soon be faced with discipline problem as
youthful spirits react to bodily demands. Thus, to try to separate mental activity
from the physical and to try to place Ideas in a realm unrelated to the existent
world becomes nothing more than an exercise in futility.

3. Deemphasizes Experience

Many ideas cannot have meaning apart from experience. The ideas of heat and
cold are not simply logical constructs, but ways of describing certain sensations
found only in experience. This is not meant to imply that all things must be rooted
in experience. If this were true, we would have great difficulty in dealing with the
study of sub-atomic particles, and the whole field of mathematics might well be
called into question. But, most ideas do find their roots in experience, and to
deny the validity of this experience is to make the universe sterile.

4. Leads to Totalitarianism

Some of the critiques of idealism is that is discourages the progress of science

and our modern discovery. It also serves as somewhat of an elitist view in that
although the classics have merit for use in the classroom, they are not
necessarily the choice for all students. To only concentrate on the classic
writings is to waste a vast amount of wonderful knowledge that has been gained
through contemporary writings and art. Further more; creating a society in
which students are taught to be docile and accept without challenging those
areas held to be absolute could essentially be creating an environment in which
students are subservient and quick to confirm

The whole doctrine of idealism may lead to a rigid and often totalitarian social
order. It may become the very antithesis of Democracy since it argues that the
best equipped for leadership are those who are closest to the Ideal. Plato, in the
Republic, sets up a perfect society in which the leaders are the Philosopher-
Kings; of the Ideal. Gentile, in twentieth century Italy, provides another example
of the dangers of what can happen when the social theory inherent in the
idealistic philosophy is put into practice in the ruling of nations.

5. Emphasizes Humanities

The idealist philosopher demands that all must conform to the laws which are the
immutable working of the Ideal. There is, in idealism, the assumption of a
universal morality which will lead to the perfect moral and ethical order. Since
much, if not all, of this has an optimistic, humanities oriented outlook, it may lead
to a rejection of the whole concept of a technological society which is
mechanistic and “scientifically” oriented.

6. Overlooks possibility of Error

Perhaps the greatest failing of any philosophical system is that it fails to take into
account the possibility that it may be in error. This is especially true of idealism
since its truth is immutable and unchanging. Even were the Ideal to change, as
long as the notion of the Ideal is accepted as such then idealism has built into it
its own verification.

One final comment seems called for before moving on to the next philosophical –
educational system. Idealism, like many other systems, is dependent at any
given time for its definition of truth upon certain spokesmen who would seen to
be better able to know the Ideal. This can often lead to conflict as to the Truth of
one world system as opposed to another. The whimsical sight of two idealist
scholars standing off and yelling at each other, “My Truth is right, your truth is
wrong,” is tempered somewhat by the picture of two hydrogen bomb holding
despots standing off and yelling the same thing at each other.

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