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Republic of the Philippines


Cabagan, Isabela

Master of Arts in Education
Educ. 201- Advanced Philosophy of Education




Educational Theory

Perennialism is the educational philosophy of the neo-rationalists. (New rationalist-

one who wishes to teach students how to think and reason.)
Perennialist educational theory and policy is based upon the “pure” philosophy of
Neo-Thomism or scholasticism. It has two branches: the lay or secular branch and the
ecclesiastical or church- oriented branch. We are concerned only with the lay branch.
Neo-Thomists believe that there is a dual reality in the cosmos. In other words, there
is a physical world and a spiritual world. In this dual world, we can know truths by two
(1) through logical reasoning or intuition and (2) through divine revelation. Ethically, a good
act in this world is the rational act – the thought out act rather than the impulsive act. And
aesthetically, the beauty of this world can be ascertained through our “creative intuition.”
The lay Neo-Thomists (or lay perennialists) think they have a program worthy of
adoption by all the secular public schools of America.
A leading perennialist spokesman in America is Robert M. Hutchins, former
chancellor of the University of Chicago. Hutchins and others like him think the aim of
education is the same in all societies at all times in history. He wrote:
Every man has a function as a man. The function of a citizen or a subject may
vary from society to society, and the system of training or adaption, or
instruction, or meeting immediate needs may vary with it. But the function of
a man as a man is the same in every age and in every society, since it results
from his nature as a man. The aim of an educational system is the same in
every age and in every society where such a system can exist; it is to improve
man as a man.
What this means is that the aim of an educational system is the development of the
intellectual powers of a man. In other words, we should try to train the intellect. Hutchins is
so committed to this goal, that he thinks the schools should do away with all non-intellectual
activities. The first thing to go would be athletics. Hutchins made himself famous, when as
Chancellor of the University of Chicago he sacked the intercollegiate football program. Even
today, the U. of Chicago does not field a football team. Hutchins also implicitly proposed the
removal of all physical education from the school’s work. He wanted to do away with all
extra-curricular activities, social and recreational projects, driver’s training, basket weaving,
cooking, and dancing. Even art and music would have to go from the regular curriculum,
because he viewed the subjects as “emotive” rather than intellectual in character. Finally,
Hutchins even “ticked off” the ecclesiastical Neo-Thomists by saying that we should even
stop moral training in schools, because it is anti-intellectual. Hutchins’ extreme view is
shown by this quote:
Think (he says) of the most futile, childish, irrelevant subject you can - think of parlor
games, think of self-beautification, think of anything you like - I will undertake to
find it for you among the courses offered by American institutions of higher learning.
I had no sooner written these words than Life magazine came along to prove my point
by announcing that at an American university it is possible to get college credit for being a
clown, something that even I, after decades of disillusionment, could never have thought of.
(Reference here is to Florida State University, near which the Ringling Brothers Circus once
maintained its winter quarters. Since 1947 Florida State had offered a physical education
course in circus activities there; this course develops physical fitness through vigorous large-
muscle activities: tumbling, apparatus work, trapeze work, adagio dancing, etc. No clowning,
though. But one of the big, spectacular extra-curricular activities at F.S.U. is the annual
circus, Flying High, in which there is a good deal of clowning. Dr. Hutchins is technically
wrong, but perhaps he has made his point.)
Hutchins says that the intellect is the only part of man the school should have
anything to do with. It wasn’t that Hutchins believed that music, arts, morals, P.E., dancing
and driver’s training were unimportant. He just believed that other agencies and institutions
such as Boy Scouts, Y.M.C.A., churches, the family and municipal recreation departments
should provide for these needs. This would “free” the school to do what it can do best: train
the intellect. Hutchins was among the first to raise the question of whether the school was
forced to be “all things to all people.” Do you feel that the public school has too many
functions in our society? Is it the “social institution of last resort” which takes over a
function if no one else will do it? Is there any concrete evidence to support this view?
Hutchins favors the school offering what he calls a “liberal education.” This would
include emphasizing: logic, mathematics, the disciplines of language, science and history.
This is because these studies supposedly relate to the timeless truths of all mankind (perennial
truths) and help us to think logically. Hutchins thinks that this emphasis (liberal education,
classical education) is the best type of education for all children regardless of their
background or abilities. He says that this is the kind of education that so well prepared the
ruling classes of Western societies throughout history. Hutchins reasons that since we live in
a democracy, the “ruling class” consists of common citizens. Therefore, since the common
citizen has been elevated to be his own “governor,” we ought to give that citizen the finest
education attainable. Everyone should be educated in the same way, because in a democracy
every man must make decisions about the same issues, and every man’s vote counts the same,
regardless of his socio-economic status. Hutchins wrote:
Liberal education was the education of rulers. It was the education of those who had
leisure. Democracy and industry, far from making liberal education irrelevant, make
it indispensable and possible for all people. Democracy makes every man a ruler, for
the heart of democracy is universal suffrage. If liberal education is the education that
rulers ought to have, and this I say has never been denied, then every ruler, that is
every citizen, should have a liberal education.
Hutchins’ educational prescription for America is straightforward: “Let us return to
the liberal tradition and training of the intellect which has characterized the education of the
ruling classes for over 2000 years.”
Needless to say, Hutchins’ ideas have caught on more in American colleges and
universities than in public schools. One reason for this is that colleges deal with a more
homogenous student body than public schools. For example, colleges have few if any
students with I.Q’s ranging from 70 to 90. Such students are plentiful in public schools, and
their teachers quite often find teaching them is a difficult challenge. Critics of perennialism
contend that low-ability students simply cannot master subjects such as logic and foreign
A Model Perennialist Curriculum:

In the 1930s, Robert Hutchins and other leading perennialist educators were given an
opportunity to practice what they had been preaching. At St. John’s College in Annapolis,
Maryland, they established what they considered to be the “ideal” perennialist liberal arts
curriculum. They intended for it to serve as a model for other colleges and secondary
schools. The Great Books Curriculum at St. John’s consisted of no textbooks at all, but
instead the 100 greatest books of the Western world. The list included The Illiad by Homer,
The Elements by Euclid, Summa Theologica by St. Thomas Aquinas, Principia by Isaac
Newton, Logic by Hegel, Das Capital by Karl Marx (not related to “Groucho”) and
Maxwell’s Electricity and Magnetism. The list of books did not contain any that were written
by contemporary authors. The entire emphasis was upon Western civilized thought. Students
would study about 25 books per year in seminar type classes taught by instructors from
several academic disciplines. The idea behind this curriculum was to give a thorough
saturation in the greatest thinking of the greatest minds. In this manner, the intellect would be
trained. In other words, by studying what St. Thomas Aquinas wrote, one could see how he
thought. In this way, one could develop his own powers of reasoning by emulating his
masters. Perennialists like Hutchins claim that our greatest failure in contemporary American
education is our retreat from pure reason and rigorous intellectual discipline.

Faculty Psychology:

Perennialists hold to a theory of learning that many consider outdated. All modern
educational psychology texts repudiate this theory. It is considered faculty psychology. This
view says that the human mind is divided into distinct functional parts or “faculties.”
According to this theory, the three main faculties are Reason, Memory, and Will. Each
“faculty” has sub-divisions, but these three main faculties represent the central powers of the
intellect. Of these three, perennialists view reason as the dominant human faculty.
Perennialists believe that whatever we do in school should exercise our faculties and thereby
strengthen them. This is analogous to strengthening a muscle by exercising it. Examples of
this kind of “intellectual workout” abound in practice. For example, one strengthens his
faculty of memory by memorizing the multiplication tables or “memory lines” from classical
poetry. In a similar way, a course in logic or plane and solid geometry can help strengthen
the faculty of reason. A very difficult or distasteful course - lets say Greek - can help
strengthen the will (will power). The author once was persuaded to take Latin II by a
perennialist educator even though he protested that he hated Latin I. This educator argued
that if you can make yourself do something well that you are pre-disposed to hate, then one
gains by developing self-discipline and a strengthened willpower.

Seating Arrangements:

As far as seating arrangements are concerned, the perennialist is a traditionalist, and

just like the essentialist, he favors orderly seating arrangements. For example, desks are
usually arranged in rows. It is okay if the desks are bolted to the floor. Students are usually
assigned to desks alphabetically by last names or in some other logical way. Seating charts
are frequently used to take class roll. These habits reflect the logical, impersonal and
systematic nature of the perennialist. Some type of orderly seating arrangement would
obviously make it easier for a teacher to learn students’ names. Quite frequently, however,
the perennialist won’t bother to learn names because he thinks familiarity with students leads
to an atmosphere of equality between teachers and students. He reasons that familiarity
would lessen the “social distance” between teacher and student and therefore might interfere
with learning. The perennialist firmly believes that the teacher should remain aloof from his
students, and his seating patterns reflect this view. Actor John Houseman who played
Professor Kingsfield on the TV series “The Paper Chase” serves as a good example of an
aloof teacher operating with a seating chart.

Ability Grouping:

Like the essentialists, the perennialists favor homogeneous grouping of students by

ability as a means of coping with individual differences among students. They don’t see
anything undemocratic about it. They say there is nothing undemocratic at all about
recognizing ability either in or out of school. After all, they reason, does not athletics operate
on a “star system”? Isn’t the same true for the performing arts? Therefore, what is wrong
with recognizing and giving special treatment to students with high academic aptitude? This
one issue- perhaps more than any other- really separates traditional (classical) educators from
progressive educators.

Subject Matter:

The perennialist shares the essentialist’s concern about teaching “the basics” in our
schools. However, he wants to emphasize those subjects that are primarily intellectual and
disciplinary in nature. This is so that the chief faculty of our minds – reason - can be
exercised and strengthened. Therefore, the perennialist wants to emphasize such subjects as:
logic; all kinds of mathematics, but particularly geometry; all kinds of foreign languages, but
particularly the classic ones - Latin and Greek; the sciences - particularly the “hard” (sciences
with very predictable natural occurrences) ones such as physics and chemistry; and finally
history. Subjects such as these - if properly taught - are supposed to help us learn how to
think and reason! This is because each of these subjects has a logical “structure” to it. For
example, in some languages verbs always begin the sentence and adjectives come after nouns
that they modify. In a similar way, there is a logical outcome to a chronological sequence of
historical events. Mathematics has certain “properties” such as commutative and associative
which always apply to various mathematical operations such as addition and multiplication.
Thus, by dealing with logical things, a student can learn to think logically in the abstract.

Preferred Teaching Methods and Materials:

Like the essentialists, perennialists use a lot of teacher telling. In other words, they
like the lecture method. However, it is not their favorite method. Perennialists frequently use
catechism. This is simply a refined version of the recitation method where the student
“lectures back” to the teacher. All of the questions relevant to the subject matter are ordered
and organized in a published list. Each question has one and only one correct answer. The
student commits both the question and the answer to memory. After this, there is a
catechetical recitation, which is basically a testing device to see if a student has memorized
his lesson. Although this method is used mainly in parochial schools (Ecclesiastical Neo-
Thomism), you can find evidence of its application to some extent in nearly every school.
For example, what else is memorizing the multiplication tables for the digits 0-9? The
student deals with certain ordered questions (e.g., what is 9 times 6; what is 9 times 7, what is
9 times 8?), which have only one correct answer. He memorizes both the questions and the
right answers for quick recall.
Perennialists also use a lot of drill as a teaching method. The assumption behind this
method is that we develop the mind just like the body - through exercise. Thus, we can
strengthen the mind by giving it “mental calisthenics,” according to perennialists. An
example of this is putting math problems on the board and having students work 2 or 3 every
day at the start of the period to develop their “thinking muscles.” This method is used a great
deal in plane geometry.
Perennialists generally don’t use demonstrations and they tend to think that the pupil
project method is a complete waste of time.
As far as teaching materials are concerned, perennialists, like the essentialists, use
books a great deal. About the only other kind of teaching material they use a great deal is the


The perennialist view on discipline is the same as that of the essentialist. They both
seek to impose a system of control on the student and back it up with an assortment of
punishers. They say that they must do this in order to facilitate learning.

Testing and Evaluation:

With the regard to testing and evaluation, perennialists tend to use both essay and
objective written examinations to see if their students’ minds have been disciplined to clear
thinking. In addition, perennialists do oral quizzing as, for example, when they listen to a
student recite a catechism.
Sometimes on their quizzes, perennialists like to use complicated word problems.
These problems combine mathematical skill and verbal reasoning. For example, the
following is a standard test question for 5th graders in Switzerland, where the educational
system is heavily influenced by perennialist ideology. See if you can solve it.
“A stock of pamphlets is in three piles. The first pile contains 1/6 of them, the second
pile contains several fifths of them; the third pile has 6 pamphlets. What is the total
number of pamphlets in the three piles combined?”*
*[“Some Lessons from Swiss Education,” by Harold Clapp, in Modern Age, II., No.1,
(winter, 1957-58), 10-17.]
As far as grading is concerned, perennialists and essentialists are alike in their
philosophical view. They both want to “maintain standards” and they will measure a
student’s performance against standards imposed by the teacher. Both perennialists and
essentialists are only concerned with grading and evaluating intellectual tasks. They have no
interest in making personality and trait assessments. They don’t evaluate a student’s social
and emotional development or his physical conditioning. These kinds of assessments are
beyond the role of the school.


Contemporary Theories of Education by Richard Pratte.

Philosophy and the American School by Van Cleve Morris.

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