January/February 2018 – Vol. 31 No. 2


Monday, September 19th, 2016

The Actual Need for a Philosophy of Education

by Joseph Calmer, Ed.D

As the year begins, it is time for science teachers to think about their approach to this coming year. This year is an important one too, because of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). The NGSS is in various stages of implementation across the state and among districts. The idea of NGSS is easy, but the actual practice of NGSS is difficult. Hopefully you’ve read the original framework ((NGSS Lead States, 2013). Maybe you’ve been able to read the California Draft Framework. When reading these tomes, you’ll probably find yourself agreeing with the authors. The teaching philosophy and pedagogy that frames the new standards are sound and are commensurate with current thoughts about teaching and learning (Bransford, Brown, Cocking, & ebrary, 1999; Hattie & Yates, 2013). The next step required for teachers is to turn theory into practice.

Transferring theory into practice is the hardest and most important step. Theorizing is fine, but the reality is that theory isn’t ‘taking attendance,’ ‘ordering supplies,’ ‘organizing classrooms,’ or any other of the myriad of things that go into classroom teaching. The reality is that something tangible has to be present for students to do. Creating the environment for learning is more about managing resources than theorizing. The notion of being a ‘reflective practitioner’ may seem more like an optional activity than a required one (Zeichner & Liston, 2013). Where does philosophy actually fit into a teachers’ daily list of tasks?

I enjoyed my credential program and talking about teaching. It seems like credential programs are where ‘educational philosophies’ are exclusively talked about. On the job, the discussions are more about copies, materials, desks, students, etc. The dialogues of philosophy are absent from teacher lounges. I am writing this to say that we need to revisit these talking points and bring them back to the forefront of our dialogues. I have been reading ­The Stone Reader and have been reminded of the interesting and importance of philosophy, especially for notions of teaching (Catapano & Critchley, 2015). The topics covered are succinct and allows for thought provoking inner dialogues. As a teacher, everything I do seems to ultimately relate back to my class. As I read the entries, I thought to myself “Man, I am really thinking here. How could I get my students to think this much?”

For example, here is a sample philosophical statement from W.V. Quine: “scientists (are) in search of an organized conception of reality”. As science teachers, we often talk about science theories, science facts, and the need for accurate data. Philosophy talks about perception and truth, things we take for granted, but really do affect the former. The objectivity of science is really dependent on the subjectivity of our senses and our frame of thought. N.R. Hanson talked about this in his paper about “Observation” (N. R. Hanson & Paul F. Schmidt, 1959). In “Observation”, Hanson explains how Tycho Brahe and Kepler both saw an orange disk in the sky. Kepler saw the Earth moving around the sun, but Tycho Brahe saw the sun move around the Earth. Hanson showed what one already “knows” and learns affects what they see. (It is a great article, and I was only exposed to it in a philosophy course.) To me, it is no wonder that “Natural Philosophy” became “Science”. As science teachers, I think it will serve us well to not forget our philosophical roots. This will allow us to think about our classes and act in accordance to our intended vision; ensuring students learn science.

Philosophy is often over looked as a practical subject and therefore not useful to the practical person. I would vehemently disagree. I think that if one takes the time to use the tools and canons of philosophy, they will be able to find their purposes and meanings of what they do (in the classroom). So, as we get the new year started, with a new set of standards, it’s the perfect time to approach our teaching practices differently. Philosophy is a tool to analyze our thinking. As one works, the “cow paths” of thought and practice are entrenched deeper and deeper (Norman, 2013). One rarely tends to stray from their comfortability of habit. By reading philosophy, one gets exposed to the obvious questions that we can’t see or think to ask ourselves. Philosophy really helps us find purpose, definitions, and meaning to the things we do and the thoughts we think. So, it may seem like a diversion to the litany of tasks that need to be done, but if you sit back and reflect on the purpose and meaning of what you are doing first, you may save time in the long run (and emerge better in the end for it).

Joseph Calmer is a physics and chemistry teacher at Lawndale High School and is a member of CSTA and its NGSS and Publications committees.


Bransford, J., Brown, A. L., Cocking, R. R., & ebrary, I. (1999). How people learn: brain, mind, experience, and school. Washington, D.C: National Academy Press.

Catapano, P., & Critchley, S. (2015). The Stone Reader: Modern Philosophy in 133 Arguments: Liveright.

Hattie, J., & Yates, G. C. R. (2013). Visible Learning and the Science of How we Learn (pp. 368).

  1. R. Hanson, A., & Paul F. Schmidt, R. (1959). Patterns of Discovery. American Journal of Physics, 27(4), 285. doi:10.1119/1.1934835

NGSS Lead States. (2013). Next Generation Science Standards: For States, By States. Washington, D.C.: Achieve, Inc. on behalf of the twenty-six states and partners that collaborated on the NGSS Retrieved from http://www.nextgenscience.org/next-generation-science-standards.

Norman, D. A. (2013). The Design of Everyday Things: Basic Books.

Zeichner, K. M., & Liston, D. P. (2013). Reflective Teaching: An Introduction: Taylor & Francis.