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The Primacy Paradox

Posted By: Jeff McCullers on April 26, 2002
Midway through my career as a educator, I find myself increasingly concerned with what I think of as a "primacy paradox" concerning the social foundations of education in general, and philosophy of education in particular.

The paradox, as I see it, follows from my sense that teaching, like all professions chiefly concerned with human growth, health, and development, must be reflective and self-aware and fully autocatalytic. In order for a profession to be these things, it needs to have a clear and unambiguous understanding of its philosophical roots. In other words, I believe that the philosophy of education ought to be held to have primacy over other professional components, such as curriculum, instruction, and so on.

As an educator, I am very concerned with the nature of knowledge, of the nature of the student and the teacher and of the nature of their relationship to one another, of the rights of the individual vs. the needs of the state, of ethics and morality, of logic and epistemology, of political and economic theory, and of the history of ideas. I believe that a sustained professional study in the philosophy of education would bring better understanding of these concerns, and would then inform all other aspects of education, such as curriculum or instruction. In this sense, I hold the philosophy of education as the foundation for all other educational studies and enterprises. This is what I think of as the "primacy" of the philosophy of education in our work.

However, I do not find that there is any understanding of such primacy for most educators. The paradox is that those people who ought to care the most of all about the philosophy of education (teachers, principals, and parents first, but many others right behind) are precisely those people with the least access to current issues in this field, with the least regard for its primacy, and with the least incentive to address this circumstance in any way whatsoever.

Why is this, and why must it be so? How have we come so far on this path for so long yet still have so many educators regard the philosophy of education as merely a tedious preservice elective? What has this paradox cost us?

I'm bewildered, and curious as to how we got here, and fearful of where we might be headed.

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 The Primacy Paradox by Jeff McCullers on April 26, 2002
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