Encyclopedia of Teacher Education

Living Edition
| Editors: Michael A. Peters

Philosophy and Teacher Education

  • Bruce HaynesEmail author
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-13-1179-6_14-1


This entry concerns philosophy of education (particularly as epistemology, ethics, and logic) and the role it may usefully play in improving teacher education (both pre-service and in-service). The focus is less on psychologizing education centered on learning and more on philosophizing education centered on doing. Wittgenstein, Dewey, and Harre are the wellsprings of this approach, but they should not be held to account for any misinterpretations, misconceptions, or mistakes contained herein.

Philosophy of Education

In teaching philosophy of education in 1970, the text (Kneller, G.F., Introduction to Philosophy of Education) expounded the tenets of idealism, realism, pragmatism, etc. and identified “implications” for education. J.L. Austin noted that philosophy should not be a historical study of the work of other philosophers but should be a study of problems using the work of those philosophers. Philosophy of education seemed ideally suited to this problem-based approach but could be rendered irrelevant to the needs of teacher education students if all they encountered were memorizing exercises and learning the canons of the field, i.e., being able to regurgitate various author’s positions on general problems in education. Doing philosophy of education, seemed to be both more interesting for the students and more likely to challenge their established ways of thinking and ways of doing things. For teacher education students to be able to tease out the philosophical elements of the problems actually facing them and the schools in which they worked, doing philosophy of education helped them address those problems effectively enough to be able to make justifiable decisions. If those courses could help the student recognize that their decisions were provisional, in that there was more work to be done by them in the future to improve the basis on which decisions were to be made, then so much the better. Such philosophy of education could contribute significantly to the development of a teacher education student’s coherent identity and consistent style as a teacher.

Knowledge is central to teacher education whether in the form of pedagogic knowledge or knowledge in the curriculum subjects. A theory of knowledge would thus seem important to teacher education. The question is whether the theory is made explicit or simply assumed. When explicit it may be explained, queried, and defended. When assumed, the theory of knowledge is imposed by others and outside the scope of teacher educators’ and teachers’ scrutiny.

In the face of the challenge of radical individual relativism (private languages), a standard defense has been to reassert the primacy of forms of conditional knowledge with emphasis on the truth condition. This has recently been reinforced by more widespread and systematic emphasis on critical thinking with the truth condition of premises in an argument as the lynchpin.

Recent work (Haynes 2016) has begun an exploration of the possibility that “trust” within traditions of human endeavor may be a more worthwhile epistemological investigation than reassertion of “truth” with its oft-discussed limitations. This parallels the shift in philosophy of science from determining what is an acceptable theory on the basis of logic (e.g., falsification) to standards based on the study of decisions made by reputable scientists. If teachers and teacher educators were to explore the actual trust relations existing in successful school practices, this would provide the epistemological basis for sound pedagogical knowledge. If teachers and teacher educators became familiar with the actual trust relations existing in the successful traditions underpinning the curriculum subjects, this would provide an understanding of the epistemological basis for making judgments in those traditions. In all cases it is a matter of identifying what conditions of trust are sufficient in particular circumstances for specific purposes and recognizing the contingent nature of those conditions. In this way it would be possible to accord respect for the judgments made by successful practitioners in schools and other traditions. Teacher education would help students see situations as an educator and enhance the capacity of teacher education students to make educational judgments in actual situations. It would also make clear how practitioners cope in situations where adequate trust conditions cannot be met and what further work is required by researchers and others to improve such situations.

Ethics in philosophy of education could help teacher education students identify, understand, and appreciate their moral career as individuals and teachers. Harre (1979, p. 312) defines moral career as “the social history of a person with respect to the attitudes of respect and contempt that others have to them and their understanding of these attitudes.” Occupational careers are described in terms of skill, training, performance, institutional position, honors, failures, disgraces, and suchlike. Apart from appreciating the moral context of schooling and the teacher education program of which they are a part, ethics can help student teachers become more aware of their own ethical reasoning. It may make them aware of alternatives (consistency, consequences, or care) so as to improve their capacity to justify their actions to others and to engage in a meaningful way in the development of the moral life of those in their charge. Combining study of ethics as part of philosophy of education with study of history, sociology, politics, law, etc. of education, teacher education students would be better placed to combine their public institutional career with their personal moral career and thereby improve their life as a teacher.

A criticism of Harre’s “moral career” notion is that empirical investigation into such a diverse and multilayered entity (much like “trust in traditions”) will not be able to yield a satisfactory, particular, and definitive result, unlike the right action and the truth. A defense of both “moral career” and “trust” is that particular empirical investigations in specific circumstances for identified purposes can be usefully guided by “moral career” and “trust” as heuristics and the investigation pursued until a contingently satisfactory result is obtained or time and tide prevail. Pursuing the truth and seeking the definitive right action is more like Hunting of the Snark than a worthwhile human activity.

One might consider replacing “mechanism” as the root metaphor in psychology with “action” in the context of identity narrative in a career (institutional and moral), that is, replace “the student learning” with “I am doing.”

Problems with “learning” arrive with requirements, for example, for each student to produce a “learning log.” Does this mean recording every time when one learned something? Would one have to record his or her every perceptual recognition (there is a chair beside me), everything learned in the unit (I am confused), or everything learned about the unit content? Notwithstanding any clarification of the foregoing, are we aware of, or have we ever been able to identify, learning taking place? Does it mean one has to record how he or she learned something in the unit or elsewhere? If we are not aware of learning taking place, we are unlikely to be able to identify how we were learning. One could record what he or she did to either attempt to learn or to learn something. Does this mean one has to record why he or she learned something, either as an explanation of process or as a reason for action? Does it mean one has to record what he or she had learned? That is not a log of “learning” but a list of things one has done, “I have learned something.”

Children in schools are students of “something” attempting to become better at “something,” not learners per se, not subjects for teachers wishing to base their practice on research, and most certainly not clients. Teachers initiate, guide, assist, instruct, exemplify, assess, and motivate, and, a whole lot of other things, students in the “something” tradition so that they may become better at doing “something.” While it is true that students may be described as “learning,” either at some discernable point in the process or as a feature of the process as a whole, learning is not the point of teaching. Rather, doing something better is the point of teaching, and it is what a teacher can assist and assess.

Harre in Belli et al (2015, p. 759/762)

rejoices in the fact that he has been able to “keep a distance from academic psychology which has become trapped in a faulty methodology and a primitive metaphysics…. A certain paradigm has become entrenched in the profession including easily carried out studies with a small number of students and other volunteers, and the use of statistical packages to analyze the results. This work is almost uniformly bad science, but publications like this in a flood attract what is called “impact”, that is citations by people doing the same thing. Until we abandon impact for insight, psychology will, in the large, continue to generate shelves full of descriptions of artifacts of a faulty method. The step forward is simple: give up events and causes and turn instead to meanings and rules and story-lines.

Jerome Bruner (1986) had previously drawn a distinction between the narrative mode of understanding and the paradigmatic, a more abstract scientific, mode. The meanings, rules, story lines, or narrative make sense within context and enable people to make sense of each other in their world and do things. Landenhove (2017) indicates a moral order approach that identifies “a set of rules and habits that shape what people can and will do in a certain situation.”

Philosophy of education can help teacher education shake off the false hope of a “science of teaching” that generates a list of recipes of “what works” and enable teacher educators and student teachers to focus on the contingent factors involved in doing the practical work of an educator.

What we do is done within traditions of human practices. How well it is done is judged by the rules, procedures, and standards of those traditions. The school curriculum is a selection of human practices into which teachers seek to initiate students and enhance their ability to do well. The teacher serves both as an exemplar and as the one whose task is to take students from where they are as beginning practitioners to become better able to do what is acceptable and trusted in the tradition. It is assumed that all practitioners in any tradition strive to do better and this requires reflection on what is to be done and what has been done. This reflection uses the established practices of the tradition, but, in some cases, these are inadequate and in need of change. All practitioners therefore need to be reflective in order to do well and enable the tradition to thrive. A distinctive contribution of philosophy of education to this reflection is to enhance teacher education students’ appreciation of and competence in logical argument. Engagement with critical thinking and the community of inquiry associated with philosophy for children are two ways the need for logical argument may be highlighted and students’ competence may be enhanced.

Teacher educators face two related but contrasting tasks. They need to initiate pre-service teacher education students and in-service teachers into the current practices of the schools in which they work. They also need to provide these students with an enhanced ability to reflect critically upon current practices, to evaluate proposed innovations, and to implement better ways of educating.

Pre-service teacher education students in universities benefit from continuing practical experience in schools that they can use to understand and critique what is provided for them in their course of studies in the way that in-service teachers do as a result of their employment. Teacher educators benefit from grounding their courses (including units of philosophy of education) in students’ continuing practical experiences that enable them to identify the trust relations and moral behavior central to their successful practice. Teacher education courses benefit from including academic units (including philosophy) providing more depth of understanding in support of the applied units related to schools.

Harre in Belli et al (2015, p. 762) is:

profoundly sceptical of the idea of social reform by structural change … it is the discursive practices of people that are the core of regimes, malevolent or benevolent. If you want to change the social world you must change the discourse practices that shape it!

Teacher education is the way to change the educational discourse used by teachers and to provide means to resist competing discourses.
Jensen and Harre claim (2011, p. 191/2):

the near term future will bombard civilization with ideas, situations and stories which may seem false, alien or just plain strange. We may well be entering an “Era of Irrationality”…. when we only venture into known territory, we see the same sights and receive the same stimuli. Absent new thoughts and ideas, especially those that challenge our view of the world, our critical faculties decline. We lose our ability to step back from our accustomed ways and examine their viability. It should not surprise us, then, if the twenty-first century becomes suffused with all manner of conspiracy theories … ethnic conflict … or worse. Of course, if computers increasingly develop the capacity to reason as some experts believe, their ability to discern the “rational” may assist us with our decision making. The question is, to what extent will we allow them to act as surrogate “trusted confidants?” If they speak. will we bother to listen?

If President Trump is the harbinger of the Era of Irrationality and incoming teacher education students can no longer trust those in universities who seek to challenge them with new thoughts, ideas, and new ways of doing things not currently seen in schools the students have experienced, how can teacher education help them develop their rational capacity to develop their institutional career and personal moral career in the schools in which they work? This is not a new issue for teacher educators, there has always been the common advice to forget the theory taught at universities and uncritically adopt the practice of contemporary schools. However, changed ways of thinking by students and university administration together with political pressure from parents and politicians may bring about a qualitative change in the difficulty facing those who see teacher education as producing effective reflective practitioners.


  1. Belli, S., Aceros, J. C., & Harre, R. (2015). “Its all discursive!” crossing boundaries and crossing words with rom Harre. Journal of Universitas Psychologica, 14(2), 755–768. http://revistas.javeriana.edu.co/index.php/revPsycho/article/viewFile/10683/12567Google Scholar
  2. Bruner, J. (1986). Actual minds, possible worlds. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Harre, R. (1979). Social being: A theory for social psychology. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.Google Scholar
  4. Haynes, B. (2016). Trust and schooling. Educational Philosophy and Theory.  https://doi.org/10.1080/00131857.2016.1237346.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Jensen, C., & Harre, R. (2011). Beyond rationality: Contemporary issues. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.Google Scholar
  6. Landenhove, L.V. (2017). Varieties of moral orders and the dual structure of society: A perspective from positioning theory. Frontiers in Sociology. http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fsoc.2017.00009/full

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Charles Darwin UniversityDarwinAustralia

Section editors and affiliations

  • Liz Jackson
    • 1
  • Janet Orchard
  • Cong Lin
  1. 1.University of Hong KongHong KongChina