CURRICULUM DEVELOPMENT: Are you able to identify some of the beliefs concerning values, which are held by educators who belong to the school of essentialism?



3b i). Identify some of the beliefs concerning values, which are held by educators who belong to the school of essentialism


Historically, essentialism and progressivism have succeeded in commanding education in the western world. But essentialism is the more powerful than the progressivism. It was only in the early 1950’s specifically 1957 the year of sputnic that the progressivism emerged for a short time as the victor among the world philosophies of education. This did not last long. During the 1970’s upto now, essentialism has proven that it was not the looser but the leader.

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Progressivism also known as

pragmatism, swept through the educational structure of America challenging the time- honoured doctrines of essentialism. This movement was led by John Dewey, Willian H. Kilpatrick, John Childs, George S. Counts (Faculty Members at Teachers College, Columbia University). Boyd Bodode the progressivist maintained that it was time to subordinate subject matter to the learner. Borrowing from time European philosophers like Rousseau who advocated rearing a child in a relaxed environment without forcing learning, the progressivists created the child – centered school. John Dewey formulated progressive beliefs in a series of publications that included among others Democracy and Education, Experiences and Education. How we think and My pedagogic Creed progressivists captured the attention of educators when they insisted that the needs and interests of learners bring their bodies, needs and interests or learners bring their bodies, emotions and spirits to school with their minds.


Progressivists view education not as a product to be learned (e.g. facts, and motor skills) but as a process that continues as long as one lives. To their way of thinking a child  learns best when actively absorbing presented content. If experiences in school are designed to meet the needs and interests of individual learners, it follows that no single pattern of subject matter can be appropriate to all learners.

At the heart of progressivism thinking is an abiding faith in democracy. Hence the progressivists see little place of authoritarian practices in the classroom and the school. Teachers who are influenced by progressive thinking see themselves as counselors to pupils and facilitators of learning rather than expounders of the subject matter. Cooperation is fostered in the classroom rather than competition.

Individual growth in relationship to one’s ability is considered more important than growth in comparison to others.


Diagram 1 Ancient Education Philosophers

Philosophy Area Knowledge Curriculum Content
Idealism Rethinking latent (spiritual concepts) Knowledge based humanities    
Realism Natural laws scientific Inquiry sensations abstraction Humanistic and science-based subject
Pragmatism Experience based scientific

Inquiry change in knowledge Environmental knowledge

Problems solving subjects preparation for change
Existentialism Altitude-based Ego-centrism Subject knowledge  personal Choice Affective subject matter emotion Aesthetics value judgment
Epistemology Originality Truth Nature of truth
Axiology Goodness worth, interest


Learner centered subject matter
Logic Reason Order Anxious Deductive and Inductive forms of inquiry


Diagram 2 Modern Education Philosophers

Philosophical Area Knowledge Curriculum Content
Perennialism Past and permanent studies Classical subjects literary analysis
Mastery of concepts and Constant curriculum
Principles of subject matter
Essentialism essential skills mastery of Essential skills such language
Concepts principles of matter
subject matter
Progressivism Growth and development Student-based Interdisciplinary
Living and learning process Subject matter methods of
and relevant learning. instruction.
Reconstruction skills and subjects for Emphasis on social sciences,
change. Problem solving Research methods problems and
and focus on Education. issues.


You should note that philosophy is a basis for curriculum decisions.

A concern for the many unresolved problems of democracy led to a split in the progressive movement with a group calling itself, “Reconstructionists” advocating that schools become the instrument for building a new social order.

It has been mentioned that the perenialist considers truth to be absolute, enduring, and found in the wisdom of the past; the essentialist regards truth as relative, changing and in many cases as yet to be discovered. Education for the pragmatist is continuing search for the truth utilizing whatever sources are needed to discover that truth.

Activity 12

Identify some of the beliefs concerning values, which are held by educators who belong to the school of progressivists.



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