About the Author

John P. Portelli

John P. Portelli, PhD, is a professor of education and co-director of the Centre for Leadership and Diversity at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto. He received his PhD from McGill University. Frequently invited to give keynote addresses and do workshops both nationally and internationally, Professor Portelli is also actively involved in higher-education policy work in Europe.

Books by this Author
Philosophy of Education

Philosophy of Education

Introductory Readings
also available: eBook
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This fourth edition, like its predecessors, is designed first and foremost to make available a collection of essays in philosophy of education that will offer preservice teachers a stimulating and accessible introduction to some of the most important issues in the field. Classroom teachers, school administrators, teacher educators, educational policy makers, graduate students, and general readers alike will also find this collection a valuable resource in connection with problems that relate to educational theory and practice. As with the earlier editions, and given our intended readership, we have included contributions that connect philosophical reflection with current debates concerning approaches to teaching, methods of assessment, the content of the curriculum, and many other practical matters that relate to schools and student learning. This reflects our belief that philosophical understanding is a vital aspect of professional development. We have chosen essays that will challenge readers to formulate their own views on matters that are the subject of lively discussion among philosophers and educators, and that are intended to encourage a thoughtful engagement with theories and practices that shape contemporary education.

What kinds of philosophical problems are taken up in these selections? Reflective teachers will quickly find themselves involved with difficult and important questions that clearly have great relevance for educational policy and practice. Along with our contributors, readers will surely wonder whether a certain kind of testing is appropriate, what limits there might be on a teacher’s conduct beyond the classroom, if and when it might be justifiable for a teacher to take a stand on a value issue, what would make a school or classroom democratic or socially just, how far we can rely on research findings about teaching, whether sensitive material should be discussed in class, what genuine dialogue involves, and so on. Such questions inevitably draw us into reflection on “common sense” views and assumptions about education and teaching that have been accepted without serious debate; they focus attention on the language we use to describe education, teaching, and schooling, and its influence on the way we understand and approach our work as educators; they require us to think more carefully about our educational aims and how they can be justified; moreover, they stimulate us to look for imaginative ways in which we might attempt to pursue our ideals or resolve dilemmas that we confront in our work.

In earlier editions, we put forward the view that philosophy of education involves a critical inquiry into educational concepts, values, and practices. Philosophy of education as critical inquiry means that philosophy itself is a practice that intrinsically raises critical awareness, encourages self-reflexivity, and contributes to the development of intellectual and moral virtues that are essential to good teaching. Our hope is that the selections included here will bear out these claims and show that critical reflection has an important bearing on practical educational decisions.

Student teachers and others encountering philosophy of education for the first time might wonder how best to approach these essays, knowing they will meet with controversial and provocative views and theories that may well conflict with their own ideas and values. Bertrand Russell remarks that if people “have a determination never to surrender certain philosophic beliefs, they are not in the frame of mind in which philosophy can be profitably pursued” (Russell, 1927, p. 299). This comment reminds us that we need to approach philosophical discussions with an open-minded outlook, ready to consider objections to our views and to revise them if we discover we are mistaken (Hare, 1979). Philosophy of education does not arrive at conclusions that all philosophers accept; philosophical ideas typically remain controversial and debatable. In the end, we must judge for ourselves, but this should come after we have given serious consideration to the best arguments we can find, and the conclusions we reach should be held in the same open-minded way. This attitude does not mean that we lack confidence in our beliefs or that we regard other beliefs as equally acceptable but that we see our ideas as open to revision in the light of further evidence and argument (Hare, 1993).

The topics, issues, and problems selected for inclusion in this volume are much discussed by philosophers of education today, and this has led to work of high quality that teachers and educators will find relevant and thought-provoking. Six major themes serve to organize the chapters into the various parts that comprise this collection. Each part has its own introduction providing an overview of the chapters in that group and drawing attention to important questions that arise from the discussion. In each part, readers will find there are arguments, insights, and examples that prove to be helpful in thinking about problems and issues that are discussed elsewhere in the book.



- Part I offers teachers provocative and informative perspectives on philosophy, theory, and practice. A central theme concerns the way in which philosophy and educational theory influence a teacher’s outlook and independent views.

- Part II turns to certain issues that arise in classroom teaching. Attention is focused on pedagogical situations and controversial areas where teachers need to make difficult choices guided by educational principles.

- Part III takes up issues that concern democracy and social justice. These essays prompt reflection on the ideals and values embedded in these notions and what it would mean to see them reflected in education and schooling.

- Part IV deals with matters related to standards, efficiency, and measurement in education. The arguments here raise concerns about assumptions and practices prevalent in contemporary schooling that threaten to undermine our educational aims.

- Part V explores issues relating to rights, freedoms, and conflicts in education. The problem of balancing conflicting rights and freedoms is examined, and the possibility of understanding others with different values is explored.

- Part VI presents certain general conceptions of education and teaching. These discussions challenge teachers to look critically at the somewhat narrow ways in which their work is often defined and to develop a deeper understanding of their role.

There is a wealth of material for discussion and debate in these essays. Student teachers may find it useful to supplement these readings with case studies related to teaching and education (Hare and Portelli, 2003); those who wish to read further in philosophy of education can readily do so and references are provided below.

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