Essentialism in Education

Essentialism in education was a movement started by William C. Bagleyas in the 1930's. It was initiated to protest against the downfall of the standards of the schools. Those in favor of the movement hold the view that due to the movement the students benefitted from education standards necessary for a thriving future. These individuals have the opinion that the purpose of attending a school is to enable students to contribute meaningfully to the society. Essentialists do not agree with other styles of teaching. They also believe that the Progressive way is not helping students. The view of progressives is that education should be based on the interests of students through practical activity. Essentialists also hold the view that despite whether the students find a subject interesting or not, they should be channeled towards it as it is essential for their future.

Essentialism rests upon the philosophical ideas of realism and idealism. It demands that schools should not attempt to reshape the educational foundation of the society. Hence is refers to 'traditional' approach to education. It is a conservative philosophy that accepts political social and economic structure of the American society. It teaches students the 'essentials' of academic understanding and character building. In this chain of thought, it is also believed that traditional American virtues such as respect for authority, fidelity to duty, perseverance, and practicality should be instilled in all students.

The focus of coursework in essentialism is to teach the essentials of life. It teaches how to survive, how to be productive, and how to live as proper members of the society. It includes subjects such as the study of the natural and surrounding environment, basic natural laws, and disciplines that encourage students to live a happy life. It also instills patriotism within students and uses traditional approaches to develop character of students. Essentialism firmly believes that basic subjects should be taught and impractical subjects should not be part of the curriculum. The purpose of schools in essentialism is to teach the culture's traditions and past to students. It also provides knowledge and skills needed to be successful in a technological and democratic society. The subjects usually include the following:

  • Natural sciences
  • History
  • Foreign language
  • Literature

The Classroom Environment

  • Most basic academic skills and knowledge should be imparted to all students
  • Skills such as reading, writing, computers, and measurement should be taught to elementary students
  • Subjects usually focus on creativity, apart from art and music
  • In the classroom, the students are provided a bundle of information and techniques to enable them to transition from less to more complex knowledge and skills.
  • Classrooms are usually centered on the teacher, who acts as an intellectual and ethical role model for the students.

The assessments conducted under essentialism serve a number of purposes. These enable teachers to determine whether goals of education are being met or not. They also help teachers to evaluate whether students pay proper attention in class and whether they understand the required course material or not. Finally, the assessments are carried out as many aspects of a student's education are affected by them.


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