Idealism vs. Realism

“And if at whiles the bubble, blown too thin,

Seem nigh on bursting,—if you nearly see

The real world through the false,—what do you see?

Is the old so ruined? You find you’re in a flock

O’ the youthful, earnest, passionate—genius, beauty…”

Robert Browning, Mr. Sludge, “The Medium” 


Allegory of a Cave

XKCD (created by a fellow alum of the Math/Science Center I graduated from in Va.)

Society is constantly questioning: what is knowledge? What defines reality? Idealism believes that reality is constant and unchanging (Ornstein, Levine, & Gutek, 2011).  The creator of idealism, Plato, believed that in order to answer these questions, students need to study the canonical books and the great works of art that each capture a piece of truth within it (Ornstein et al., 2011).  His seventh book of the Republic, “The Allegory of the Cave,” discussed humans who had lived in a cave all their lives.  One day, a man is dragged up the hill into the sunlight and, never having seen the “light” before, becomes distressed and overwhelmed.  Plato discussed what would happen when the man returned to the cave.  Would the remaining people believe him and follow him?  Plato stated, “remember that the eyes can become confused in two different ways, as a result of two different sets of circumstances: it can happen in the transition from light to darkness, and also in the transition from darkness to light,” (Plato, 375 B.C.E.).

Do we ever find the “light,” or really “know” reality?  This question can be distressing to answer in regards to the educational system.  Which books are considered canonical?  Which subjects lead us closer to the truth?  We have developed a rigorous curriculum, but have we left anything out that might be crucial in our journey as teachers to help our students find the “truth”?


If a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to hear it, would it make a noise?

Realism—the theory that asserts that reality is outside of our minds—proposes that the tree DOES exist and still makes a noise, regardless if a person hears it or not. Realism was developed by another major ancient Greek philosopher, Artistotle (Ornstein et al., 2011).

I agree with Realism’s three major assertions that there DOES exist a reality full of objects not made by people, that humans can get to know this reality, and that this knowledge can be relied upon to guide individual/group social behavior (Ornstein et al., 2011).  For example,  many trees have fallen in vast jungles before humans have explored them, but have still existed prior to human exploration.  Humans have different theories and perceptions of reality, but all of these differences are all versions of the same existence.



Ornstein, A. C., Levine, D. U., Gutek, G. L., & Vocke, D. E. (2011). Foundations   of Education. (11 ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Pub Co.

Plato. (375 B.C.E.). Republic. In V.B. Leitch (Ed.), The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, 2001 (pp.64-67). New York & London: Norton & Company.


Historically Influential Educators


Jan Komensky (1592-1670), also known as Comenius, was an influential educator who lived during Europe’s post-Reformation religious wars between Catholics and Protestants (Ornstein, Levine, Gutek & Vocke, 2011).  His teaching method prescribed teaching lessons appropriate to children’s natural stages of development, in addition to a curriculum that emphasized gradual, cumulative steps in learning (Ornstein et al., 2011).  He greatly influenced later educators, such as Rousseau, Pestalozzi, Montessori and Dewey (Ornstein et al., 2011).  Comenian principles can be applied to current teaching practice, including (Ornstein et al., 2011):

  • Using objects or pictures to convey concepts
  • Relating lessons to students’ practical lives
  • Presenting lessons directly and simply
  • Emphasizing general principles before delving into subject matters
  • Presenting lessons in sequence, stressing one thing at a time
  • Making sure all students understand the subject/specific skill before continuing

Comenian principles help to prepare modern-day teachers to respect universal human rights and dignity, along with cultural and religious diversity (Ornstein et al., 2011).  By participating in pre-service preparation—such as student teaching—Comenius taught teachers to recognize children’s stages of development (Ornstein et al., 2011).

Piaget, another influential figure in teaching history, also prepared teachers to recognize important cognitive development stages, including the sensorimotor, pre-operational, concrete-operational, and formal-operational stages (Ornstein et al., 2011). These stages were characterized by the child’s set of mental structures and operations at a specific age, with each stage building on the next to create a more complex world map (Ornstein et al., 2011).  As a future middle school teacher, I will focus on the transition in cognitive development from middle childhood to adolescence.


Ornstein, A. C., Levine, D. U., Gutek, G. L., & Vocke, D. E. (2011). Foundations   of Education. (11 ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Pub Co.

My Teaching Philosophy

The Thinker

Shown above is one of my favorite sculptures: The Thinker by Auguste Rodin.  In order to gain a masterful teaching philosophy, a teacher must constantly stop to think and reassess not only their teaching philosophy, but also the reality of how the philosophy is put into place in the classroom.  Aristotle’s theories on education are at the core of my own teaching philosophy, among many other ideas gathered from various philosophers, from ancient China to modern-day America.

Aristotle argued that the purpose of education was to produce liberally educated, rational citizens who used their rationality in governing society (Ornstein et al., 2011).  He believed that a liberal arts education enlarged a person’s world view, consciousness, and therefore, choices (Ornstein et al., 2011).  Ornsetin et al. discussed Aristotle’s views on education and presented the question, “How do we know what knowledge and skills we will use in the future?” (2011).

This is a question students CONSTANTLY discuss with teachers and among their peers: WHAT is the ultimate purpose of what we are learning?  By being able to develop a teaching philosophy, I will be able to better address these issues.

My teaching philosophy can be defined with select Confucian educational principles.  Overall, I do not agree with the Confucian concept of hierarchical relationships, in which some individuals are thought to be superior and others subordinate.  However, I do like how Confucius had a well-defined classroom management system and had high expectations for his students (Ornstein et al., 2011).  I believe that under a successful classroom management system, all students will be able to learn to a greater extent.  For example, I would enact a set of classroom rules at the beginning of the year.  I have observed a system of demerits in the Spotsylvania County School System that have been used quite successfully.  Instead of sending a student straight to the principal’s office (unless, of course, it is an extreme act), each student had a demerits card that when filled they were assigned a higher level punishment.  This allowed for a system in which class could continue smoothly even in the presence of a demerit being given, without taking away from class time.  Students had been told the rules of this classroom management system from the beginning of the year, in addition to reminder signs hung up around the classroom.  Positive reinforcement for good behavior (i.e., praising students for quietly completing their assigned task) would be the ultimate focus of the classroom management system, with the demerit system explained and used only when needed.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote an excellent essay titled “The Purpose of Education” in his college paper, the Maroon Tiger (1947).  King described the purpose of education as two-fold, “the function of education, therefore, is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically,” (1947).  Education, according to King, teaches students to shift through propaganda and evaluate evidence for themselves, as stated, “Education must enable one to sift and weigh evidence, to discern the true from the false, the real from the unreal, and the facts from the fiction,” (1947). This asserts another crucial component of my teaching philosophy: to teach students the skills necessary to be able to think, evaluate, and apply skills learned in the classroom.  For example, it is necessary not only to learn simple addition skills in the classroom, but also to apply these skills in real life situations, such as tipping a waiter in a restaurant.



King, M. (1947). The Purpose of Education. The Maroon Tiger. Morehouse College.

Ornstein, A. C., Levine, D. U., Gutek, G. L., & Vocke, D. E. (2011). Foundations   of Education. (11 ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Pub Co.

So I Want to be a Teacher…

I discovered my passion for teaching last year.  I attended the University of Virginia’s Communication Disorders Program and realized as I progressed through my internships that I loved the teaching aspect of therapy the most.  I took classes in the areas of Special Education, as well as Psychology and Linguistics, which will aide in my ability to teach diverse classrooms.

Last August, I started substitute teaching at Fredericksburg City, Spotsylvania County and Stafford County Public Schools.  I confirmed my interest in teaching, especially in the middle school setting.  I have not only been teaching within the school system, but also volunteering as the Lead Teacher for my church’s middle school youth group.  My experiences with the youth group have been phenomenal.

When it comes down to a simple reason for why do I want to teach, I would just say this: I want to help children learn and be able to hold a job in which I feel as if I am contributing toward society.  Ironically enough, this is exactly in line with the most common motives for teaching, as stated by Ornstein et al. (2011).

I have also always had an insatiable love for learning.  I attended a Mathematics & Science Magnet School before I completed my B.A. in Linguistics at UMW.  Most people cannot believe that (shockingly) I am interested in BOTH the sciences and the humanities.  I hope to pass this passion for learning on to my future students.

As I was completing my readings, it struck me that several theoretical ideas Dewey discusses in chapter one will be crucial in shaping my teaching philosophy.  Dewey (1997) discusses how “progressive” education uses books as resources, rather than solely the teacher as means to the source of knowledge by stating, “many of the newer schools tend to make little or nothing of organized subject-matter of study; to proceed as if any form of direction and guidance by adults were an invasion of individual freedom,” (p.22).  However, the “traditional” form of education, as stated by Dewey (1997), “imposes adult standards, subject-matter, and methods upon those who are only growing slowly toward maturity,” (p.19).  By contemplating both of these views on education and advancing my own education in the UMW program, I will further structure my own teaching philosophy.


Dewey, J. (1997). Experience and Education. (pp.19-22). New York: Free Press.

Ornstein, A. C., Levine, D. U., Gutek, G. L., & Vocke, D. E. (2011). Foundations of Education. (11 ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Pub Co.