There is a large—and ever expanding—number of works designed to give guidance to the novice setting out to explore the domain of philosophy of education; most if not all of the academic publishing houses have at least one representative of this genre on their list, and the titles are mostly variants of the following archetypes: The History and Philosophy of Education, The Philosophical Foundations of Education, Philosophers on Education, Three Thousand Years of Educational Wisdom, A Guide to the Philosophy of Education, and Readings in Philosophy of Education. The overall picture that emerges from even a sampling of this collective is not pretty; the field lacks intellectual cohesion, and (from the perspective taken in this essay) there is a widespread problem concerning the rigor of the work and the depth of scholarship—although undoubtedly there are islands, but not continents, of competent philosophical discussion of difficult and socially important issues of the kind listed earlier. On the positive side—the obverse of the lack of cohesion—there is, in the field as a whole, a degree of adventurousness in the form of openness to ideas and radical approaches, a trait that is sometimes lacking in other academic fields.
The debate between liberals and communitarians is far more than a theoretical diversion for philosophers and political scientists. At stake are rival understandings of what makes human lives and the societies in which they unfold both good and just, and derivatively, competing conceptions of the education needed for individual and social betterment. (Callan and White 2003, 95–96)
The final complexity in the debates over the nature of educational research is that there are some respected members of the philosophy of education community who claim, along with Carr, that “the forms of human association characteristic of educational engagement are not really apt for scientific or empirical study at all” (Carr 2003, 54–5). His reasoning is that educational processes cannot be studied empirically because they are processes of “normative initiation”—a position that as it stands begs the question by not making clear why such processes cannot be studied empirically.
… The different justifications for particular items of curriculum content that have been put forward by philosophers and others since Plato's pioneering efforts all draw, explicitly or implicitly, upon the positions that the respective theorists hold about at least three sets of issues. First, what are the aims and/or functions of education (aims and functions are not necessarily the same)? Alternatively, as Aristotle asked, what constitutes the good life and/or human flourishing, such that education should foster these? (Curren, forthcoming)
… How students should be helped to become autonomous or develop a conception of the good life and pursue it is of course not immediately obvious, and much philosophical ink has been spilled on the matter. … Second, is it justifiable to treat the curriculum of an educational institution as a vehicle for furthering the socio-political interests and goals of a ruler or ruling class; and relatedly, is it justifiable to design the curriculum so that it serves as a medium of control or of social engineering? … Third, should educational programs at the elementary and secondary levels be made up of a number of disparate offerings, so that individuals with different interests and abilities and affinities for learning can pursue curricula that are suitable? Or should every student pursue the same curriculum as far as each is able—a curriculum, it should be noted, that in past cases nearly always was based on the needs or interests of those students who were academically inclined or were destined for elite social roles. Mortimer Adler and others in the late twentieth century sometimes used the aphorism “the best education for the best is the best education for all”.
Bertrand Russel “Education and the Social Order”