header image

Idealism vs. Realism: Week 4 Reflection

The School of Athens

by Raphael

Center Left: Plato (pointing upward to the intellectual environemnt of the mind; Center Right Aristotle (pointing outward, a reflection of the objective reality)


Philosophy is integral to everyday life and in educational institutions.  Through understanding the etymology of the word philosophy, “philo” meaning love and “sophos” meaning wisdom one could define philosophy as the love of wisdom and knowledge.  A more basic and modern definition of philosophy can be found through the Merriam-Webster Online dictionary as being “the most basic beliefs, concepts, and attitudes of an individual or group.”  Thinking of both explanations of philosophy, it is easy to see why it is so important to modern education.  Many of the modern-day American public school purposes are to teach students about the world around them through the core academic subject areas while also instilling a desire to learn. Personally, one of my chief goals as an elementary teacher is to instill a love and passion for learning in my students.  Through my own beliefs and the basic intellectual purpose of public schools, philosophy touches every aspect of education and should be considered at length.

Many differing philosophies have been developed over the years in regards to education and learning: Idealism, Realism, Pragmatism, Existentialism, and Postmodernism to name a few from our class textbook.  The first two philosophies, Idealism and Realism are to be analyzed for the purpose of my reflection.

Idealism, founded by ancient Greek philosopher Plato (428-347 BCE) in the context of education, begins with the belief that reality is spiritual or mental and unchanging and that knowing is the recall of latent ideas already existing (Ornstein, Levin, & Gutter, 2001, p. 169) in the humans mind and spirit prior to birth.  For an idealist, the spiritual essence of humans give them the ability to think and feel, and therefore release suppressed knowledge in their minds.  Idealists believe that truth and values are universal, absolute, and eternal to all humans (Ornstein, Levin, & Gutter, 2001, p. 169) and all whom are willing may achieve that intellectual development and knowledge.  Take an excerpt from The Parable of the Cave, a selection from Plato’s Republic, Book VII written by Socrates in the context of how idealism is influential to education:

“Whereas, our argument shows that the power and capacity of learning exists in the soul already; and that just as the eye was unable to turn from darkness to light without the whole body, so too the instrument of knowledge can only by the movement of the whole soul be turned from the world of becoming into that of being, and learn by degrees to endure the sight of being, and of the brightest and best of being, or in other words, of the good.”

It is through this excerpt I feel that Idealism and how it relates to education can be seen.  This passage reflects the idealist philosophy that the capacity of learning is already embodied within each human being and that knowing those innate ideas and achievement of intellectual enlightenment can occur when a person opens their mind’s eyes to the truth.  The allegory touched upon the harsh reality of learning and knowing the truth that it may be frightening at first to open your mind to the unknown.  Idealist would argue that yes knowing it is frightening at first (as it was for the people from the cave to have their eyes burned by the sunlight) however as you learn more and are exposed to the real world, knowing the truth becomes easier and easier.  According to the textbook in class, idealists believe that the “educational process of searching within for the truth is intended to stimulate students to create a broad, general, and unifying perspective of the universe.” (Ornstein, Levin, & Gutter, 2001, p.171)  Thinking of this idealist take on education while also considering what I believe to be the above-mentioned American public school’s purpose (teach students about the world around them through the core academic subject areas while also instilling a desire to learn) idealism can be integrated into the classroom easily.  The fundamental idealist philosophy is to open one’s mind to the unknown and through deep inward reflection and outward seeing knowing can be achieved.  In the classroom, I would implement this philosophy simply by asking children to express their feelings about a particular concept and be open and supportive of every student’s unique beliefs.


Realism stems from Plato’s student Aristotle (384-322 BCE) and is an educational philosophy asserting that reality is outside of our minds and not latent within one’s spiritual body or mind (Ornstein, Levin, & Gutter, 2001, p. 173). In opposition of idealist thinkers, realists believe that there is a world made up of physical objects and that the human mind can know about the real world. According to realists, reality is objective and exists independently of us but we can know it (Ornstein, Levin, & Gutter, 2001, p. 169).  For the purpose of this blog assignment, I am to consider this question from a realist perspective: If a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to hear it, would it make a noise?  Based on my understanding of realism, my answer would be “Yes.” A realist believes that learning occurs by making decisions based on knowing the concrete outside world.  A realist would claim that there would be no need to be next to a falling tree to know it makes a sound.  If one witnessed a tree falling in the forest, they would hear it hit the forest floor. Through inductive reasoning, one would argue that through scientific experimentation they listened to a tree fall ten times and each time it made a noise; If then, of the eleventh time the tree fell, they were not in the forest to witness it fall, it would still make a noise based on their previous observations.  A realist wouldn’t need to verify the truth that a sound was made by a falling tree because true reality exists separate from human perception.  Someone who has studied the noise falling trees make can conceptualize what the noise would sound like and know that it still made noise.

In the classroom, realist philosophy is always integrated through the studies of organized subjects such as history, science, english, mathematics, etc. A realist’s purpose of education is to “provide students with knowledge about the objective world in which they live, to prepare them to make rational decisions, informed by knowledge” (Ornstein, Levin, & Gutter, 2001, p. 175).  The public school classroom in the United States has had these mentioned core subjects integrated into curriculum early in its history.  Because the American classroom today still teaches these realist approved subjects, it will always be integrated into school.

In my opinion both Idealism and Realism are extremely important philosophies to be used in congruence in the classroom.  A realist education provides the framework of academic subjects to learn and a means for students to explore in their own minds the purpose and importance of each subject.  I believe that idealism is important to integrate into the classroom because it teaches students to make their own decisions and form personal, unique opinion.  After thinking about idealism and realism in the context of modern-day education, I hope to find a way to incorporate both philosophies into my classroom to shape my students into well-rounded learners.



Ornstein, A. C., Levine, D. U., & Gutek, G. L. (2011). Foundations of Education   (11th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.

Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/philosophy

The Parable of the Cave: A selection from Plato’s Repulblic, Book VII:  http://www.mnstate.edu/gracyk/courses/web%20publishing/Plato%27sCave.htm









~ by hgluchow on .


Comments are closed.