Book Review of Philosophy of Education (3rd Edition) by Nel Noddings

Book Review of Philosophy of Education (3rd Edition) by Nel Noddings

By Timothy Dohrer

Book Review of Philosophy of Education (3rd Edition) by Nel Noddings

Noddings, N. (2012). Philosophy of Education, 3rd ed. Boulder, CO: Westview.

In my search for a text I could use for a course on social contexts of schools, I came across Nel Noddings’ book Philosophy of Education and wondered how I had never read it before. Originally published in 1995, the text attempts to summarize how major philosophers and traditions have influenced or explored education. The result is a dense but readable survey of education philosophy that suffers from too much name-dropping and not enough examples of practical application.

The structure of the book is essential to its impact on the reader. Noddings spends the first chapter covering philosophers before the Twentieth Century who have commented on or influenced education, including Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Rousseau, Pestalozzi, Herbart, and Froebel. From there she devotes an entire chapter to the most famous (and possibly most influential) philosopher of the Twentieth Century: John Dewey. Dewey is treated fairly but also very neutrally, an astute portrayal given the division between Deweyian lovers and haters. No one can argue that in a book like this John Dewey deserves an entire chapter!

The next four chapters of the book explore various philosophical traditions and how they have influenced education, including analytic, continental, logic, and epistemology. The second half of the book moves into more specific exploration of how these philosophical traditions have interacted with social science, educational research, ethics, moral education, school reform, multiculturalism, and feminism. These last two topics are new additions and include Noddings’ own work on care.

There is much here to recommend. Noddings has drawn on a career as an educator and philosopher to craft a wonderful summary of educational philosophy. It is like taking a survey course on the topic in preparation to become a teacher. In each chapter, she presents the classical definition and major thinkers on that topic and then gives an example or two of how this stance has influenced educational practice or policy. Occasionally, these concrete examples are used to further explain the philosophy. These are probably the strongest moments in the book as the reader is challenged to apply what she has just learned a few pages before. I appreciate this structure as well as the summarizing of so many philosophical traditions into one book.

In the end, I may not use this book for my class. It is a dense text with many, many references to philosophers and traditions that are not (nor can not) be addressed in one short survey book. This may feel overwhelming to some. I am also worried that this text will fall victim to the critique I often hear about the relevance of education philosophy to practicing teachers. While there is some practical application, maybe one or two examples per chapter, there is just not enough to bridge philosophy and teaching/learning. In some subject areas or discussions, for example, a discussion of constructivism might be essential to the development of a lesson or unit or course. However, teachers and teacher candidates also need to have a much clearer connection of, say, epistemology to teaching math in an impoverished school. Again, Noddings does this throughout the text but not enough to my liking. A few more examples would have made this a more accessible text and more useful to my course. But for someone like me, who is looking for a solid overview of the broad scope of education philosophy, this is an excellent text by an important contemporary philosopher.

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