Philosophy of Education

This course will answer the following questions.

  • What is education?
  • What is its basic purpose?
  • What subjects should children be learning in school?
  • How should these subjects be taught?
  • What can we do about the dismal state of today’s public schools?

This course presents an account of the philosophy of education from an Objectivist perspective. The course is adapted from recorded lectures that Dr. Leonard Peikoff gave at a conference for fans of Ayn Rand in 1985. Primary and secondary education are Dr. Peikoff’s focus, but many of the principles discussed apply to all levels of education.

Topics include: different theories of the basic purpose of education; how to teach thinking methods, with special emphasis on the principles of proper motivation, integration, and hierarchy; a proper curriculum; teacher’s colleges and the politics of education.

Disclaimer: Although Dr. Peikoff granted permission for the creation of this course in a new format, he has not reviewed or approved any of its content. The videos are accompanied by quizzes and other supplementary materials that were not part of the original course.


Course video available on your mobile devices and tablets.

Note that user interactions are not accessible on mobile devices. So watching courses on your smart phone or tablet is possible – but you won’t get the full experience and some check marks will remain unchecked until completed on a personal computer.

Philosophy of Education
Course Outline
Module 1: Education Theory and the Philosophy of Education

  1. Introduction
    1. Course Objectives
    2. A General Definition of Education
      1. “Systematic instruction . . .”
      2. “ . . . instruction of the young . . .”
      3. “. . . to develop powers . . .”
      4. “. . . necessary for mature life”
    3. Why You Need Philosophy to Fully Define Education
    4. Who Can Benefit From This Course?
    5. Disclaimer about Rand’s endorsement
  2. Existing Theories of Education
    1. Popular Theories of Education
      1. What a Theory of Education Should Offer
      2. Communicating Factual Knowledge
      3. Socializing the Child
      4. Individuating the Child
      5. Developing Morality in the Child
      6. Training the Child in Methodology
    2. Evaluating these Theories of Education
      1. Socialization as the Primary Purpose
      2. Individuation as the Primary Purpose
      3. Moral Development as the Primary Purpose
      4. Factual Knowledge or Methodology as the Primary Purpose
  3. Dr. Peikoff’s Account of the Primary Purpose of Education
    1. Defining the Primary Purpose of Education
      1. You Cannot Separate Knowledge and Methodology
      2. Method Requires Knowledge
      3. A False Alternative of Content or Method
      4. You Must Reject Intrinsic and Subjective Approaches
    2. The Objective Approach to Education
      1. Refined Definition of Education
      2. Man Gains Knowledge by Concepts
      3. Final Definition of Education
  4. Module 1 Knowledge Checks

Module 2: Teaching Methodology

  1. Teaching Thinking Methods
    1. How to Teach Thinking Methods
      1. Not By Courses on Methodology
      2. By Concrete Subject Matter
  2. Broad Principles for How to Teach Thinking Methods
    1. Three Broad Principles of Teaching Method
    2. First Principle: Motivation
      1. Why Motivate?
      2. Other Views of Motivation
      3. How to Motivate
      4. Motivating Young Minds
      5. E.g., Motivating literature
      6. Secondary Factors in Motivation
    3. Second Principle: Integration
      1. Concepts as Human Method of Integration
      2. Stress Common Denominators
      3. E.g., Terrorism (circa 1985)
      4. E.g., Silent letters in spelling
      5. E.g., Similar characters in literature
      6. Aside: Memory
      7. Shuttle Between Concretes and Abstractions
    4. Third Principle: Structure
      1. Interests Do Not Determine Structure
      2. Hierarchy Determines Structure
      3. E.g., Concept “furniture”
      4. E.g., Math
      5. Every Subject Has a Logical Hierarchy
      6. Break the Whole Up into Parts
      7. E.g., Determining this course’s structure
      8. E.g., Structuring this module of the course
      9. Make Your Structure Visible
      10. Stress Logical Certainty
      11. Other Views of Structure Lead to Authoritarianism
  3. Module 2 Knowledge Checks

Module 3: Curriculum

  1. A Proper Curriculum
    1. Defining a Curriculum: Some Preliminaries
    2. Defining a Proper Curriculum
    3. A Proper Curriculum: The Three Rs and Four Subjects
      1. Reading
      2. Arithmetic
      3. Writing
      4. Mathematics
      5. History
      6. Natural Science
      7. Literature
    4. Subjects Excluded from the Curriculum
      1. Art & Music
      2. Foreign Languages
      3. Philosophy and Other Humanities
      4. Religion
      5. Manual Training
      6. Physical Education
      7. Driver Training; Sex Education; Health; Etc.
      8. “Teaching Values”
  2. Module 3 Knowledge Checks

Module 4: Teachers

  1. Three Topics about Teachers and Their Training
    1. The Three Topics
    2. Teaching Techniques
      1. Lecturing vs. Discussion
      2. Advantages of Lecturing over Discussion
      3. Objections to Lecturing
      4. Adjudicating this Dispute
      5. Proper Approach: Lecture in “Chunks”
      6. When and Why to Allow Class Discussion
    3. Teacher Training
      1. Teacher’s Colleges Have No Purpose
    4. Political Trends and Education
      1. Reason and Freedom are Corollaries
      2. Faith and Force are Corollaries
      3. Altruism and Egalitarianism
      4. Which Comes First: Better Government or Better Schools?
    5. Conclusion: Objectivism and Education
  2. Module 4 Knowledge Checks Dr. Peikoff

“The American School: Why Johnny Can’t Think” in The Voice of Reason.
Dr. Peikoff argues that one of the major reasons our education system is in such shambles today is that the schools do not teach, and often oppose teaching, children to think at the conceptual level.

Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand
This course assumes familiarity with Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism and this book is Dr. Peikoff’s systematic presentation of Ayn Rand’s philosophy, based on a course that he taught under Ayn Rand’s guidance.

The Ominous Parallels
Dr. Peikoff’s first book: a philosophic and historical analysis of the rise of Nazi Germany, and its chilling parallels to recent American history. Dr. Peikoff discusses John Dewey’s philosophy and its application to education in Chapter 6 of this book. mentioned by Dr. Peikoff

The Art of Teaching, Gilbert Highet
Dr. Peikoff mentions this book is in the course as one that he learned a lot from, despite some flaws. Ayn Rand

“The Comprachicos” in Return of the Primitive.
This is the essay that Dr. Peikoff alludes to in which Ayn Rand discusses the state of education in America today and its anti-conceptual, mind-destroying character.

“Tax Credits for Education” in The Voice of Reason
An essay in which Ayn Rand puts forward a practical proposal for moving toward a wholly private education system.

Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology
Ayn Rand presents her theory of concepts as an introduction to her views on epistemology, the study of the proper means for acquiring and validating knowledge. This course on Philosophy of Education assumes a general familiarity with certain ideas of Ayn Rand’s, such as “the hierarchy of knowledge,” “the role of context,” and the “Crow epistemology.” These topics are covered in Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, chapters 1, 2, 3, and 7, and in Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, chapters 3 and 4.