Education sciences (traditionally often called pedagogy) and education theory seek to describe, understand, and prescribe educational policy and practice. Education sciences include many topics, such as pedagogy, andragogy, curriculum, learning, and education policy, organization and leadership. Educational thought is informed by many disciplines, such as history, philosophy, sociology, and psychology.
Faculties, departments, degree programs, and degrees on educational sciences are often called simply Faculty of Education etc. It is likewise common, especially in North America, to say she is studying education, which is generally called studying educational science(s) nowadays and was traditionally called studying pedagogy (in English) in most European countries.
For example, a cultural theory of education considers how education occurs through the totality of culture, including prisons, households, and religious institutions as well as schools. Other examples are the behaviorist theory of education that comes from educational psychology and the functionalist theory of education that comes from sociology of education.
The earliest known attempts to understand education in Europe were by classical Greek philosophers and sophists, but there is also evidence of contemporary (or even preceding) discussions among Arabic, Indian, and Chinese scholars.
Educational thought is not necessarily concerned with the construction of theories as much as the "reflective examination of educational issues and problems from the perspective of diverse disciplines."
Normative theories of education provide the norms, goals, and standards of education.
"Normative philosophies or theories of education may make use of the results of [philosophical thought] and of factual inquiries about human beings and the psychology of learning, but in any case they propound views about what education should be, what dispositions it should cultivate, why it ought to cultivate them, how and in whom it should do so, and what forms it should take. In a full-fledged philosophical normative theory of education, besides analysis of the sorts described, there will normally be propositions of the following kinds: 1. Basic normative premises about what is good or right; 2. Basic factual premises about humanity and the world; 3. Conclusions, based on these two kinds of premises, about the dispositions education should foster; 4. Further factual premises about such things as the psychology of learning and methods of teaching; and 5. Further conclusions about such things as the methods that education should use."
Examples of the purpose of schools include: to develop reasoning about perennial questions, to master the methods of scientific inquiry, to cultivate the intellect, to create change agents, to develop spirituality, and to model a democratic society.
Common educational philosophies include: educational perennialism, educational progressivism, educational essentialism, critical pedagogy, Montessori education, Waldorf education, and democratic education.
Normative theories of curriculum aim to "describe, or set norms, for conditions surrounding many of the concepts and constructs" that define curriculum. These normative propositions differ from those above in that normative curriculum theory is not necessarily untestable. A central question asked by normative curriculum theory is: given a particular educational philosophy, what is worth knowing and why? Some examples are: a deep understanding of the Great Books, direct experiences driven by student interest, a superficial understanding of a wide range knowledge (e.g. Core knowledge), social and community problems and issues, knowledge and understanding specific to cultures and their achievements (e.g. African-Centered Education).
Scholars such as Robyn Wiegman argue that, “academic feminism is perhaps the most successful institutionalizing project of its generation, with more full-time faculty positions and new doctoral degree programs emerging each year in the field it inaugurated, Women's Studies”. Feminist educational theory stems from four key tenets, supported by empirical data based on surveys of feminist educators. The first tenet of feminist educational theory is, “Creation of participatory classroom communities”. Participatory classroom communities often are smaller classes built around discussion and student involvement. The second tenet is, “Validation of personal experience”. Classrooms in which validation of personal experience occur often are focused around students providing their own insights and experiences in group discussion, rather than relying exclusively on the insight of the educator. The third tenet is, “Encouragement of social understanding and activism”. This tenet is generally actualized by classrooms discussing and reading about social and societal aspects that students may not be aware of, along with breeding student self-efficacy. The fourth and final tenet of feminist education is, “Development of critical thinking skills/open-mindedness”. Classrooms actively engaging in this tenet encourage students to think for themselves and prompt them to move beyond their comfort zones, working outside the bounds of the traditional lecture-based classroom. Though these tenets at times overlap, they combine to provide the basis for modern feminist educational theory, and are supported by a majority of feminist educators.
Feminist educational theory derives from the feminist movement, particularly that of the early 1970s, which prominent feminist bell hooks describes as, “a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression”. Academic feminist Robyn Weigman recalls that, “In the early seventies, feminism in the U.S. academy was less an organized entity than a set of practices: an ensemble of courses listed on bulletin boards often taught for free by faculty and community leaders”. While feminism traditionally existed outside of the institutionalization of schools (particularly universities), feminist education has gradually taken hold in the last few decades and has gained a foothold in institutionalized educational bodies. “Once fledgling programs have become departments, and faculty have been hired and tenured with full-time commitments”.
Opposition to feminist educational theory comes from both those who oppose feminism in general and feminists who oppose feminist educational theory in particular. Critics of feminist educational theory argue against the four basic tenets of the theory, “… [contesting] both their legitimacy and their implementation”. Lewis Lehrman particularly describes feminist educational ideology as, “… 'therapeutic pedagogy' that substitutes an 'overriding' (and detrimental) value on participatory interaction for the expertise of the faculty” (Hoffman). Lehrman argues that the feminist educational tenets of participatory experience and validation of person experience hinder education by limiting and inhibiting the educator’s ability to share his or her knowledge, learned through years of education and experience.
Others challenge the legitimacy of feminist educational theory, arguing that it is not unique and is instead a sect of liberatory education. Even feminist educational scholars such as Frances Hoffmann and Jayne Stake are forced to concede that, “feminist pedagogy shared intellectual and political roots with the movements comprising the liberatory education agenda of the past 30 years”. These liberatory attempts at the democratization of classrooms demonstrate a growth in liberatory education philosophy that some argue feminist educational theory simply piggybacks off of.
The harshest critiques of feminist educational theory often come from feminists themselves. Feminist scholar Robyn Wiegman argues against feminist education in her article “Academic Feminism against Itself,” arguing that feminist educational ideology has abandoned the intersectionality of feminism in many cases, and has also focused exclusively on present content with a singular perspective. Wiegman refers to feminist scholar James Newman's arguments, centered around the idea that, “When we fail… to challenge both students and ourselves to theorize alterity as an issue of change over time as well as of geographic distance, ethnic difference, and sexual choice, we repress… not only the ‘thickness’ of historical difference itself, but also… our (self) implication in a narrative of progress whose hero(in)es inhabit only the present”. Newman (and Wiegman) believe that this presentist ideology imbued within modern academic feminism creates an environment breeding antifeminist ideologies, most importantly an abandonment of the study of difference, integral to feminist ideology. Wiegman believes that feminist educational theory does a great disservice to the feminist movement, while failing to instill the critical thinking and social awareness that feminist educational theory is intended to.
There are supporters of feminist education as well, many of whom are educators or students. Student-turned-professor Becky Ropers-Huilman recounts one of her positive experiences with feminist education from the student perspective, explaining that she “… felt very ‘in charge’ of [her] own learning experiences,” and “… was not being graded-or degraded... [while completing] the majority of the assigned work for the class (and additional work that [she] thought would add to class discussion),” all while “… [regarding] the teacher’s feedback on [her] participation as one perspective, rather than the perspective”. Ropers experienced a working feminist classroom that successfully motivated students to go above and beyond, succeeding in generating self-efficacy and caring in the classroom. When Ropers became a teacher herself, she embraced feminist educational theory, noting that, “[Teachers] have an obligation as the ones who are vested with an assumed power, even if that power is easily and regularly disrupted, to assess and address the effects that it is having in our classrooms”. Ropers firmly believes that educators have a duty to address feminist concepts such as the use and flow of power within the classroom, and strongly believes in the potential of feminist educational theory to create positive learning experiences for students and teachers as she has personally experienced.
Becky Ropers-Huilman also celebrates the feminist classroom’s inclusivity, noting that in a feminist classroom, “in which power is used to care about, for, and with others… educational participants can shape practices aimed at creating an inclusive society that discovers and utilizes the potential of its actors”. Ropers believes that a feminist classroom carries the ability to greatly influence the society as a whole, promoting understanding, caring, and inclusivity. Ropers actively engages in feminist education in her classes, focusing on concepts such as active learning and critical thinking while attempting to demonstrate and engage in caring behavior and atypical classroom settings, similar to many other feminist educators.
Leading feminist scholar bell hooks argues for the incorporation of feminism into all aspects of society, including education, in her book Feminism is for Everybody. hooks notes that, “Everything [people] know about feminism has come into their lives thirdhand”. hooks believes that education offers a counter to the, “… wongminded notion of feminist movement which implied it was anti-male”. hooks cites feminism’s negative connotations as major inhibitors to the spread and adoption of feminist ideologies. However, feminist education has seen tremendous growth in adoption in the past few decades, despite the negative connotations of its parent movement.
Descriptive theories of education provide descriptions or explanations of the processes of education.
The term hidden curriculum describes that which is learned simply by being in a learning environment. For example, a student in a teacher-led classroom is learning submission. The hidden curriculum is not necessarily intentional.
Instructional theories focus on the methods of instruction for teaching curricula. Theories include the methods of: autonomous learning, coyote teaching, inquiry-based instruction, lecture, maturationism, socratic method, outcome-based education, taking children seriously, transformative learning
Philosophical anthropology is the philosophical study of human nature. In terms of learning, examples of descriptive theories of the learner are: a mind, soul, and spirit capable of emulating the Absolute Mind (Idealism); an orderly, sensing, and rational being capable of understanding the world of things (Realism), a rational being with a soul modeled after God and who comes to know God through reason and revelation (Neo-Thomism), an evolving and active being capable of interacting with the environment (Pragmatism), a fundamentally free and individual being who is capable of being authentic through the making of and taking responsibility for choices (Existentialism). Philosophical concepts for the process of education include Bildung and paideia.
Educational psychology is an empirical science that provides descriptive theories of how people learn. Examples of theories of education in psychology are: constructivism, behaviorism, cognitivism, and motivational theory
The sociology of education is the study of how public institutions and individual experiences affect education and its outcomes. It is most concerned with the public schooling systems of modern industrial societies, including the expansion of higher, further, adult, and continuing education. Examples of theories of education from sociology include: functionalism, conflict theory, social efficiency, and social mobility.
Educational anthropology is a sub-field of anthropology and is widely associated with the pioneering work of George Spindler. As the name would suggest, the focus of educational anthropology is obviously on education, although an anthropological approach to education tends to focus on the cultural aspects of education, including informal as well as formal education. As education involves understandings of who we are, it is not surprising that the single most recognized dictum of educational anthropology is that the field is centrally concerned with cultural transmission. Cultural transmission involves the transfer of a sense of identity between generations, sometimes known as enculturation and also transfer of identity between cultures, sometimes known as acculturation. Accordingly, thus it is also not surprising that educational anthropology has become increasingly focussed on ethnic identity and ethnic change.