Essentialism in the Classroom

Essentialist classrooms are orderly and efficient.
... TongRo Images/TongRo Images/Getty Images

Education philosophies fall in two broad categories: student-centered and teacher-centered. Student-centered philosophies of education focus primarily on students’ interests, needs and learning styles. Teacher-centered philosophies revolve around the teacher disseminating specific information to students in a systematic way. Essentialism is one of the most prominent teacher-centered philosophies of education practiced in modern American classrooms.

1 Essentialism's Beginnings

In 1938, William C. Bagley popularized essentialism in his book "An Essentialist’s Platform for the Advancement of American Education." Bagley felt to compete globally that the U.S. must concentrate its public education system on the basics. In his theories, teachers should teach a rigid curriculum to all students regardless of the students' ability. Bagley created the essentialism view of culture primarily to oppose progressivism, a philosophy of education he felt was responsible for lowering academic standards and relaxing student morals.

2 Choosing Core Curriculum

Essentialism in the classroom translates into the teacher being highly knowledgeable in all areas of academic content. The arts and social sciences or "soft sciences" are not considered as important in an essentialism definition except as a means for transmitting American cultural values. Student interests are not considered in an essentialist classroom either. Bagley believed young people often develop interests in subjects they did not like at first. Exposing students to important subjects became a teacher's duty.

3 Essentialist View of Culture

Teachers following Bagley's path were proponents of essentialism examples of role models for moral behavior. Further, the classroom teaching method guides to a goal of producing academically-educated students well-versed in American culture and morality. This plan includes such traditional values as perseverance, respect for authority, pragmatism and consideration for others. Teachers of essentialism are expected to embody these traditional virtues inside and out of the classroom.

4 Choosing The Essentialist Discipline

Adults are also responsible for imposing discipline in an essentialist classroom. Teachers must guide students by using strict, external discipline with fair and consistent consequences. Self-discipline, according to essentialist philosophy, will eventually develop from this outwardly imposed discipline. Essentialism in the classroom means that teachers and administrators have the duty to promote student self-discipline through strict daily guidance.

5 Determining Student Outcomes

Essentialism is based firmly on a pass/fail system of education. Students must master grade or course content before being promoted to the next level. Essentialist educators place emphasis on standardized test scores as a means of determining mastery. Bagley himself was a proponent of failing students when they could not meet the accepted grade or test score standards. He felt that democracy required all students to meet the same level of achievement. Through essentialism in the classroom, students of various ages and abilities are taught the exact same curriculum. Students who have disabilities or limited English proficiency are taught with the same techniques and materials. Giving students a different or less rigorous education based on their special circumstances goes against an essentialism definition.

Ashley Seehorn has been writing professionally since 2009. Her work has been featured on a variety of websites including: eHow, Answerbag and Opposing Views Cultures. She has been a teacher for 20 years and has taught all ages from preschool through college. She is currently working as a Special Education Teacher.