Philosophy of Education: Social Reconstructionism

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Philosophy of Education

Philosophy of Education: Social Reconstructionism

Emily Reeves



Social Reconstructionism is a philosophy of education that focuses on using education to eliminate social inequities. Proponents of this philosophy, such as myself, hold clear views of what the purpose of education is, what the role of the teacher should be, what the nature of curriculum and assessments should be, and what the method of instruction within classrooms should be. They believe the purpose of education is to reconstruct society. They also believe the role of the teacher is to create informative and challenging lessons that will open their students’ eyes to social inequities. Advocates of Social Reconstructionism believe the nature of curriculum and assessments should be material that will inform students as well as conjure up emotions within them. Lastly, they believe that the method of instruction within the classroom should be student centered. I believe this philosophy benefits our society as a whole.


Social Reconstructionism is a student-centered philosophy of education that is currently relevant and beneficial. This philosophy prepares students for a future that is ever-changing. Social Reconstructionism focuses on educating students about issues going on in their society. Its goal is to inform students, give them the skills they need to be able to take action with what they learn, encourage them to improve society, and guide them in improving society. With this philosophy, schools, teachers, and students unite with a common purpose: to eliminate social problems and tackle social challenges. Proponents of the Social Reconstructionism philosophy, such as myself, hold a clear view of what the purpose of education is, what the role of the teacher is, what the nature of curriculum and assessments should be, and what fitting methods of instruction are.

Purpose of Education

The purpose of education, according to the philosophy of Social Reconstructionism, is to reconstruct society. George Counts first proposed this philosophy of education in his book Dare the Schools Build a New Social Order? Counts proposed schools reform society, an idea that spread like wildfire when the book was written in 1932 and that still has not burnt out. Sadker and Zittleman (2010) explain the purpose of education through Social Reconstructionism is to encourage “schools, teachers, and students to focus their studies and energies on alleviating pervasive social inequities and, as the name implies, reconstruct society into a new and more just social order” (p. 284). Learning and all efforts that follow should be for the common goal of eliminating injustices in society. Since “racism, sexism, global warming and environmental pollution, homelessness, poverty, substance abuse, homophobia, AIDS, and violence are rooted in misinformation and thrive in ignorance” the school is an ideal place to begin alleviating these problems (Sadker & Zittleman, 2010, p. 285). What better place to correct misinformation and diminish ignorance than in a controlled setting with students that will one day become the future of their country? Another purpose of education that the philosophy of Social Reconstructionism believes in is to reject social Darwinism. Paulo Freire, starting in the 1930’s, began accusing schools of endorsing social Darwinism. In other words, students who are talented or come from rich and powerful families rise to the top of their classes, and undeserving students fall to the bottom both socially and economically. Social Darwinism accepts poverty and other social injustices as a part of life- for instance, by implying that the poor deserve to be poor, etc. Freire rejected this theory and introduced one of his own: praxis. Praxis is “the doctrine that when actions are based on sound theory and values, they can make a real difference in the world” (Sadker & Zittleman, 2010, p. 286). In other words, self-improvement is attainable and injustices in society do not have to exist. The purpose of education is to reconstruct society for the better, which proves the praxis doctrine to be true and social Darwinism to be false.

The Role of the Teacher

Under Social Reconstructionism teachers have specific roles they are to fulfill. One main role of a teacher is, as noted by Barakett, Sacca, and Freedman (2001), to “take an active leadership role in helping students clarify their own social concerns and look toward social change” (para. 10). Furthermore, they “argue that teachers should assume this kind of leadership role, and that this assumption of leadership ultimately will lead to changes in society” (para.10).

Another role of a teacher is to “create lessons that both intellectually inform and emotionally stir students about the inequities that surround them” (Sadker & Zittleman, 2010, p. 285). Knowledge is power, and as mentioned before, misconceptions and ignorance are eliminated when knowledge is gained. It is a teacher’s duty to provide his or her students with knowledge and to present it in a way that causes students to think critically. A teacher must be fearless and bold, unafraid to present their students with material that may be controversial or may cause students to become uncomfortable or emotional. The role of the teacher is also to create a democratic environment so that lessons and topics may be discussed, debated, and student voices will be heard. In order for students to end up changing their society, they have to believe that their voice matters and that they can make a difference in the world. It is the role of a teacher to make sure his or her students know that they can make a difference, their opinions matter, and their voices can and will be heard. Barakett, Sacca, and Freedman (2001) observed “the classroom is a community or culture in its own right” and students should feel “they are an important member of that community, and that they can freely voice their ideas and opinions, in a safe environment” (para. 7). It is a teacher’s job to make their students feel this way within their classrooms. Murrow emphasizes this expectation for teachers to create a safe environment for their students by saying it is their responsibility to “promote careful thinking by concern for free discussion, respect for personality, self-reliance, and vision” (para. 29). Free discussions and democratic principles should be in effect when teachers present their students with material that makes students aware of social inequities surrounding them. The teacher must present students with material that looks into these social injustices so that his or her students will learn they exist. It is a teacher’s role to create lessons that will inform his or her students as well as demand emotional responses from them, to be fearless presenting material, to create a democratic environment within their classroom, to inspire their students to be the change they wish to see in the world, and to help bring awareness to social inequities.

The Nature of Curriculum and Assessment

The nature of curriculum and assessment should fit certain criteria as well, according to Social Reconstructionists such as myself. The curriculum should be made up of material that communicates knowledge to students. This knowledge should then in turn provoke emotional responses from students. The material will shed light upon social inequities, which is what should provoke emotion within students. When students are presented with social challenges and problems they should feel a desire to want things to be different. The nature of curriculum should be used to improve student abilities to think critically about problems in society. When they are being taught, for instance, about gender inequality in the past, they should be able to relate it to gender issues that are still present today. When a teacher presents this material to his or her students and then allows them to freely discuss it, the nature of the curriculum will automatically cause students to formulate their own opinions towards such controversial or important topics. As the minds of students dwell on information at hand the material should be enlivening enough to get under one’s skin and inspire them to take actions within their society that will eliminate social inequities. The essence of the curriculum needs to challenge students to take some sort of action based upon what they have learned. The curriculum may actually include assignments where the student is required to go ahead and take certain actions. For instance, “a research paper is more than just an academic exercise; the class is engaged in a genuine effort to improve society. In this case, the class might arrange to meet with political leaders, encouraging them to create programs or legislation to respond to issues the students uncovered” (Sadker & Zittleman, 2010, p. 285). With the curriculum incorporating assignments that require students to take action they are learning how to become responsible citizens and how to take matters into their own hands. These types of tasks are preparing students to take issues at hand and find ways in their community to bring awareness to them or demand changes. The nature of curriculum should inform students, stir emotions within them, shed light upon social inequities, improve student abilities to think critically, and charge students to take action.

The assessments that should be in place in schools should also follow a certain model under Social Reconstructionism. Assessments must require students to express their opinions about certain problems within society eloquently and adamantly. How is a student expected to go out and make a change in the world if they cannot communicate the changes they wish to make appropriately? Assessments therefore must be designed with the intent to improve student communication skills. It is possible to do this through testing student abilities to write essays, provide short answers to questions, thoroughly answering discussion questions, and being able to explain why their answers are correct or why they believe what they do. The importance of assessments being designed to improve or compare students’ communication skills benefits the student not only academically in school but also within the world outside of school. Students, with practice and throughout the duration of their school experience, being presented with assessments where they must express themselves through writing, will in turn improve their abilities to successfully communicate their beliefs, opinions, or arguments on issues.

The Method of Instruction

The most important aspect of the method of instruction should be that it is student-centered. Sadker and Zittleman (2010) describe student-centered philosophies as ones that “are less authoritarian, less concerned with the past and ‘training the mind’ and more focused on individual needs, contemporary relevance, and preparing students for a changing future” (p. 283). In order to best meet these goals, teachers and students work together in this student-centered philosophy to choose what should be learned and how students should learn it. The teacher spends less time lecturing and more time allowing students to work together in groups, challenging one another and bouncing ideas off of one another. After all, being able to work well with others is a very important skill, especially in the workforce. Teachers should act as facilitators and help guide their students in the direction they need to go. This method of teaching places more responsibility on students in that they cannot simply rely on their teacher to tell them everything that they need to know. They have to dig for themselves somewhat and form their own opinions based on what they think, not what they are told to think. This student-centered method of instruction benefits students by preparing them to become responsible citizens willing to determine their own futures for themselves and not by society’s standards.


Social Reconstructionism is a philosophy of education that I believe is the most beneficial to our teachers, students, and our world. Under Social Reconstructionism there are specific ideas as to what the purpose of education is, and certain principles that are in place when it comes to what the role of the teacher is, what the nature of curriculum and assessment should be, and what the method of instruction should be. The purpose of education is to reconstruct society. The role of the teacher is to take a leadership role in which he or she provides a safe environment for his or her students to participate in a democratic classroom. The teacher must inform, challenge, and work to inspire his or her students. The nature of the curriculum and assessment should be material that will bring awareness to social inequities and improve students’ communication skills. The method of instruction under Social Reconstructionism is a student-centered way of teaching in which teachers and students work together to make educational decisions. Social Reconstructionism is an educational philosophy that pushes for the reconstruction of society by eliminating social injustices.


Barakett, J., Sacca, E. J., & Freedman, J. (2001). Social reconstruction through video art: A case study. Transformations, 12(1), 93-93. Retrieved from http://0- stract/13D6FDD2B942888A908/1?accountid=8411.

Murrow, S.E. (2011). Depicting teachers' roles in social reconstruction in the social frontier, 1934-1943. Educational Theory,61(3), 311-333. Retrieved from>.

Sadker, D. M., & Zittleman K. R. (2010). Teachers, schools, and society ninth edition. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

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