In This Article Pedagogic Theories

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Encyclopedias and Handbooks
  • Anthologies and Reference Works
  • Pedagogical Schools of Thought
  • Great Educationists
  • Reform Pedagogy
  • Critical Theory of Education in the Late 20th Century and After
  • Pedagogical theory as belletristic work

Childhood Studies Pedagogic Theories
Juha Hämäläinen
  • LAST REVIEWED: 18 November 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 March 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791231-0015


“Pedagogue” (παιδαγογος) was originally a term for a slave who was responsible for the care of children in the household. Later the meaning of the word expanded to mean educator and teacher. A pedagogic theory deals with the nature and structure of educational action, teaching, and upbringing. Pedagogic theories are connected with belief and value systems, concepts of man and society, and philosophies of knowledge and political interests. Thus it is rather difficult to define a pedagogic theory exactly. In general, the concept of pedagogy refers to a systematic view of organizing education. It discusses the questions about how to educate and what it means to be educated. In this sense, a pedagogic theory is a theory of educational action, or a systematic view and reflection of pedagogic practice. Pedagogic theory is a systematical conceptualization of the process of education and conditions of human development in both the individual and the societal life sphere. It deals with processes of upbringing, teaching, learning, and social and cultural development. Aims and means, values and norms, and objectives and methods of education are systematically reflected therein. Pedagogic theory building starts with two fundamental anthropologic questions: What is a human being, and what should he or she be? Combining these questions, pedagogic theory examines educational aims and means of helping human beings to develop toward what they should be. Pedagogic reflection and theory building is based on the idea that—as Immanuel Kant put it—a human being can become human only through education. Studying childhood from the vantage point of pedagogic theories focuses on the development of a pedagogic way of thinking over the course of time.

General Overviews

Actually, all comprehensive treatises on the history and philosophy of education include a general overview of pedagogic theories by considering the development of educational thinking and the basic theoretical concepts. For example, the McGraw-Hill Series in Education, begun after World War II, contains many important works illustrating the nature, multiplicity, and historical development of the pedagogic way of thinking. Brubacher 1966 is worthy of mention as a modern classic, but there are many other worthwhile general overviews on the history of educational thought. The majority of pedagogic theories do not only analyze the nature of education but take a stand on “how education ought to proceed, what it is for, and whose interests it ought to serve,” as stated by Nicolas C. Burbules and Nathan Raybeck (Burbules and Raybeck 2003, p. 1882). Frankena 2003 covers a short historical overview on the pedagogic schools of thought, and Burbules and Raybeck 2003 discuss the current trends in the philosophy of education, identifying prescriptive, analytical, and critical impulses therein. Wynne 1963 introduces twelve types of theories, focusing on the philosophical foundations, implications, applications, and cultural conditions of each, and makes concluding comments. Correspondingly, Ellis, et al. 1991 discusses five philosophies—idealism, realism, Neo-Thomism, experimentalism/pragmatism, and existentialism—that have influenced the development of educational thought. O’Neill 1981 makes a distinction between conservative and liberal educational ideologies. Benner 2001 provides a systematic analysis of the most important currents of pedagogic theories. By introducing the most significant concepts of man in Western and Eastern thought, Stevenson and Haberman 2008 places the fundamental issue of human nature into the debate on pedagogic theory.

  • Benner, Dietrich. Hauptströmungen der Erziehungswissenschaft: Eine Systematik traditioneller und moderner Theorien. 4th ed. UTB: Uni-Taschenbucher. Weinheim, Germany: Beltz, 2001.

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    This German modern classic of systematic pedagogy offers a structured overview of the field of pedagogic theories. First published 1973.

  • Brubacher, John S. A History of the Problems of Education. 2d ed. Foundations in Education. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1966.

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    The author considers trends in educational thought from a historical point of view, paying attention to ideological aspects therein. The book is an overview of the history of ideas of education. First published 1947.

  • Burbules, Nicolas C., and Nathan Raybeck. “Philosophy of Education: Current Trends.” In Encyclopedia of Education. 2d ed. Vol. 5. Edited by James W. Guthrie, 1880–1885. New York: Macmillan, 2003.

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    Schools and trends of educational thought in the 20th century and their backgrounds are introduced briefly.

  • Ellis, Arthur K., John J. Cogan, and Kenneth R. Howey. Introduction to the Foundations of Education. 3d ed. Boston: Allyn & Bacon, 1991.

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    The authors introduce and discuss cardinal schools of educational thought, paying attention to their historical background and ontological and epistemological basis.

  • Frankena, William K. “Philosophy of Education: Historical Overview.” In Encyclopedia of Education. 2d ed. Vol. 5. Edited by James W. Guthrie, 1877–1880. New York: Macmillan, 2003.

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    The article is a brief historical overview of schools and trends of educational thought and their backgrounds.

  • O’Neill, William F. Educational Ideologies: Contemporary Expressions of Educational Philosophy. Santa Monica, CA: Goodyear, 1981.

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    The author offers a view on schools of educational thought by analyzing how they are influenced by different ideological interests.

  • Stevenson, Leslie, and David L. Haberman. Ten Theories of Human Nature. 5th ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.

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    By providing a versatile survey on the most central theories of the universe and humanity, this book reflects pedagogic theory from the point of view of its ontological foundations.

  • Wynne, John Peter. Theories of Education: An Introduction to the Foundations of Education. Harper’s Series on Teaching. New York: Harper & Row, 1963.

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    In this versatile overview, theories of education are considered by focusing on their ideological backgrounds and meanings.

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