Educational Essentialism is a theory that states that, children should learn the traditional basic subjects and these should be learned thoroughly and rigorously.
An essentialist program normally teaches children progressively, from less complex skills to more complex.

William Bagley (1874-1946) was The founder of the Essentialist Movement.

The term essentialism as an educational philosophy was originally popularized in the 1930s by the American educator William Bagley.

Bagley completed his Ph.D. in 1900 and spent the following academic year, as an assistant in Kitchener's laboratory. In 1908 Bagley joined the faculty at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. At Illinois, Bagley helped to develop the Department of Education to the point that it became one of the most well known in the nation.

ESSENTIALISM, BASIC PRINCIPLES OF ESSENTIALISM, Philosophy of Education, B.ED, M.ED, NET Notes ( Study Material), PDF Notes Free Download.

The foundation of Essentialism took place in 1938 by William Bagley.
•Early in the twentieth century, essentialism was criticized as being too rigid to prepare students adequately for adult life.
•But with the launching of Sputnik in 1957, interest in essentialism revived.
Bagley's basic point with his role in the founding of essentialism was that the currently dominant theories of education were feeble and insufficient.
•He wanted these dominant theories complemented, and perhaps replaced, with a philosophy that was strong, forceful and positive.
•He did not, however, want to destroy completely the dominant theories that he was critiquing.
•Throughout his life, he supported both the academic disciplines and certain basic tenets of Progressive education.

Essentialism is a uniquely American philosophy of education which began in the 1930‘s and 1940‘s as a reaction to what was seen as a overemphasis on a child-centered approach to education and a concern that students were not gaining appropriate knowledge in schools.

Although essentialism, as a theory and program of education has developed to maturity before progressivism, it is considered mainly for its current formulations.

Most of the leading exponents are still strikingly devoted disciples of the two major systems of philosophical thoughts – idealism and realism – that emerged in the Renaissance and attained their matured formulations during the early parts of the 19th century. The expression into which each system matured is extremely diverged and not always internally consistent, with the consequence that essentialism, which include both idealism and realism, abounds with eclectic elements.

Despite their differences, idealistic and realistic philosophies are deeply concerned with the three chief areas of belief: reality, knowledge and value.

Essentialist believes in a critical core of information and skill that an educated person must have.


In the Essentialist's Platform, which Bagley published in April 1938, the essentialists offered several basic educational principles.
•First, they recognized the right of an immature student to the guidance of a well-educated, caring, and cultured teacher.
•Second, they proposed that an effective democracy demanded a democratic culture in which teachers impart the ideals of the community to each succeeding generation of the children.
•Third, they called for a specific program of studies that required thoroughness, accuracy, persistence, and good workmanship on the part of the pupils.

Underlying Philosophical Basis:
 Essentialism is grounded in a conservative philosophy that accepts the social, political, and economic structure of American society.
   It contends that schools should not try to radically reshape the society.
Rather, essentialists argue, schools should transmit the traditional moral values and intellectual knowledge that make the students model citizens.
  Essentialists believe that teachers should instill such traditional virtues such as respect for authority, perseverance, fidelity to duty, consideration for others, and practicality.
Reflecting its conservative philosophy, essentialism tends to accept the philosophical views associated with the traditional, conservative elements of American society.

  1. It acknowledges the primary of Essence.
  2. It is not dependent on objective facts and measurements and not limited to empirical understanding.
  3. It transcends self/other dualism to define the undivided source.

1.                  Truth exists in the classics and modern science.
2.                  Students must learn process and content.
3.                  Knowledge  is  gained  through  the  interaction  of  experiences  and rational thought.
1.                  Determined by the natural order of things.
2.                  Values exist in the best of culture.
3.                  Rationality  is  best  developed  through  interplay  of  deductive  and inductive thinking.


The main aims of education are:
1.                  To prepare students to be productive, contributing members of the society.
2.                  To teach the young, the essentials they need to live  well in the modern world.


Essentialism is related to the cultural literacy movement, which advocates the teaching of a core set of knowledge common to (and assumed to be possessed by) members of a culture or society.
Strong emphasis is on basic skills in elementary schools. Emphasis is on knowledge and scholastic achievement in secondary schools.
Reflecting the essentialist emphasis on technological literacy, 'A Nation at Risk‘ recommend that all high school students complete at least one semester of Computer Science.
Essentialism refers to the "traditional" or "Back to the Basics" approach to education.
Essentialism tries to instill all students with the most essential or basic academic knowledge, skills and character development.
It is so named because it strives to instill students with the "essentials" of academic knowledge and character development. The foundation of essentialist curriculum is based on traditional disciplines such as math, natural science, history, foreign language, and literature.
Essentialists frown upon vocational courses. In the essentialist system, students are required to master a set body of information and basic techniques for their grade level before they are promoted to the next higher grade.
The content gradually moves towards more complex skills and detailed knowledge.


Essentialist avoids methodological add-ons and soft pedagogy and concentrates on sound, proven instructional methods.

The students would learn passively by sitting on the desks and listening to the teacher. An example of essentialism would be lecture based introduction classes taught at universities. Students sit and take notes in a classroom which holds over one hundred students. They take introductory level courses in order to introduce them to the content. After completing one course, they will take the next level course and apply what they have learned previously.

 Elementary students receive instruction in skills such as writing, reading, measurement, and computers.
  Subjects most often associated with the development of creativity such as Art and Music to be provided.
   The students are required to master a body of information and basic techniques, gradually moving from less to more complex skills and detailed knowledge.
  Only by mastering the required material for their grade level, the students are promoted to the next higher grade.
Essentialism is different from what Dewey would like to see in the schools. Students in this system would sit in rows and be taught  in masses.


Essentialists urge that the most essential or basic academic skills and knowledge be taught to all the students.

The essentialist classroom is centered on students being taught about the people, events, ideas, and institutions that have shaped the American society. Essentialists hope that when students leave school, they will not only possess basic knowledge and skills, but they will also have disciplined, practical minds, capable of applying lessons learned in school in the real world.

In an essentialist classroom, students are taught to be "Culturally Literate,"

Essentialist programs are academically rigorous, for both slow and fast learners. Essentialists believe in strict classroom management for two reasons.
The first being that students will team better and concentrate better if there are few distractions.
Secondly the teacher can teach better with few distractions.
If a student does something wrong then he or she needs to be punished.


Moreover, essentialists maintain that classrooms should be oriented around the teacher, who ideally serves as an intellectual and moral role model for the students.

•The teachers or the administrators decide what is most important for the students to learn and place little emphasis on student interests, particularly when they divert time and attention from the academic curriculum.
•Essentialist teachers focus heavily on achievement test scores as a means of evaluating progress.

Essentialists believe that the teachers should try to embed traditional moral values and virtues such as respect for authority, perseverance, fidelity to duty, consideration for others, and practicality and intellectual knowledge that students need to become model citizens.


  The report A Nation at Risk reflects that the essentialist emphasis on strictness.
 It calls for more core requirements, a longer school day, a longer academic year, and more challenging textbooks.

Essentialism, a dynamic force in the earlier stage of modern history, becomes a conserving force as the culture that formerly nourished it and to which it has since been loyal and grateful strains towards further sweeping change.

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