Perennialism in the Context of Philippine Public Education

A short Analyse

Essay, 2016

11 Pages, Grade: 1.00




Universal and Absolute Educational Principles

Great Books of the Western World

Liberal Education

Analysis and Application of Perennialism in the Philippine Context

Final Thoughts

Points to Ponder


Perennial means “everlasting,” like a perennial flower that comes up year after year, which espouses the notion that some ideas have lasted over the centuries, and are as relevant today as when they were first conceived (Maheshwari, 2011). These perennial ideas cannot just be disregarded because these also reflect what we, as a nation, have always wanted. It is interesting that these ideas, like democracy, truth, and good education, are what most of us sought ever since. However, in the modern era, educational systems have been more focus on change, and thereby indirectly rejecting the works that great people from the past have contemplated in their time; hence, it is very easy to find people who will oppose this educational philosophy. Given that most people are not open to this kind of philosophy at this time, as educators, who are seeking the best education for our students and ultimately for our nation, we need to examine and consider the philosophies, such as perennialism, and their ideals that could possibly attain our purpose. This essay will discuss perennialism and its components, based primarily on the works of its major proponents, namely: Robert Maynard Hutchins and Mortimer Jerome Adler, its application to the Philippine context, and the author’s stand about the said philosophy.


Men do not have the same educational goals and principles, but should they? That is the question asked by Adler (1988) to determine whether the critics of perennialism believe that there are absolute and universal principles of education, or there is none. These principles of the perennialism are rooted in the chief object of education—the improvement of men (Adler, 1988). To improve men means to develop their rational, moral, and spiritual powers to the fullest extent (Hutchins, 1953). This notion would gain agreements from most educators; nonetheless, we still need to dig a little deeper to on how the perennialist teachers think they would achieve their purpose and ultimately answer this question: What makes their educational philosophy perennial?.

Universal and Absolute Educational Principles

Perennialism believes in the application of universal and absolute educational principles. He believes that the ends of education are the same. They are absolute in the sense that they are not relative to time and place, and universal in the sense that they are invariable and without exception (Adler, 1988). This statement is often misunderstood, and garners a multitude of critics, because it gives an impression that it does not consider the differences of people and the varying circumstances to which these principles are applied. Thus, to withstand these criticisms, the perennialist teachers made a very important point regarding their view on these principles. They clarified that the universal and absolute principles of education does not mean that the actual educational practices must be the same. In fact, they proposed that these practices should be different and should be based on one’s culture, their individuality, and the circumstances of the time and place at which these principles will be applied; according to them, an intelligent application of principles requires that these principles be adapted to varying situations (Adler, 1988). This reasoning regarding the application of the universal and absolute principles to the every student’s own context will be further examined in the succeeding parts this essay.

There are three propositions which support the idea of these universal and absolute principles of perennialism in education. First, human nature is the same everywhere. By nature, a human offspring will grow into an adult man/woman rather than a pig or a bug. Second, education is always regarded as the process of the improvement. For instance, the study of medicine does not aim for spreading a disease, but for restoring and improving the health. Lastly, the ends of education are twofold: proximate and ultimate. The proximate ends of education are moral (good habits of knowing and thinking) and intellectual virtues (good habits of desiring and acting); on the other hand, the ultimate end of education is happiness or good human life (Adler, 1988).

These propositions come down into these conclusions. If specific human nature is everywhere, and at all times, same in all men, then all men have the same capacities that need to be developed—although, as individuals, they differ in the degree that they possess these capacities. If these capacities are part of human nature, then these can be referred as natural capacities, something that tends naturally towards development. Therefore, habits, as the fulfilment of the human capacities, are said to be good if they conform to the natural tendency of the power or capacity which they develop (e.g. power of thinking is perfected by habits of thinking well, power of knowing is perfected by the habits of knowing). To sum these up, if the aim of education is to improve men by forming good habits in them, and if these good habits or virtues are the same for all men, then it follows that these good habits or virtues are absolute and universal principles, on which education should be founded (Adler, 1988).

Great Books of the Western World

The Great Books of the Western World is a set of books, which Robert Hutchins and Mortimer Adler edited for William Benton, the owner and publisher of the Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., that serves as the materials for their seminars. These books are very important in the educational system employing perennialism, because these books are used to teach all the students how to read critically and think reflectively about the basic ideas and issues that are present throughout the course of the history (Doren, 1988; Hutchins as cited by Adler, 1988). Perennialist teachers agree that some basic truths and many errors are to be found in great books, because many errors can be found in every single truth. To discover the truth and errors, one must detect the contradictions found in the great books. The truth must lie on one or another side of every contradiction. This is the reason why the great books are useful in the search for truth, a concept that is central to perennialism (Adler, 1988).

However, as the name of these set of books suggests, these books are not compiled for all students across the world, but rather for the students of Western origin. Furthermore, the perennialist teachers discourage the addition of books of Eastern origin to the Great Books (Hutchins, 1954). Therefore, it hints that the study of perennialism is not intended for the students of the Eastern origin, including the Filipinos, and that this philosophy indirectly rejects the wisdom of the people from East—both of which deduce to the fact that perennialism disagrees with its own concept of universalism.

Liberal Education

Education, according to the perennialist teachers has two kinds, namely: vocational and liberal. Vocational education is the training for labor or job which is specialized towards an extrinsic end. This kind of education uses deductive and expository methods and is viewed as the education of slaves and workers. On the other hand, liberal education is general, with intrinsic end, and viewed as the education of free men. This type of education uses inductive, and Socratic or dialectical method (Adler, 1988; Adler, 1991). To simply illustrate the difference between the two, there can be two reasons why a person wanted to be a teacher. One reason is to guide the students in order that they become rational, moral, and intellectual beings so that as a teacher, he/she contribute in the ideals of democracy, truth, and good education in the country. The other reason is to teach the students well so they can have high grades with the purpose of earning more money from the incentives added to their salary. In this illustration, the first reason is liberal and the second is vocational.

Perennialism advocates liberal education. Even so, people argue that liberal education ignores the fact that human beings are different. The perennialist teachers recognize this fact, but at the same time believe that all men are the same. Our individual differences mean that our individual development must vary—something that proponents of perennialism strongly disagree. They say that our individual differences are of degree and not of kind; men only differ in the degree of their capacities to be developed. Since men are of the same kind, then it would be more beneficial to bring our common humanity and it supports the idea that every man has the chance to become as wise as he can, rather than indulge in our differences. Hence, it strengthens perennialism’s belief that the liberal education should be preferred over vocational education (Hutchins, 1953).

Analysis and Application of Perennialism in the Philippine Context

Perennialism is designed for the Western education and not for the education in the East. Though it emphasizes that some educational principles can be applied in any time and place, perennialism is simply not universal and absolute, for it did not consider its application in the East side of the world. The Western culture, values, and history are not only different in degree with that of the Eastern but definitely in kind, though the concept of the definitions of the words degree and kind may be relative. The point is that perennialist teachers advocate that education be culture-based, and that the Great Books are excellent transmitters of their culture. This might also be the reason why they would not encourage the addition of books from the East regardless of how great these books are. Thus, if we are to advocate a culture-based education, we should discourage the use of perennialism as the country’s major educational philosophy for three reasons. First, the Western culture found in the Great Books is way different from ours. Second, the study of the Great Books might strengthen the persistent problem of colonial mentality among the Filipinos. Third, it does not promote who we really are as Filipinos and our culture as a nation.

There is also a major assumption about perennialism—that is, its disdain for change. People, who play with words, will probably tell that perennialism, comes from the word perennial, which is obviously, the opposite of change. Hence, it is easy to infer that perennialism is against change, but how do they define change ? If change will be defined as reforming our educational systems through virtuous means, then perennialism is not against change; it is in line with change. If the perennialist teachers do not believe in change, then they will not also believe in the universal and absolute values, because the recognition of a belief, also affirms its opposite (e.g. if you believe in the existence of truth, then you also affirm that falsity exists). To add, Adler (1988) did not reject progressive studies, but instead advocated it—only if permanent studies, the liberal arts and the cultural education, are taught first; thereby strengthening the fact that perennialism is not against change.

Whatever the critics say, one cannot deny the fact that the universal and absolute ideas can still exist if its scope will be limited to a nation, such as the Philippines. For example, the love of freedom can be seen in any part of the Philippine history; there are lots of instances in the Philippine history to prove this point. In the pre-Hispanic times, though we have a social class called alipin (further classified as aliping saguiguilid and aliping namamahay), these people attain their freedom by paying their debts or by buying their freedom in order to liberate themselves from slavery, thereby showing their disdain from being slaves and their love for freedom. Another instance is during the Spanish era, when Lapu Lapu fought Magellan because the former foresees a threat to the freedom of his tribe. During the American regime, General Antonio Luna fights to death for his ideas of freedom. In the Japanese era, no matter how cruel and powerful the Japanese are, the Filipinos form guerrillas who fought successfully in many battles against their oppressors. There are a lot more instances that Filipinos prove their love for freedom, and if the author would go on in listing each part of the history showing this outstanding Filipino value, then she might go beyond the allowed number of pages in this essay. But then, the notion of the Filipinos’ universal value of the love of freedom might be contested in the sense that there are very few who chose to help the colonizers. However, though these few chose to be on the side of the enemy, their reason might also be the love of freedom, although it is a badly-thought and distorted version of this value.

If one does not believe that he/she is part of a culture that has distinct values that is present in any time and in any place in the course of the history, then how did he/she form his/her identity? Every nation has their virtues, by which people form their identities and ultimately their culture and beliefs. Filipinos comprise a nation, we should act as one; we should clearly define the kind of people we want to produce in the light of our moral foundations. If someone thinks that choosing these ideals of a good society is a repression of rights and he/she does not consider the values that are good for everyone, let’s say for instance, justice, then something is wrong with how that person is educated. This statement might again be contested by some people (e.g. critical pedagogues) as oppression. To clarify, these universal and absolute values that we are talking about are not the values of one person or of a ruling class; these values are the values and the ideals of all the rational and moral people in order for everyone to live well. Examples of these universal and absolute values are justice, excellence, equity, morality, and peace, which are not decided by one, but rather are judged by everyone and supported with sound reasons. In short, universal and absolute values are present and to deny it means the deviation from the good ideals of the nation.

In terms of liberal education, the author agrees with the use of the dialectic method. Its proper use will result in the cultivation of the mind of the Filipino students. Fortunately, the Filipino students are now a step ahead. Gone were the days that most of them are fearful to express their opinions to their teachers; most of them are now open with their thoughts. This is a good thing, for it is now easier to engage them in mind cultivating activities, such as dialogues in order to train them to develop the habit of thinking well. Furthermore, liberal instruction should start, as early as possible, as a subject with longer hours and varying degrees of difficulty depending on the grade/year level of the students. However, instead of teaching the Great Books of the Western World, the Philippines should create their own list of the Great Books of the Philippines, which includes the masterpieces of great Filipinos such as Dr. Jose P. Rizal, Andres Bonifacio, Apolinario Mabini, Antonio Luna, Emilio Aguinaldo, and other great Filipinos, who exemplify the universal and absolute values that we have admired until now, in order to transmit these values with the use of dialectics in order to find the truth, culture, and morals in each Filipino Great Book.


Excerpt out of 11 pages


Perennialism in the Context of Philippine Public Education
A short Analyse
University of the Philippines
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ISBN (eBook)
perennialism, context, philippine, public, education, analyse
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May Anne Joy Romanes (Author), 2016, Perennialism in the Context of Philippine Public Education, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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