Philosophy of Education – the need for design patterns

I recently saw critique from the UK Push on John Dewey, Lev Vygotsky, Jerome Buner, Jean Piaget and Maria Montessori. The critique suggested that these historical figures hinder engagement with more contemporary research.  The critique came from a person not that familiar with research. This points to a broader problem that might be solved using philosophical design patterns that might make it easier for the lay person to engage.

Teaching – like architecture, software development and educational assessment – is a recurring activity.  Pattern language was first made popular in architecture through Alexander et al. (1977) in the book A Pattern Language. Gamma, Helm, Johnson, and Vlissides (1995) directly drew on this work to develop a set of design patterns for software development. The use of a pattern language greatly assisted, for example, in the building of the internet that required working groups of various sorts to develop standards (Leiner et al., 2009).  Mislevy et al. (2003) drew on this earlier work in patterns to develop design patterns for assessing science inquiry. Perhaps it is time to extend the notion of design patterns into teaching to make teaching’s underpinnings more transparent.

Currently, most of education’s recurring patterns are represented using the names of key thinkers. This can become confusing, as often these patterns are explored by different authors from different perspectives. For example, the empirical-rational divide is commonly traced back to Kant (1781/2016), but could equally be discussed in terms of Hume (1739/1985), or a range of other thinkers. This can become confusing, not only for the likes of the UK Push not familiar with research, but also for others actively involved in research.

I here proffer possible design patterns for the key thinkers that the UK Push object to. These are by no means completely thought through, and are highly reductionist as presented here. They are provided by way of suggestion. These are the patterns that these thinkers represent for me, others will have different ideas.

John Dewey – stands for education being a social and interactive process that focuses on socialisation. This is a common theme explored throughout sociology. Key examples include the sociology of Parsons (1937/1968a, 1937/1968b), and the notion of education as initiation of Peters (2007). The dialectic is often described by others, for example Berger (1967/2011) when he declares “that society is the product of man and that man is the product of society” (p. 13).

Lev Vygotsky – stands for teaching students material they are likely to understand, more commonly referred to as the Zone of Proximal Development. This theme is drawn on, for example, by Griffin (2007) and Masters (2013) in relation to Rasch-based assessment.  Vygotsky also stands for the dialectical relationship between technology and learning. Something picked up, for example, by Papert (1993). Similarly PISA makes changes to its assessment constructs to include new elements over PISA cycles to incorporate developments in technology (OECD, 2006; 2016, p. 42). These are two patterns that Vygotsky represents for me.

Jerome Bruner – stands for the teaching of process in education, and that education is not just about memorisation. He talks of scaffolding, that refers to children building on information they have already assimilated. In this sense, Bruner’s patterns overlaps somewhat with that of Vygotsky.

Jean Piaget – stands for cognitive and moral development. Where his approach varies to that of Vygotsky and Bruner, for example, is with its focus on moral development. Themes picked up by Kohlberg (1971) and Gilligan (1977).

Maria Montessori – stands for the feminine aspects of education. Her early work with mentally challenged children shows a focus on unconditional care towards children. Her work also represents an emphasis on the sensorial in addition to the cognitive.

While I’m not expecting agreement on the pattern outlines I have suggested here, they provide a flavour of what we are referring to when we invoke Dewey, Vygotsky, Buner, Piaget and Montessori. When these names are invoked, we are not subscribing to an encompassing approach to education. Instead, we are referring to a pattern of concern. Teachers reconcile demands of these patterns daily.  These are complex decisions that the simple minded of the UK Push deride at their own peril.


Alexander, C., Ishikawa, S., Silverstein, M., Jacobson, M., Fiksdahl-King, I., & Angel, S. (1977). A pattern language: Towns, buildings, construction. New York: Oxford University Press.

Gamma, E., Helm, R., Johnson, R., & Vlissides, J. (1995). Design patterns: Elements of reusable object-oriented software. Boston: Addison-Wesley.

Gilligan, C. (1977). In a different voice: Women’s conceptions of self and of morality. Harvard Educational Review, 47(4), 481-517.

Griffin, P. (2007). The comfort of competence and the uncertainty of assessment. Studies in Educational Evaluation, 33(1), 87-99.

Hume, D. (1985). Treatise on human nature (A. Selby-Bigge Ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.  (Original work published 1739)

Kant, I. (2016). Critique of pure reason (P. Guyer & A. W. Wood, Trans.). New York: Cambridge University Press.  (Original work published 1781)

Kohlberg, L. (1971). Stages of moral development as a basis for moral education. In C. M. Beck, B. S. Crittenden, & Ε. V. Sullivan (Eds.), Moral education (pp. 23-92): University of Toronto Press.

Leiner, B. M., Cerf, V. G., Clark, D. D., Kahn, R. E., Kleinrock, L., Lynch, D. C., . . . Wolff, S. (2009). A brief history of the Internet. ACM SIGCOMM Computer Communication Review, 39(5), 22-31.

Masters, G. N. (2013). Reforming educational assessment: Imperatives, principles and challenges.

Mislevy, R. J., Hamel, L., Fried, R., Gaffney, T., Haertel, G., Hafter, A., . . . Wenk, A. (2003). Design Patterns for Assessing Science Inquiry. Retrieved from Menlo Park:

OECD. (2006). Assessing Scientific, Reading and Mathematical Literacy: A Framework for PISA 2006. Paris: OECD Publishing.

OECD. (2016). PISA 2015 assessment and analytical framework: Science, reading, mathematic and financial literacy. Paris: OECD Publishing.

Papert, S. (1993). Mindstorms: Children, computers, and powerful ideas (2nd ed.). New York: Basic Books, Inc.

Parsons, T. (1968a). The structure of social action: A study in social theory with special reference to a group of recent European writers, voume 1. New York: The Free Press.  (Original work published 1937)

Parsons, T. (1968b). The structure of social action: A study in social theory with special reference to a group of recent European writers, voume 2. New York: The Free Press.  (Original work published 1937)

Peters, R. S. (2007). Education as Initiation. In R. Curren (Ed.), Philosophy of education: An anthology (pp. 55-67). Maldon MA: Blackwell Publishing.

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