Perennialists believe that one should teach the things that one deems to be of everlasting importance to all people everywhere. They believe that the most important topics develop a person. Since details of fact change constantly, these cannot be the most important. Therefore, one should teach principles, not facts. Since people are human, one should teach first about humans, not machines or techniques. Since people are people first, and workers second if at all, one should teach liberal topics first, not vocational topics.
A particular strategy with modern perennialists is to teach scientific reasoning, not facts. They may illustrate the reasoning with original accounts of famous experiments. This gives the students a human side to the science, and shows the reasoning in action. Most importantly, it shows the uncertainty and false steps of real science.
Although perennialism may appear similar to essentialism, perennialism focuses first on personal development, while essentialism focuses first on essential skills. Essentialist curricula thus tend to be much more vocational and fact-based, and far less liberal and principle-based. Both philosophies are typically considered to be teacher-centered, as opposed to student-centered philosophies of education such as progressivism. However, since the teachers associated with perennialism are in a sense the authors of the Western masterpieces themselves, these teachers may be open to student criticism through the associated Socratic method, which, if carried out as true dialogue, is a balance between students, including the teacher promoting the discussion.
The word perennial in secular perennialism suggests something that lasts an indefinitely long time, recurs again and again, or is self-renewing. As promoted primarily by Robert Hutchins and Mortimer Adler, a universal curriculum based upon the common and essential nature of all human beings is recommended. This form of perennialism comprises the humanist and scientific traditions. Hutchins and Adler implemented these ideas with great success at the University of Chicago, where they still strongly influence the curriculum. Other notable figures in the movement include Stringfellow Barr and Scott Buchanan (who together initiated the Great Books program at St. John's College in Annapolis, Maryland), Mark Van Doren, Alexander Meiklejohn, and Sir Richard Livingstone, an English classicist with an American following.
Secular perennialists espouse the idea that education should focus on the historical development of a continually developing common western base of human knowledge and art, the timeless value of classic thought on central human issues by landmark thinkers, and revolutionary ideas critical to historical western paradigm shifts or changes in world view. A program of studies which is highly general, nonspecialized, and nonvocational is advocated. They firmly believe that exposure of all citizens to the development of thought by those most responsible for the evolution of the Western tradition is integral to the survival of the freedoms, human rights and responsibilities inherent to a true Democracy.
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