Metaphysics is one of the branches of philosophy that wrestles with the question of reality in the known and the unknown worlds. An idealist finds reality in the unknown world through ideas in his mind; a realist finds reality in the known world through his senses. You can reach a better understanding of idealism by contrasting idealism with realism.
Two Different Philosophical Directions
Idealism and realism were fully expressed in the Greek era in the third century B.C. and both are still present today in various educational philosophies. An idealist believes the ultimate reality is found in ideas that are eternal, absolute and timeless and are part of human consciousness. This belief places an emphasis on rationality, in which the mind can generalize and make meaning in the world. A realist believes that reality is found in the material world and can be interpreted only by man's senses and reason. Reliance on scientific experimentation and common sense is fundamental.
Idealistic viewpoints are found in subjects such as fine arts, classic humanities, theology, philosophy, history and literature. These subjects emphasize intellectual processes and acuity of the mind. They form a major part of liberal arts curricula, which dwell on cultural concerns above those of a utilitarian nature. The implication in education holds that students will tend to choose classes that appeal to their intellects. Taken to an extreme, an idealist will not be attracted to sign up for a particular major course just to find a job to earn a living or be interested in any ambitious undertaking to acquire wealth and power.
Realism has had a dominant effect in modern education. Its contribution to science and technology is enormous and is important in economic competition between the United States and countries of the world. Realists promote such subjects as mathematics, science and logic in which knowledge gained is essential in the objectivity of science. Any meaning in life is not permanent but becomes transient in the light of new knowledge.
Contribution of Idealism to Education
Idealism has had great influence in education. Study in the arts reveals a bit of ultimate reality and promotes the quality of life as no other area can. It draws attention to truths that do not change; through religious study, idealism can bring a meaning to existence on Earth that remains permanent. It addresses the reality of intangible things that are experienced but cannot be seen, such as love, trust, hope and faith. Even though they may not be equally represented, both idealistic and realistic philosophies are generally recognized in school curricula.