Alfred North Whitehead, an educator throughout his life, is best known for the three-volume work Principia Mathematica (1910–13), which he wrote with his one-time student, Bertrand Russell.
Born in East Kent, England, Whitehead earned his BA from Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1884 and his doctorate from the same institution in 1905. While his interest in mathematics dominated his early career, Whitehead became interested in education and the philosophy of education. In 1916, he delivered a lecture titled “The Aims of Education: A Plea for Reform” that was sharply critical of the educational practices of the time. He asserted that understanding must be the goal of education, and how this is achieved will necessarily be affected by the individual. A book by the same title, which is a collection of essays written between 1912 and 1922, was published in 1929.
Because of his technical use of language, dense writing style, and absence of a single treatise that encapsulates his entire philosophy of education, many find it difficult to access Whitehead’s ideas. In addition to his written work and lectures, Whitehead advised the British government on several educational initiatives and, from 1919 to 1924, served as chair of the Governing Board of the University of London’s teachers’ college.
In 1924, Whitehead went to teach at Harvard University, where his work focused on metaphysics and the nature of knowledge. His cosmological philosophy was developed during this time. He retired from Harvard as Professor Emeritus in 1937.
- Dunkel, H. B. (1965). Whitehead on education. Columbus: Ohio State University Press.
- Lowe, V. (1985). Alfred North Whitehead: The man and his work. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.
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