Spencer’s Educational Theory – A Brief Overview

Herbert Spencer was an English philosopher, sociologist, and political theorist of the Victorian era. He is known for his contributions to evolutionary theory and his belief in laissez-faire economic policies.

However, his educational theory is also widely discussed and debated. Spencer’s educational theory is often referred to as Social Darwinism.

What is Social Darwinism?

Social Darwinism is a term coined in the late 19th century to describe the application of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution to social and political issues. It was used to justify the unequal distribution of wealth and power in society, arguing that some individuals or groups are more fit than others.

Spencer’s Contribution to Social Darwinism

Spencer believed that education should be based on natural selection principles. He argued that the purpose of education was to prepare individuals for survival in a competitive world. According to him, education should not focus on imparting knowledge but on developing physical strength, mental agility, and adaptability.

Spencer believed that the weakest members of society should not be supported because they were unfit for survival. In his view, this would only weaken society as a whole. Instead, Spencer argued that society should be structured according to natural selection principles so that only the fittest would survive.

Criticism of Social Darwinism

Social Darwinism has been heavily criticized by many scholars and activists who argue that it promotes inequality and justifies discrimination against certain groups. Critics argue that this philosophy ignores the role of social structures and historical factors in determining human outcomes.

Moreover, critics argue that Spencer’s philosophy ignores how social institutions perpetuate inequality rather than promote equal opportunity for all members of society.


In conclusion, Spencer’s educational theory is often referred to as Social Darwinism because it applied the principles of natural selection to education. However, this philosophy has been heavily criticized for promoting inequality and ignoring the social and historical factors that shape human outcomes.

It is important to understand the context in which Spencer’s ideas were formed and to recognize that his ideas have been superseded by more inclusive and equitable educational theories. As educators, we must strive to provide equal opportunities for all students, regardless of their backgrounds or abilities.