a view from educational psychology

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  • EDUCATIONAL THEORY Winter 1981, Vol. 31, No. 1 @ 1981 by the Board of Trustees of the University of lllinols

    A View from Educational Psychology By Lee S. Shulman

    This is a rich, stimulating volume that portrays the scope of the field of philosophy of education in a satisfying manner. The individual chapters are well-written and they reflect, as far as I can tell, the current state of the field as viewed by insiders. However, this symposium has been organized to provide an opportunity for out- siders - those whose vocation as educators is not primarily phi losophical - t o review and reflect upon the new NSSE Yearbook as it relates to their interests as philosophical laypersons. It is f rom that perspective that I have prepared these comments.

    "What philosophy is most worth?" to the general educational researcher? My own selfish view is to value most those contr ibutions of philosophers of education which inform my own work. When I review the works o f educational philosophers that have influenced my work most in the past ten years, I recall contr ibutions whose message brought me up short and forced me to confront typically unexamined aspects of my own work in ways I had never anticipated. They were writ ing about topics in education and educational research which harbored philosophical prob- lems or logical embarrassments. They were not necessarily addressing classical problems of philosophy per se and inviting me to join in their analysis o n their turf.

    Recognizing that any list I suggest of philosophical pieces which I found en- lightening risks incurr ing the wrath of a valued colleague inadvertently overlooked, I shall foolishly proceed. Here are several examples of works which forced me to reconsider and reconstruct the basic firmament of my thinking as an educational psychologist:

    The many writings of Joseph Schwab, especially his analysis of "What do scientists do"' and his three essays on "the practical."2

    Kenneth Strike writing on the language of behaviorism in the American Educational Research Jou~na l ;~ Strike, again, this time in collabroation with Posner, writing on the logic of research in learning and cu r r i~u lum.~ Tom Green's writings on the character of both teaching and learning, es- pecially his analysis of teaching as requiring discernment of the premises of the practical argument in the mind of the child.5 Gary Fenstermacher's6 penetrating analysis of the logic of research on teaching.

    Lee S. Shulman is Professor of Educational Psychology and Medical Education, and Associate Director, Institute for Research on Teaching, at Michigan State University.

    1. J. J. Schwab, "What do scientists do?" Behavioral Science 5 (1960): 1-27. 2. J. J. Schwab, Science, Curriculum and Liberal Education (Chicago: University of Chi-

    cago Press, 1978), pp. 287-383. 3. I


    Bob Gowin's contributions to the criticism of educational research;' and

    DenisPhillips'scritical analysisof holistic thought8 and of stage theoriesg

    Works such as these have established my tastes in educational philosophy, for they are writings which force me to reflect on my own work and that of my col- leagues. They hold up the mirror of analysis before those familiar activities and make them appear new and often strange.

    I shall organize my remarks around the following questions. Were I'to have edited this Yearbook, how might I have organized it differently and perhaps commis- sioned other papers? How well does the Yearbook deal with questions of the pe- culiar role of educational research within the social sciences (or perhaps humani- ties), and of the social sciences themselves within the natural sciences typically discussed by philosophers and historians of science? When the philosopher- authors in the Yearbook discuss aspects of thinking, reasoning and judgment, how well do their analyses reflect the current state of knowledge in the cognitive sci- ences? Finally, what ought to be the roles of philosophers of education within the broader community of educational scholars?


    I would have organized and commissioned a somewhat different volume if the enlightenment of non-philosophers were my first priority. The present volume, by and large, reflects a set of topics and issues which constitute the current intellec- tual agenda of philosophers of education. While of substantial interest as a set, they correspond only slightly to the topics likely to appeal to the community of edu- cational scholars, writ large. I would have instead identified a set of problems or issues of current concern to the general community of educational researchers. I then would have asked leading philosophers of education, such as those who have contributed to this volume, to prepare papers on those topics from a philo- sophical perspective. While editor of the Review of Research in Education, I twice commissioned such chapters: an analysis of research on learning and curriculum by Strike and Posner,lo and a critique of research on teaching by Fenstermacher."

    For the present Yearbook, I would have chosen a set of topics which would have included areas such as Mastery Learning, Applications of Cognitive Science in Education, Individualization of Instruction, Mainstreaming, Uses of Tests for Intelligence and Achievement, Time-on-Task, Program Evaluation, Quantitative and Qualitative Methodologies, as well as areas already included in the volume such as Teaching and Desegregation. Examinations of such topics by leading phi- losophers of education would stimulate the work of educational researchers by calling attention to aspects of these issues typically ignored by the philosophically innocent or indiscreet. As I indicated earlier, the role of the philosopher is to serve as gadfly to his or her profession, as the "torpedo fish" whose shock awakens US from our dogmatic slumbers and alerts us to the unexamined premises or unde- tected embarrassments of our daily inquiries.

    I fully recognize one clear danger of the position I espouse with respect to the professional integrity and identity of philosophers. To urge that the philosopher accept the agendas of non-philosophers as the proper starting point of his or her

    7. For example, J . Millman and D. B. Gowin, Appraising educational research: A case study approach (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1974).

    8. D. C. Phillips, Holistic thought in social science (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1976).

    9. D. C. Phillips and M. E. Kelly, "Hierarchical theories of development in education and psychology," Harvard Educational Review 45 (1 975): 351 -375.

    10. K. A. Strike and G. J. Posner, "Epistemological perspectives on conceptions of curricu- lum organization and learning," in L. S. Shulman,Review of research in education, IV, pp. 106-141.

    11. G. D. Fenstermacher, "A philosophical consideration of recent research on teacher effectiveness," in L. S . Shulman, Review of research in eduction, fV.

    WINTER 1981


    inquiries is to risk assigning to the philosopher the role of handmaiden. Does such an approach deprive philosophy of education of its own proper definition and ren- der the field perennially "second-class"? 1 think not. 1 shall return to that question at the end of this paper.


    An issue noteworthy for its absence from this volume was the status of Educa- tion as a field of study. This question can be addressed in a number of ways, one of which is the position of the social and behavioral sciences within the forms of hu- man knowledge. In addition, the relationships between inquiry in education and those socialibehavioral sciences need also be examined. The chapters by Soltis, Kerr, and especially Phillips, could well have addressed this issue. But while each was excellent in pursuing its chosen contents, none addressed the fundamental character of educational inquiry, which is debated so actively these days, especially among non-philosophers.

    Education is not a "science" in the sense of those sciences discussed by Pop- per, Kuhn, Lakatos, Feyerabend and the other philosophers of science examined by Phillips. More or less ignored are the set of concerns best exemplified in recent years by the critical essays of Cronbach,'* Glass,13 Campbell,14 McKeachie15 and others on basic research in education, as well as comparable discussions of evalu- ation and policy research by Cronbach and his co-workers,16 Lindblom and Cohen" and others. What is the peculiar status of social science among the sciences, and of Education among the forms of social knowledge? How does educational knowl- edge .grow, accumulate and decay? What canons of evidence are appropriate to a field of study whose major focus is (or ought to be) on an artifact called "practice"?

    The NSSE Yearbooks are directed to both scholars and practitioners. Perhaps such a treatment of the nature of educational inquiry would have been of only lim- ited interest to the practitioner. Certainly, however, it would have been of central importance to any active contemporary educational scholar. It is unfortunate that it is missing from the present volume.

    What might such a chapter or chapters have discussed? I would envision sev- eral chapters falling somehwere between Kerr's treatment of a theory of practice and Phillips's analyses of conceptions of science. For example, what is the status of educational research in relation to Kuhn's distinction between normal and revolu- tionary science? Does our field work within a framework of paradigms? Or are we properly conceived as pre-paradigmatic, in Kuhn's terms?

    I would be inclined to claim that it is inappropriate to classify education as pre- paradigmatic.