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. I38 EDUCATIONAL THEORY 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? 1. ORGANIZATION AND CONTENTS 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 EDUCATIONAL PSYCHOLOGY 39 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. II. EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH AS SCIENCE 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. We must not look to Kuhn for a proper definition of our state, but rather to Schwab, to Merton, and even, yes, to Feyerabend. As Schwab points out, our plurality of theories is not an artifact of transient immaturity but an inevitable feature of our disciplines. Theoretical pluralism is our mature state. We are there- fore resigned to pursue the rigors of disciplined eclectic.18 Schwab's treatment of 12. L. J. Cronbach, "Beyond the two disciplines of scientific psychology," American Psy- 13. G. V. Glass, "The wisdom of scientific inquiry on education," Journal of Research in 14. D. C. Cambell, Qualitative Knowing in Action Research (Kurt Lewin Award Address, 15. W. J. McKeachie, "The decline and fall of laws of learning," Educational Researcher 16. L. J. Cronbach and Associates, Toward reform of program evaluation: Aims, methods, 17. C. Lindblom and D. Cohen, Usable Knowledge (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 18. R. K. Merton, "Priorities in scientific discovery: A chapter in the sociology of science," chologist 30 (1975): 116-127. Science Teaching 9 (1972): 3-18. Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues, 1974). 3, 3 (1974): 7-11. and institutional arrangements (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1980). 1979). American Sociological Review 22 (1 957): 635-659. VOLUME 31, NUMBER 1 40 EDUCATIONAL THEORY the practical and the important role of the eclectic in curriculum development holds as well for educational research in general. Feyerabend, as quoted by Phillips, put it very well: You can be a good empiricist only if you are prepared to work with many alternative theories rather than with a single point of view and "experience." This plurality of theories must not be regarded as a preliminary stage of knowledge which will at some time in the future be replaced by the One True Theory.lg There is another aspect of the research enterprise which emerges from Phillips's exposition and needs to be understood far more clearly by those in educational research. This is the importance of Lakatos's concept of the "research program." Lakatos calls upon those who examine research to avoid the error of reviewing a body of work one study at a time. Instead of treating the full research program as the proper unit of investigation, critics too often become enmeshed in single studies, losing sense of how the entire program of inquiry is developed. This myopia is often shared with the very investigators whose work is under scrutiny. The prepa- ration of graduate students for research also focuses almost exclusively on the de- sign, analysis and criticism of the single study, only rarely on the preparation and understanding of educational research over the long haul. This emphasis could be further exemplified in Merton's concept of the "strategic research site"z0 and in Schwab's analysis of "What do scientists do?''21 There is an observation I would insert parenthetically at this juncture. Schwab is characterized by Phillips as essentially equivalent to Hirst in his conception of knowledge, its structure and organization. However, such a portrayal of Schwab's work ignores essential portions of his analyses of knowledge. These include the aforementioned essay on the work of scientists, his critical distinction between substantive and syntactic structure (only the first of which is typically grasped by critics), and relationships among his essays on the practical and his concept of theoretical knowledge and hence the special role of deliberation as a means for bridging among intrinsically incomplete theoretical positions. In this section I have discussed the topic whose absence I most regret in the book. Arguments over the proper conception of educational inquiry are among the hottest and potentially most fruitful currently conducted among educational schol- ars. Much can be learned from analyses of these issues to be made by our leading philosophers of education and educational research. This work cannot depend upon derivations from the efforts of philosophers of science who treat the natural sciences as their prototype, nor even from philosophers of social science, for whom theoretical understanding of individual and social behavior is central. It is the mar- riage of theoretical knowledge with practical action which characterizes Education (along with Medicine, Law, and other "professional fields") and requires a philo- sophical perspective of its own. 1 1 1 . THINKING ABOUT THINKING Several of the chapters (e.g., Soltis and Ennis) examine concepts of knowledge and thinking, certainly proper topics for the epistemologist or logician. I am particularly concerned with the relationships between philosophical treatments of knowledge, thinking, and learning, and empirical studies of similar phenomena. Philosophers are appropriately critical of cognitive psychologists who are epistemologically naive, but is psychological innocence among epistemologists and normative logicians (advocates of "straight thinking") any more benign? 19. P. Feyerabend, "How to be a good empiricist," quoted in Phillips, Hofistic Thought in Social Science, p. 250. '20. Merton, "Prioritiesin scientificdiscovery," in L. S. Shulman,Reviewofresearchineduca- tion, IV. 21. J. J . Schwab, "What do scientists do?" WINTER 1981 EOUCATIONAL PSYCHOLOGY 41 The chapter by Ennis provides a good example. We find here a set of admoni- tions on straight thinking, the manner in which those who wish to think logically and effectively ought to proceed. However, never is there any mention of the grow- ing body of empirical work in cognitive psychology which helps us understand both how people think, and why they may have difficulties following some normative injunctions. Contemporary cognitive psychology has built upon the foundation laid in the work of Herbert Simon,22 who has repeatedly demonstrated the bounded- ness of human rationality. That is, human beings are neither rational nor irrational by nature. Their rationality is limited in predictable and explainable ways by the structures of short- and long-term memory and the relationships between them. The work of Tversky and KahnemanZ3 on the psychology of inferential reason- ing, the contributions of Nisbett and Rossz4 extending and interpreting such work, all contribute to our grasp of the potential of human cognition. While normative views are essential (and insufficiently appreciated by empirical cognitive psycholo- gists), they should be informed by whatever empirical work is germane. A good example of such work by a philosopher is the essay by Alvin GoldmanZ5 calling upon epistemologists to draw upon the efforts of contemporary cognitive psychol- ogists. In a similar manner, Ennis argues for the necessity to develop modes of think- ing and reasoning that will be useful across domains and topics of interest. Yet, one of the discoveries of cognitive psychological research (echoing with embar- rassing clarity earlier studies by E. L. Thorndike) has been the narrowness of knowl- edge transfer from one domain to another. Even procedural knowledge, ostensibly so general in its power and usefulness, transfers in a limited way. Is this a function of inherent limitations of human information processing, insufficiencies of instruc- tion, or both? We do not yet know. Advocates of both positions are pursuing the question. Soltis argued for the importance of thinkers learning to reflect upon and think about their own thinking. Yet never does he make reference to the body of research on mefacognitionz6 which examines how individuals, especially children, come to understand their own thinking and reasoning. I provide these examples, not to chastise my colleagues in philosophy, whose work I value. Certainly philosophers can present an equally impressive list of discus- sions by psychologists which either beg or ignore questions which philosophers learn in their primers. The message here is for closer communication and collabo- ration between these fields, not for a shbordination of one to another. Iv. THE EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH COMMUNITY As I read through this Yearbook, stimulated by the many provocative insights and periodically annoyed by the sorts of matters I have discussed above, the ques- tion of how educational scholars ought to be organized into research communities repeatedly arose. I believe we need to elaborate new prototypes for the collabora- tion between philosophers and other educational scholars. In the Institute for Re- search on Teaching, we have several examples of attempts to arrange such col- laborations, as philosophers have worked jointly with psychologists, statisticians, teachers, teacher educators and curriculum specialists on studies of language arts 22. H. A. Simon, Models of thought (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1979). 23. A. Tversky and D. Kahneman, "Judgment under uncertainty: Heuristics and biases," 24. R. Nisbett and L. Ross, Human inference: Strategies and shortcomings of social judg- 25. A. I. Goldman, "Epistemics: The regulative theory of cognition," The Journal of Philos- 26. J. H. Flavell and H. M. Wellman, "Metamemory," in R. V. Kail and J. W. Hagen, eds., Science 185 (1 974): 11 24-1 131. ment (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1980). ophy 75 (1978): 509-524. Perspectives on the development of memory and cognition (Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum, 1977). VOLUME 31, NUMBER 1 42 EDUCATIONAL THEORY i n s t r u c t i ~ n , ~ ~ the determinants of content decisions by teachers,28 and research in teacher education.29 The efforts have been fraught with difficulties and blessed with often unanticipated successes. The liaison has demanded changes of perspec: tive and approach from all concerned. Thus far, it has resulted in some significant decrement in the purely philosophical writings of the participating philosophers, perhaps an unfortunate consequence for them and for their field. However, it has also caused a drop in productivity by the participating statisticians, as marked by the frequency of their publications in statistics journals. New and different kinds of work emerge, but it may be too early to judge its usefulness. The close collaboration I espouse is neither easy nor necessarily successful. Yet it does foster day-to-day dialogue between philosophers and other educators. It subtly introduces some of the rigor and clarity of philosophical reasoning into the discourse of non-philosophers. It also narrows the typically enormous gap between the philosopher and the other scholars sheihe criticizes. In this case, we will have to wait a bit longer to see whether familiarity breeds contempt, or a new level of mutual trust and understanding leading to better work overall. It certainly appears to lead to renewed feelings of marginality among most of the participants relative to the parent disciplines - philosophy, psychology, statistics - with which they had tra- ditionally identified. For myself, I find such marginality encouraging, for it is only through eschewing the scholarly agendas of our disciplines and attending to the problems, topics and issues of education as a field of practice and of study, that we can make progress in our inquiries. 27. For example, M. Buchman and W. Schmidt, The school day and content commitments (East Lansing, MI: Institute for Research on Teaching [Research Series No. 831, 1981). 28. For example, R. E. Floden, A. C. Porter, W. H. Schmidt, D. J. Freeman, and J. R. Schwille, "Responses to curriculum pressures: A policy capturing study of teacher decisions about con- tent," Journal of Educational Psychology 73 (1981): 129-141. 29. For example, S. Feiman and R. E. Floden, What's al l this talk about teacher develop- ment? (East Lansing, MI: Institute for Research on Teaching [Research Series No. 701, 1980). WINTER 1981


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