The psychology of educational psychology
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The psychology of educational psychologyNorman Becker aa Tufts University ,Published online: 01 Oct 2009.
To cite this article: Norman Becker (1970) The psychology of educational psychology, Educational Psychologist, 7:3, 5-6, DOI:10.1080/00461527009529013
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THE PSYCHOLOGY OF EDUCATIONALPSYCHOLOGY
Norman BeckerTufts University
William James (1958) once remarked that "the worst thingthat can happen to a good teacher is to get a bad conscienceabout her profession because she feels herself hopeless as a psy-chologist." James was of the opinion that the teacher and thepsychologist approached the child from different directions; theteacher's attitude is concrete and ethical, while the psycholo-gist's is abstract and analytic As long as the psychologist re-mains content with the painstaking development of his science,and as long as he recognizes the limitations of his science, theteacher need not be intimidated by the scientist. After all, teach-ing and the conduct of inquiry are different things. Unfortu-nately, however, the role of science in American culture has ex-panded greatly in recent years and education has not been un-affected by this change. Educational psychology, which carriesthe banner of science in the field of education, is working hardto bring to fruition what James feared most. Educational psy-chologists are quick to diminish those aspects of teaching thatdepend upon talents that do not lend themselves to the concep-tual structure of their science. Teachers are often made to feelinadequate because they can do what neither psychologists orthey can explain, or because they are less precise in discussingtheir objectives and techniques than the psychologist would likethem to be.
A cursory reading of textbooks in educational psychologywill reveal that this claim is not exaggerated. Although mostauthors admit that teaching is still a combination of art andscience one gets the impression that this is a temporary and de-plorable circumstance that will be rectified in the next few years.Teachers are led to believe that concepts like learning, motiva-tion, personality, intelligence etc. are better understood thanthey presently are, and they are led to expect that in the "betterdays to come" teaching will be an applied science. In the mean-time they are told to approach their teaching objectively andsystematically like researchers conducting experiments, to lookfor psychologists to lead the way in educational innovations andnever to rely upon their own judgment when the research liter-ature can be consulted. Educational psychologists may well beguilty of the intellectual hubris that William James so clearlywarned us against.
Personal Glimpses(Continued from Page 4)
EDWARD W. MINIUM, Professor of Psychology at San JoseState College, is the author of Statistical Reasoning in Psychol-ogy and Education, published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Thisbook is better suited to students of education than many. It dis-cusses derived scores, the meaning of correlation and regression,and problems of research design in education. It is directed tothe "nonmathematical" student and emphasizes "why" at theintuitive level, but mathematical notes appear at the end ofchapters for those who are ready for this treatment.
RICHARD SCHMUCK, Professor of Educational Psychology,and PHILIP RUNKEL, Professor of Psychology, have publisheda monograph entitled, Organizational Training for a School Fac-ulty, Eugene, Oregon: Center for the Advanced Study of Edu-cational Administration, 1970. The project described in the bookwon the 1969 Douglas McGregor Memorial Award. Both menare Research Associates in the Center for the Advanced Study ofEducational Administration of the University of Oregon.
LAWRENCE M. STOLUROW, attended a UNESCO confer-ence in Paris in March to consult with them about the use ofcomputers in education and with O.E.C.D. In May he will spendtime in Russia to participate in the U.S.I.A. Traveling Exhibit,"Education U.S.A." He has edited "Computer Aided Instruc-tion in the Health Professions" recently released by Entelek Inc.
Perhaps it is understandable that this should have hap-pened. Educational psychologists are human and it is very hu-man to overvalue one's profession and its role in society. Fur-thermore, educational psychologists could not be expected toresist the naive faith that our culture placed upon the altar ofscience when so many were succumbing all around them. Ifpsychologists and educational psychologists hadn't assumed thescientific posture that they did, when they did, it is unlikely thatthe behavioral sciences would have established themselves in theuniversities in the fashion to which they have become accus-tomed. It is somewhat ironic that the position of the behavioralsciences in the universities is threatened today by students whoare asking us to question our faith in the myth that allowed usto achieve our present position that is, the myth of objectiveconsciousness (cf. Roszak 1969).
The myth of objective consciousness accounts for the un-realistic faith that some people have had in science in generaland educational psychology in particular. In essence, the mythconsists of an unwarranted insistence "that reality is limited towhat objective consciousness can turn into the stuff of scienceand of technical manipulation" (Roszak p. 234). Immediateexperience is subordinated to techniques designed to limit theinvestment of the person in the act of knowing. It is assumedthat the physical sciences function in this manner and that so-ciety always benefits from the results of objective science. Sincethe behavioral sciences have succeeded in imitating the surfacecharacteristics of the physical sciences, that is, they have adoptedobjective techniques of gathering data, interpretations of educa-tional reality that emerge from this discipline very often receivean acceptance that is difficult to justify in terms of actual ac-complishment. Furthermore, in accordance with this myth therecan be no appeal beyond the authority of science. Educationalpsychologists are expected, sometimes in spite of their protests,to resolve issues that very often involve them in questions wellbeyond the-state-of-the-art, or the scope of their discipline. Ob-jectivity has somehow become synonymous with goodness.
Manifestations of this myth in educational psychology arenot difficult to detect. We place a high value on observationaltools like interaction analysis, not because it has illuminated ourunderstanding of the dynamics of the classroom, but because itis an objective technique that facilitates replication. We instructour students to state their objectives in terms of behavior, notbecause it has improved instruction, but because it is more sci-entific or reliable than vague mentallistic terminology. We valueprogrammed instruction, not because it is a superior form ofinstruction, but because it allows us to mechanize the learner'sexperience. If we advocate the discovery method of instructionwe do so not because thinkers like Socrates were sensitive to itsadvantages, but because some psychologist has conducted an ex-periment that produced a statistically significant difference. Insummary, we are overwhelmingly concerned with how we canknow something and rather indifferent to the putative value ofour knowledge. Educational psychology may tell us more aboutthe needs of educational psychologists than it does about theeducation of children.
Sigmund Koch (1969), arguing much like Roszak, sug-gested that behavioral scientists have presumed that "knowledgeis an almost automatic result of gimmickery, an assembly line, amethodology." Inquiry, in this view, is assumed to be "so rigidlyand fully regulated by rule that in its conception of inquiry itoften allows the rules to displace their human users." Koch alsoasserted that psychology, in its inception, was "unique in theextent to which its institutionalization preceded its content andits methods preceded its problems." Perhaps the time has comefor behavioral scientists, if they really want to behave like theircolleagues in the physical sciences, to allow their methods todevelop gradually over time as they attempt to discover whattheir problems and content might be. I suspect that many of mycolleagues have become alienated from their discipline becausethey have accepted a view of inquiry that is inconsistent withtheir humanity and with the psychology of scientific discovery.
Scriven (1969), in general agreement with Koch, suggestedthat the behavioral sciences are more like history than physicsin the sense that they consist of "an unformalized domain ofknowledge in which well supported explanations appear to be
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common, though predictions and precise generalizations are ex-tremely rare." It is interesting to speculate on the notion of whateducational psychology might become if we were to identifymore closely with the historian instead of what we think thephysicist to be. In any case, if the Editor (Ripple, 1970) of TheEducational Psychologist is an accurate weathervane, out stu-dents, who may,be ahead of many educational psychologists inthis matter, might force alternative approaches to our disciplineupon us.
Our students, not unlike Robert Havighurst (1970), havedetected the shrewd psychological insight of authors such asJohn Holt, Herbert Kohl, George Dennison and Jonathan Kozolwho have written recent books on education. While one mightfind some fault in what they are saying about education, theyare asking the right questions and their insights have developedfrom close empathetic experiences with children attempting tolearn in our schools. Robert Davis (1967) may be correct in hisassertion that "the best practice of the best practitioners almostcertainly lies ahead of the best theory of the best theorists." IfDavis is correct, and I suspect that he is, a course in educationalpsychology might be improved by including readings fromauthors like those mentioned above.
I feel that our research would also benefit if we attemptedmore descriptive studies of children in learning situations thatare closer to actual classroom settings. In my opinion, one ofthe consequences of the narrow view of science that many of ushave accepted is an unrealistic expectation of what can belearned from a controlled experiment. We have assumed thatobjective experiments and the search for explanation can pro-ceed without going through a descriptive and perhaps highlysubjective pre-paradigm (c.f. Kuhn 1962) stage of development.We have also assumed that subjective knowledge based uponimmediate experience is necessarily inferior to objective knowl-edge. From the point of view of science it is, of course, necessaryto objectively verify hypotheses or theories. It is quite possible,however, for insightful teachers or thinkers to have importantideas on education that cannot be resolved experimentally, (c.f.Dewey). It is highly probable that education could be substan-tially improved in the absence of further developments in thebehavioral sciences. If we assume that science ought to be thefinal arbiter of all things educational we may succeed, not onlyin giving teachers "a bad conscience" as James feared. Evenworse, we may impede progress in education; the best, and afrequently used, excuse for preserving the status quo (c.f. Presi-dent Nixon's recent report on education) is to claim that theproposed changes have not been sufficiently researched. Thisexcuse is effective because it appeals to our scientific worldview; most of us, however, could suggest changes in the schoolsthat would enhance the learning environment, particularly ofour inner-city schools, without doing any research.
It was not my intention in this paper to impugn the integrityof my colleagues who teach educational psychology. Most of thecriticisms that I have made about our profession were directedat the unintentional consequences of a particular view of sciencethat pervades our discipline. Hopefully, I have provided somefood for thought. While I don't expect that everyone will agreewith me in this matter, I would be satisfied if my colleagues rec-ognized that much of what we do is based upon a set of tacitassumptions, and that it is appropriate to question and argueabout assumptions even when it hurts; indeed, particularly whenit hurts.
Robert Davis, "The Range of Rhetorics, Scale, and Other Vari-ables" Journal of Research and Development In Education,Volume I, Number I, Fall, 1967.
John Dewey, "The Sources Of A Science Of Education," N.Y.1929.
Richard E. Ripple, "From The Editor," Educational Psychologist,Feb. 1970.
William James, "Psychology and The Teaching Art," Talks WithTeachers, New York: Norton 1958, pp. 21-27.
Robert Havighurst, "Curriculum For The Disadvanlaged," PhiDelta Kappan, March, 1970.
Sigmund Koch, "Psychology Cannot Be A Coherent Science,"Psychology Today, September, 1969.
Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Chicago& London: University of Chicago Press, 1962.
Theodore Roszak, The Making of A Counter Culture, GardenCity, N.Y.: Anchor Books, 1969.
Michael Scriven, "Psychology Without A Paradigm," Clinical-Cognitive Psychology, Louis Breger (Ed.), Englewood Cliffs,N.J.: Prentice-Hall Inc., 1969.
THE XVIIth INTERNATIONAL CONGRESSOF APPLIED PSYCHOLOGY
Place and date: Liege, Belgium, July 25-30, 1971.
Organized by the International Association of Applied Psychol-ogy (Jubilee Congress: 1921-1971). The IAAP includespsychologists from ninety-two countries throughout theworld.
Patron: H.R.H. Prince Albert of Liege, brother of the King ofBelgium.
President: Prof. R. Piret, Ph.D., Secretary General of the IAAP.General theme: "Looking ahead after half a century of applied
psychology."Scientific programme: Eminent specialists from a variety of
countries have agreed to organize twenty symposia, eight-een invited paper sessions and thirty-seven working groups,relating to many different fields of applied psychology, in-cluding industrial, social, clinical, consulting, counseling, de-velopmental, educational, pastoral, architectural and mili-tary psychology, psychometrics, ergonomics, management,road safety, gerontology, applied psychology in developingcountries, etc.
Some of the American chairmen, reviewers or discussants: B. S.Bloom (Univ. of Chicago), S. S. Dubin (Pennsylv. St. U.),E. A. Fleishman, (AIR, Wash., DC), H. O. Gulliksen(Princeton U.) O. Klineberg (ICIR, Paris, Fr.), D. W.MacKinnon (U.C. Berkeley), D. G. Marquis (MIT, Cam-bridge, Mass.), A. H. Maslow (Brandeis U.), F. J. Minor(IBM, N.Y.), W. Mischel (Stanford U.), B. Schneider(Yale U.), L. M. Stolurow (Harvard U.), D. E. Super(Columbia U.), C. W. Taylor (U. Utah), M. S. Viteles andJ. Wishner (U. Pennsylv.).
Free papers: A limited number of free papers can still be ac-cepted; authors should contact the Congress Secretariat(address below) as soon as possible.
Official languages: English, French and German (simultaneoustranslation).
Exhibition: An important exhibition of psychological books,tests and apparatus will be organized by different Europeanand American companies.
Atmosphere: especially cordial (this is a Jubilee Congress); newways have been devised to welcome and entertain the par-ticipants and accompanying persons.
Registration fees: U.S. $36.00 for IAAP members, $46.00 fornon-members, $24.00 for accompanying persons (fees slight-ly higher if paid after March 31, 1971).
Transportation: Charter flights and tours, at reduced rates, willbe organized from the U.S.A.
Programme of the Congress: The provisional programme ofabout thirty pages, containing full details, will be sent ondemand, free of charge and without obligation, togetherwith a registration form; apply to the Secretariat.-
Congress Secretariat'. Institut de Psychologie, 36 Boulevard Pier-cot, 4000 LIEGE, Belgium.