Educational Change: A Dialectical Becoming

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Educational Change: A Dialectical Becoming

Seldom, if ever, does change occur without its prime movers which are turmoil and confusion, precursors of need fulfillment. Educational change, being no exception, has as its primary impetus some social, political, economic, or scientific need or dissatisfaction conflicting with the status quo.

Part of the problem with educational change is due to what Erikson (1963), and Silberman (1970), referred to as mindlessness--the failure or refusal to think seriously about educational purpose. For Silberman, the resistance to change is not the monopoly of public education but is diffused throughout the entire society.

In discussing the reluctance to question established practice, he quotes former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who points out:

The problem of policy-making in our society confronts the difficulty that revolutionary changes have to be encompassed and dealt with by an increasingly rigid administrative structure . . . An increasing amount of energy has to be devoted to keeping the existing machine going, and in the nature of things there isn't enough time to inquire into the purpose of these activities. The temptation is great to define success by whether one fulfills certain programs, however accidentally these programs may have been arrived at. The question is whether it is possible in the modern bureaucratic state to develop a sense of long-range purpose and to inquire into the meaning of the activity.

We propose first to use these insights as a beginning protocol for discussing educational change within a framework of a continuous transformation from self-examination to self-renewal, from purpose into means, and from means into the end itself; and second, we will suggest Hegel's dialectical process as an underlying principle of educational change.


One common opinion that tends to appear in practically all philosophical discussions of educational change is that American educational processes and organizations have as an integral ethic the utilitarian ideal that the greatest good of the greatest number of people should govern the dialectical channels leading to heightened societal consequences. This "good" or consciousness is found pragmatically in that the truth and usefulness of innovations and reactions are discoverable in consequences. In a quest for a continuum of relevancy, American education has evolved dialectically along the lines of pragmatic utilitarianism which strives toward equilibrium in the midst of reactive expansion and revision.

Using the "war" between the progressives and subject-matter specialists since the 50s, an admittedly telescopic yet microcosmic view of this Hegelian style of educational change can be established. In reaction to the threat of communism, the McCarthy era bred public criticism that America's schools were leftist. The insuing Sputnik flight spawned an avalanche of criticism against the public school system, a scapegoat for America's being second in the space race. The reactionary initiative or antithesis formulized in a more disciplinary approach deemphisizing numerous progressive tenents such as individuality while science and math scores were ridiculed. As the culmination of one of many unified ends of the subject-matter approach, Americans landed on the moon.

The Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Movement, widespread drug abuse, Woodstock, delinquency, soaring crime rates, etc. in the late 60s and early 70s motivated even more criticism against the public schools. The antithesis proposed a sympathetic concern for the welfare of the young and for curricular relevancy centered in self-fulfillment, individual curiosity and talent, inter-disciplinary methodology, and problem-centered instruction. A growing number of critics such as Holt (1964), Kozol (1967), Herndon (1968), and Kohl (1969), even declared independence from the traditional educational system. …