And the Beat Goes On

Article excerpt

A recent article (Kohn, 2006) rekindled interest in a paper begun years earlier but never completed. Stimulated by Mile Kohn's observations concerning the misuse or even abuse of research in the educational community the author looks back over a lengthy career in academe and laments that the discipline of education is still on the outside looking in.

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Although science has been defined and redefined over the centuries, at its core it is a human enterprise which has as its basic goal the formulation, understanding, and utilization of an accurate conceptual model of the universe. Education is a human enterprise, and education, too, has been defined and redefined. But the comparisons end. If education is a science, or if there is a science of education, its basic purpose has thus far eluded searchers. Questions as to the nature of education's ultimate goal or goals abound in the journals and media of today and may be traced as far back as Aristotle, and perhaps even to the dawn of civilization. Unfortunately, the background noise accompanying the quest for educational truth is so loud that for all practical purposes the search itself is doomed, for as few can profess to be scientists or to have done science, almost all have experienced education at one time or another. Thus, everyone (including the author!) lays claim to an experiential expertise of sorts and has his or her pet theory as to what education is or ought to be.

In the spring of 1969, the author was completing a university-coordinated internship as a Supervisor of Science in a small agricultural community in a moderately large northcentral state and living in a two-room apartment on the northern end of a local motel. As a participant in a National Science Foundation-sponsored Institute for Science Supervisors, and as a young man looking for the next step in his professional life, he needed to make a decision--return home to a waiting job as a high school chemistry teacher, look for a position as a supervisor of science, or stay at the university and enter the doctoral program. He chose the third alternative and, as a research fellow housed in the R & D Center at a major research university, soon committed to the quest for a theory of education based upon what has been shown to be true as opposed to what someone hopes or believes to be true. Two sources, Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions and a chapter by Arthur Foshay in Harry Passow's Curriculum Crossroads, guided his early thinking.

Kuhn's Theory

Kuhn (1964), who wrote of the process by which science advances, was of the opinion that during periods of what he termed normal science all persons working in any given field were possessed of the same paradigm--concepts, ideas, and opinions that pertained to the day-to-day workings of that field of study. He characterized the work of the scientist as puzzle-solving and noted that each individual operates under the same paradigm and under the conviction that any problem is solvable--the answer will come if only the investigator is clever and skillful enough to do what no one has done before. Kuhn observed that progress during times of normal science is rapid because researchers choose to concentrate on problems that will fail to be solved only through their own shortcomings. Troubles arise with the discovery of results which do not fit the existing paradigm. Such results, if persistent, may lead to an uneasy situation until the issue is resolved or a new paradigm is formulated. If the new paradigm is incompatible with the one in place, a Kuhnian revolution occurs--the old paradigm is discarded and a new period of normal science is begun. Normal science is therefore, not random in its choice of direction but proceeds along predictable lines; and research, as Kuhn observes, "... is directed to the articulation of those phenomena and theories that the paradigm already supplies." In other words, investigators, freed from the need to search for the paradigm itself, can devote their energies to the filling of gaps in--or the logical extensions of--the existing order of things. …