Yvonne Ehrenspeck and Dieter Lenzen
Problems regarding education and educational aims emerge in every domain of education, which is now conceived as a life-long process. In attempts to solve these problems, suggestions are made on the correct treatment of children, young people or adults and on the appropriate methods of educational action. Such considerations are formed on the basis of scientific knowledge, but also on the basis of everyday experiences, common sense and many false assumptions, which are often supported by strong convictions. These types of claims about educational processes and their correct design and accompaniment are to be found in a multitude of forms of human expression: in books on education, in common sayings, even in recommendations on an appropriate architecture for school buildings (e.g., the opinion of Waldorf-Pedagogic, that a pupil learns better in a room without perpendicular angles). The correctness of these claims can be tested, for example, using empirical methods to question teachers or to measure the learning achievement of pupils, just as the TIMMSS study did recently (cf. Baumert 1997). However, with regard to such statements resulting from empirical studies, it is often overlooked that empirical investigations do not actually allow the assumption of causality, although this is frequently suggested. It is, for example, not possible to claim that the performance of Japanese children in mathematics is more effective simply because of differences in their instruction methods. The observation of a correlation can only be followed by a further subsequent observation, where a number of variables are isolated. Normally this process is repeated until the number of variables is so small that the tested claim has an overly restricted domain of validity.
However, there is another method which is capable of investigating claims for educational processes. It analyses such claims in a completely different way and is therefore able to avoid the above dilemma. The structural method, which will be presented here, does not ask about the validity of claims regarding education, but instead attempts to discover their historical and structural foundations. It investigates why such claims are being and have been made