To begin our exploration of the debate about educational research, let us briefly examine a few basic premises of the philosophy of science. We will explore the relationship of the knower to the known (i.e., the researcher to their research) and from this understanding begin an attempt to construct a system of meaning, a foundation on which to ground an ethical, democratic orientation toward the research act. Using the principles of good work in conjunction with our system of meaning, we will theorize a research/pedagogical orientation called critical constructivism.
A critical constructivist position assumes that there is no knowledge without a knower (Fenstermacher, 1994). Before we say anything else, the knower is a living human being. As a living human, a perceiving instrument, the perspective of the researcher must be granted the same seriousness of attention as is typically accorded the research design and the research methods in traditional forms of inquiry (Lowe, 1982; Gordon, Miller and Rollock, 1990; Hankins, 1998). Like knowledge, the knower also belongs to a particular, ever-changing historical world, a web of reality. The human being as a part of history is a reflexive subject, that is, an entity who is conscious of the constant interaction between humans and their world. This reflexivity recognizes that all knowledge is a fusion of subject and object. In other words, the knower personally participates in all acts of understanding. Moreover, the world in general, the social and educational world in particular, is not an objective structure, but a constructed, dynamic interaction of men and women organized and shaped by their race, class and gender. Thus, it is impossible from the critical constructivist perspective to conceive knowledge without thinking of the knower (Reinharz, 1979; Lowe, 1982; Lytle and Cochran-Smith, 1992; Hursch, 1997).