The Paradigm Shifters
European and American educators have generally interpreted their occupational past as an outgrowth of the Enlightenment. From this perspective, the history of education is a story of moving from ignorance toward rational and humane practice. Comenius, Rousseau, Locke, Pestalozzi, Mann, Dewey, and Montessori are noteworthy because they "advanced" the cause of education. The task of contemporary educators is to build on their legacy--to nudge educational practice ever closer to perfection. Using this way of thinking, the social sciences, including education, are moving like the "hard" sciences, only more falteringly, toward accurate knowledge of how things really are. Progress is the expected norm: just as next year's refrigerators, automobiles, and computers are expected to be better than last year's, so should educational arrangements improve as well.
Not everyone agrees with this optimistic world view. In the nineteenth century, German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche ( 1844-1900) rejected both human rationality and "progress." And as the twentieth century wanes, historians, social scientists, philosophers, and other analysts have questioned both the idea of epistemological (knowledge) progress and of social/historical improvement. They have rejected "the belief that science progresses, that knowledge grows in a cumulative fashion and, in short, that we know better than our predecessors did, even to the point of understanding them better than they understood themselves. Whereas [Immanuel] Kant sees his Copernican Revolution as being of a piece with the cumulative growth of knowledge, the new historicists see philosophical revolutions as producing not necessarily better forms of knowledge, only different ones." 1
No single label covers all those who dissent from a progressive view of