An Idea to Save Educational Theory

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Australian Journal of Teacher Education, Vol: 14, Issue: 1

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Degenhardt, M. A. B.
Edith Cowan University
Education; Teacher Education and Professional Development
article description
The future looks gloomy for educational theory. The place of theory in the education of teachers and in deliberations on educational policy, is being speedily reduced. The number of persons employed to teach educational theory is declining and many of those who remain are having to teach adulterated or dubiously 'relevant' theory regarding which they can feel no real enthusiasm or honest commitment. It is possible that some areas of educational theory which have developed impressively over the last two or three decades will almost vanish. Already one can discern the unhappy consequences for practice. Thus a valuable contribution to this year's PESA conference was Robin Barrow's attack on 'the Genetic Fallacy' in education - on the notion that it is possible, let alone meaningful, for educators to set about developing generic abilities and capacities of mind, such as critical thinking skills or reasoning abilities. Barrow's talk was timely and left little room for doubt as to the highly questionable nature of many contemporary curriculum developments. His critique is urgently needed. Yet it ought not to be. For a quarter of a century ago a central plank in Paul Hirst's 'Forms of Knowledge' thesis was that it only made sense to talk of abilities and powers of the mind within specific contexts such as those provided by the disciplines of knowledge. Compatible conclusions had long been emerging from psychological work on transfer of training. Of course an educational innovator might study such views and discern grounds for rejecting them. Yet recent 'thinking skills' talk seems to be in ignorance rather than informed denial of these bodies of theorising. So sweeping reforms of practice are being introduced by people who seem to be unaware of good theoretical inquiries which suggest that their reforms may be mistaken and damaging, and give helpful pointers as to how they might be improved.