“Nice” Theories of Education

I’ve covered a wide array of topics in the past couple of weeks, and I promise that I’ll eventually narrow things down and offer some focus. But not yet. First, let me introduce the topic of “nice” theories in education. By this I mean theories that suit our kindest dispositions. Theories that satisfy not only what we want to believe about children, but that also support our ideas of fairness and opportunity, that let us hold out hope for the underdog. These are nice theories, because they satisfy the teacher’s desire to be a nice person.

Niceness does not predict the truth or falsity, usefulness or uselessness of a theory. It simply describes the warm feeling it gives us. Nice theories are dangerous for this very reason. Teachers, administrators, curriculum writers and, yes, even educational researchers are drawn to nice theories because, well because they are nice. I want to live in a world where nice theories are true. On the other hand, we have hard-hearted skeptics who refuse to believe that that nice theories could possibly be true. If it makes you feel good inside, they say, you’re just kidding yourself.

I will try to avoid both of these extremes. But it is easier to take the skeptical side. The reason that skepticism is so often successful is because there are so many poorly articulated, poorly researched and under-supported theories in education. You don’t have to go far to find wishful nonsense, I’m afraid.

I’ll not spill the beans today, and you can guess which theories and principles I’ll be looking at. But here are a few hints. I am suspicious of claims that everyone is intelligent in their own special way. I doubt strongly that habits suggest fundamental cognitive differences between people. I think that some modes of representation are superior to others for the purposes of expressing certain ideas. Theories of everything often explain nothing. And I’ll be returning to spurious claims about brains, too.

Sorry for the lack of content today. But stay tuned. It’s coming.


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