Theories, Policies, and the Improvement of Educational Practice

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<ul><li><p>This article was downloaded by: [The University of Manchester Library]On: 10 October 2014, At: 12:14Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registered office: Mortimer House,37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK</p><p>The Review of EducationPublication details, including instructions for authors and subscription information:</p><p>Theories, Policies, and the Improvement of EducationalPracticeGraham W. F. Orpwood aa The Ontario Institute for Studies in EducationPublished online: 09 Jul 2006.</p><p>To cite this article: Graham W. F. Orpwood (1979) Theories, Policies, and the Improvement of Educational Practice, TheReview of Education, 5:3, 203-214, DOI: 10.1080/0098559790050306</p><p>To link to this article:</p><p>PLEASE SCROLL DOWN FOR ARTICLE</p><p>Taylor &amp; Francis makes every effort to ensure the accuracy of all the information (the Content) contained in thepublications on our platform. However, Taylor &amp; Francis, our agents, and our licensors make no representationsor warranties whatsoever as to the accuracy, completeness, or suitability for any purpose of the Content. Anyopinions and views expressed in this publication are the opinions and views of the authors, and are not theviews of or endorsed by Taylor &amp; Francis. The accuracy of the Content should not be relied upon and should beindependently verified with primary sources of information. Taylor and Francis shall not be liable for any losses,actions, claims, proceedings, demands, costs, expenses, damages, and other liabilities whatsoever or howsoevercaused arising directly or indirectly in connection with, in relation to or arising out of the use of the Content.</p><p>This article may be used for research, teaching, and private study purposes. Any substantial or systematicreproduction, redistribution, reselling, loan, sub-licensing, systematic supply, or distribution in anyform to anyone is expressly forbidden. Terms &amp; Conditions of access and use can be found at</p><p></p></li><li><p>Theories, Policies,and the Improvement ofEducational Practice</p><p>Joseph D. Novak. A Theory of Education. Ithaca, New York: CornellUniversity Press, 1977. 295 pp. $15.00, cloth.</p><p>Graham W. F. OrpwoodThe Ontario Institute for Studies in Education</p><p>"Substantial improvement in educational practices," writes Pro-fessor Novak in the opening chapter of A Theory of Education, "[is]not likely to occur without a workable theory of education andwithout the new educational practices that can be derived fromsuch a theory" (p. 17). Clearly, his belief in the corollary is theinspiration for this scholarly if unusual attempt to synthesize acomprehensive educational theory.</p><p>It is scholarly in that it weaves threads from a variety of traditionsof studyphilosophy, psychology, sociology, curriculum and instruc-tion, and school administrationinto a rich fabric in whicheducational theory and practice are systematically and thoughtfullyreconceptualized. It is refreshingly unusual, since comprehensiveworks such as this seem to be attempted only rarely these days; toooften, educational writing is so intensively specialized in narrowareas of research, that its connection with the problems ofeducational practice seems somewhat tenuous. Novak's book, bycontrast, is concerned with a broad range of educational issues, andhis attempt at a theory which can attend to all of them is, to use hisown word, "audacious."D</p><p>ownl</p><p>oade</p><p>d by</p><p> [T</p><p>he U</p><p>nive</p><p>rsity</p><p> of </p><p>Man</p><p>ches</p><p>ter </p><p>Lib</p><p>rary</p><p>] at</p><p> 12:</p><p>14 1</p><p>0 O</p><p>ctob</p><p>er 2</p><p>014 </p></li><li><p>204 THE REVIEW OF EDUCATION / Summer 1979</p><p>The book addresses two potential audiences. First, it is designedto speak directly to educational practitioners, and especially tothose responsible for planning curriculum and instruction inschools. Second, it is addressed to the author's colleagues in theacademic world of education, specifically "to encourage a morescientific study of educational problems" (p. 20). As a curriculumresearcher, based in an academic environment but presentlyworking with school-based practitioners, I find myself respondingto the book from both perspectives. First, however, it is importantthat the reader be aware of the scope and substance of Novak'stheory.</p><p>I.</p><p>The book is very carefully and clearly structured, and this aids thereader enormously in finding his way through an otherwisebewildering territory. For example, the entire book is summarizedin an opening chapter, and each of the sections which followexpands on the concepts introduced in this "overview." Forpresent purposes, the book can be seen as having four suchsections: a philosophical section in which the goals of educationare discussed; a psychological section examining alternative learn-ing theories; a section devoted to issues involved in planningcurriculum and instruction; and, finally, an autobiographicalsection entitled "Empirical Validation," in which the results ofsome twenty years' research in education are called upon toprovide support to the theory. The author's central argument linkseach of these sections into a complete theoretical structure whichis sufficiently complex that only the most outstanding features canbe described here.</p><p>Although the theory is builtas Novak insists it must bearounda theory of learning, its logical foundation is a claim for the goalsand purposes of education. "Every culture," he writes, "has aframework of concepts and practices. The task of education is totransmit to the children in that culture the concepts and practicesthey will need as adults" (p. 17). The argument for this claim, whichis incorporated in an extended analysis of the views of selectedphilosophers of science, can be summarized as follows:</p><p>(1) United States federal funding of curriculum development over theDow</p><p>nloa</p><p>ded </p><p>by [</p><p>The</p><p> Uni</p><p>vers</p><p>ity o</p><p>f M</p><p>anch</p><p>este</p><p>r L</p><p>ibra</p><p>ry] </p><p>at 1</p><p>2:14</p><p> 10 </p><p>Oct</p><p>ober</p><p> 201</p><p>4 </p></li><li><p>ORPWOOD / Theories, Policies, Educational Practice 205</p><p>past twenty years has favored projects emphasizing the methods ofinquiry used by the disciplines.(2) This emphasis reflects the views of such philosophers of science asKarl Popper concerning the distinguishing characteristics of thedisciplines.(3) There is an alternative view of the disciplines set out by Kuhn andToulminthat the disciplines are characterized by their evolvingconceptual frameworks.(4) Popper's view is "outmoded" (p. 54); Kuhn's and Toulmin's are to bepreferred.(5) Federal funding was thus unfortunately misplaced; the goals ofeducation should be to transmit to students the evolving conceptualframeworks present in the culture.</p><p>This line of argument raises some important questions which willbe attended to later. For the present, however, let us see how such afoundation enables the construction of the theory proper.</p><p>Having established what he regards as appropriate goals for theeducational enterprise, Novak next moves to a consideration of thecentral part of his educational theorya theory of human learning.He has already stated (in the Preface) his firm belief that learningtheory must occupy the most important place in any theory ofeducation.</p><p>An exposition of Ausubel's "assimilation" theory of learningthen follows together with an argument for its place at the center ofa theory of education. His designation of concept learning as theappropriate goal of education makes Ausubel's theory an easychoice, as it places the meaningful learning of concepts in a centralrole. This is, as Novak points out, in marked contrast to theemphasis of behaviorist theories on observable behaviors and onthe contingency of stimulus and response. Once the developmentof conceptual structures is selected as the goal, it is straightforwardto recognize the relevance of Ausubel's theory compared with thatof, say, Gagne. In addition, Novak points out that "many educa-tional issues can be resolved into factors that deal primarily with thequality and extent of progressive differentiation and integrativereconciliation of concepts" (p. 94), two "key ideas" of Ausubel'stheory. Behaviorist theories are dealt with somewhat more sum-marily. Skinner's, for example, whatever its inherent strengths andweaknesses, is held to be "almost useless as a source of guidance indesigning and planning curricula, instruction and research inschools" (p. 70). He goes on to argue that Ausubel's theory issimilarly preferable to those of Piaget or Gagne. Thus, Novak's</p><p>Dow</p><p>nloa</p><p>ded </p><p>by [</p><p>The</p><p> Uni</p><p>vers</p><p>ity o</p><p>f M</p><p>anch</p><p>este</p><p>r L</p><p>ibra</p><p>ry] </p><p>at 1</p><p>2:14</p><p> 10 </p><p>Oct</p><p>ober</p><p> 201</p><p>4 </p></li><li><p>206 THE REVIEW OF EDUCATION / Summer 1979</p><p>theory of education has both a set of goals and a set of psycho-logical principles to guide toward their attainment. The thirdsection attends to the practical application of these principles forplanning curricula and instruction in schools.</p><p>For problems of planning curriculum and instruction, Novakadopts (with little criticism or argument) Johnson's systems modelof these processes. With Johnson, he claims that failure to dis-tinguish clearly issues to do with the curriculum (i. e., content) fromthose of instruction (i. e., teaching approach) amounts to care-lessness, and that the need for such a distinction is supported by hispersonal experiences. He then goes on to demonstrate thatJohnson's model of curriculum and instruction is entirely con-sistent with Ausubel's theory of learning. "No curriculum theoristin the past," he notes, "has shown the relevance of learning theoryin the design of curriculum" (p. 134). His explanation for this issimple: "learning theories that preceded Ausubel's were notparticularly relevant to curriculum" (p. 134).</p><p>Thus, Novak's theoretical framework is complete, having goals,principles, and a model for action. The remaining parts of thissection are devoted to the derivation of a large number of detailedcomments and prescriptions concerning a broad range of problemsof educational practice. He is concerned with curriculum planning(e. g., the use of "conceptual schemes" as the basis for a sciencecurriculum), with instructional strategies (e. g., modular coursesand computer-assisted instruction are discussed), and with evalua-tion. Finally, the application of the theory is extended to problemsof school organization and administration.</p><p>The fourth and final section of this remarkable book describestwenty years of research in the field of education. It containssummaries of studies conducted by Novak, his students, and hisassocfates, beginning with his own doctoral thesis in 1954 andcontinuing to the present. It is inappropriate here to describe thissection in detail. Its intended function is perhaps best summed upin the author's introductory words: "This chapter will illustrate thatappropriate empirical studies can lead to better educationalpractices; it is the empirical leg of the educational theory presentedin this book" (p. 208). Thus, the "theory of education" is de-veloped, applied, and validated. As noted earlier, the bookrepresents an ambitious undertaking; it is evident also that, as theproduct of a lengthy career in educational research, it cannot belightly dismissed. It is therefore with considerable caution that Iattempt to respond to it.</p><p>Dow</p><p>nloa</p><p>ded </p><p>by [</p><p>The</p><p> Uni</p><p>vers</p><p>ity o</p><p>f M</p><p>anch</p><p>este</p><p>r L</p><p>ibra</p><p>ry] </p><p>at 1</p><p>2:14</p><p> 10 </p><p>Oct</p><p>ober</p><p> 201</p><p>4 </p></li><li><p>ORPWOOD / Theories, Policies, Educational Practice 207</p><p>II.</p><p>In the first part of this review, I have tried to show how Novak'stheory of education develops consistently from its fundamentalclaim for the goals of education. The argument for this claim was setout earlier in five parts, and it is with the last two of these that 1 nowtake issue. They are reproduced here for the convenience of thereader.</p><p>4. Popper's view (concerningthe nature of the disciplines) is outmoded;Kuhn's and Toulmin's are to be preferred.5. Federal funding (of curriculum development projects) was thusunfortunately misplaced; the goals of education should be to transmitto students the evolving conceptual frameworks present in the culture.</p><p>I argue, first, that differences between the views of Popper andthose of Kuhn and Toulmin are greatly exaggerated; second, thatwhatever the outcome of that debate, no direct conclusion may bedrawn concerning the goals of education; third, that Novak'sselection of goals effectively preempts significant discussion of therelationship between psychology (and other areas of "theory") andeducational practice; and fourth, that Novak seriously under-estimates the responsibility of practitioners to select goals andimplementation procedures, for which they are politically ac-countable. Finally, in the light of these comments, I attempt toreassess the potential contribution of Novak's work to educationalthought and practice.</p><p>Issues within the Philosophy of ScienceNovak's cas.e for the goals of education rests, in part, on what heperceives to be a clear dichotomy between two views concerningthe nature of science. One of these (represented, according toNovak, by Karl Popper) characterizes science in terms of its logicand methodology, whereas the other (represented by Kuhn,Elkana, and Toulmin) places its focus on the evolving conceptualframeworks of the discipline.</p><p>It seems to me that posing such a dichotomy is unfair both to thephilosophers cited and to the nature of science itself. First, it is byno means clear that Kuhn and Popper are in fact in such a basicdisagreement. Elkana, in a passage quoted by Novak, suggests thatwhile Popper is concerned with the detailed "tactics" of scientificmethod, Kuhn is taking a longer view of the "strategy of science"(Novak, p. 46). Earlier in the same paper, Elkana points out that both</p><p>Dow</p><p>nloa</p><p>ded </p><p>by [</p><p>The</p><p> Uni</p><p>vers</p><p>ity o</p><p>f M</p><p>anch</p><p>este</p><p>r L</p><p>ibra</p><p>ry] </p><p>at 1</p><p>2:14</p><p> 10 </p><p>Oct</p><p>ober</p><p> 201</p><p>4 </p></li><li><p>208 THE REVIEW OF EDUCATION / Summer 1979</p><p>Popper and Kuhn share an "anti-positivistic philosophy" and that anumber of different philosophers "have each developed a dif-ferent aspect of the new tradition in philosophy of science" (Elkana1970, p. 28). Kuhn himself seems puzzled by attitudes such asNovak's concerning the relationship between his views and thoseof Popper. He (Kuhn) writes: "On almost all the occasions when weturn explicitly to the same problems, Sir Karl's view of science andmy own are very nearly identical" (1970, p. 1). That there are alsoreal and significant differences no careful reader can deny. But tosuggest, as Novak appears to (p. 23), that one of these views is"r ight" and the other "wrong" is at best simplistic and at worst adistortion of the reality.</p><p>An alternative and, in my view, more fruitful framework forexamining both the views of Kuhn and Popper and also the natureof the disciplines in general is provided by the British philosopherof educ...</p></li></ul>


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