Friday 28 June 2013

The Institution of the Science of Education

To pursue education as a science requires a particular attitude of criticality. Yet educational institutions can be remarkably uncritical of their own practices. To pursue education as a science is to attempt to change this.

The barriers to a scientific approach are very significant. Yet in a "knowledge economy" (yes, I don't know what it means either), it would at least seem that teaching and learning are of fundamental importance to healthy social ecologies of businesses, institutions, nations and the world.

To pursue education as science is to critically examine the nature of "healthy social ecologies"

These are structures existing amongst human beings which have both synchronic and diachronic dimensions. Within those dimensions are the elements which feed the continual reproduction and tranformation of those forms. It seems very likely to me that effective ways of thinking about emergent structures and processes within healthy social ecologies are fractal. Or at least, fractal thinking may be the closest we can get to an effective way of thinking in order to maintain healthy ecologies.

To understand education as science is to understand the relationship between the way we think about education and what actually happens in it. More deeply, it is to critique what we mean by thinking itself.

Much educational thought over the last 100 years (pretty much since the beginning of state-supported compulsory education) has been grounded in psychology, which itself was in its infancy. The dominant models put  forward by psychology to support education have been either essentially mentalist or behaviourist in character. These models reflect particular ways of thinking about a person and their experience which present opportunities for empirical defence of the respective models. In other words, the models have followed established methodologies. The methodologies are rarely challenged.

At issue is the relationship between cause and effect in education. Hume's regularity theory of causation is unlikely to be right, even in it's characterisation of practice in the physical sciences. But the contrived regularities of education produced through statistical analysis have meant that the deficiencies of the method have rarely been exposed, or worse, that a post-modern attitude of "the impossibility of naturalism in education" has equally been able to take root.

The question of causality goes right to the heart of the nature of education. When we think that the cause of engineers is engineering courses, the cause of physicists is courses in physics, and so on, we miss something fundamental about the real practice and experience of physicists and engineers. What are the causes of a physicist? or a doctor? or a lawyer?

That is the scientific question.

To establish an institution which addresses this question is perhaps where education should go next...

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