On the nature and application of educational theory: a study in social theory and epistemology
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
This thesis is concerned with the nature and application of educational theory. In particular, it will examine the contribution social theories can make in guiding educational practices which are intended to achieve specific educational aims. Recent social theories relevant to education have focused, primarily, on the relationship between school and society under capitalism. Such theories have been developed in order to illuminate two central questions, "to what extent are schools independent of the class structures and ideologies of capitalist society?" and relatedly, "to what degree, under capitalism, can schools develop the critical social awareness necessary for personal autonomy?". In this thesis it is argued that a number of recent theories fail to help in providing answers to these questions because they do not offer convincing explanations of the school-society relationship. The reason for this is that they are guided by inadequate, epistemological methodological and metaphysical assumptions. In particular, they have been guided either by a naturalist view of social theory predicated on a Logical Positivist view of natural science or by an anti-naturalist view. This latter view typically asserts that explanations for social action must necessarily make reference to concepts such as rules, meanings, goals and purposes. And it is noted that these concepts can have no place within a Logical Positivist account of science. However, I argue that neither the guiding assumptions of naturalists or anti-naturalists, who have accepted a Logical Positivist view of natural science, can enable the construction of theories which capture significant dimensions of schooling under capitalism. In this thesis a number of Liberal and Radical theories of the school-society relationship, which have been influenced either by the guiding assumptions of Logical Positivism or by its anti-naturalist contrasts are critically examined. It is argued that while Radical theories such as those of Young, Freire and Bowles and Gintis have made a contribution to an understanding of the school-society relationship, their explanations of this relationship are inadequate. Consequently, they fail to guide educational practice by not showing how a pedagogy aimed at developing the critical social awareness necessary for personal autonomy is possible. On the basis of the criticisms of these Radical theories an alternative theory of the school-society relationship is advanced, one which is guided by the tenets of a Realist theory of natural science suitably qualified to apply to social theory. Through the development of this Realist social theory it is possible to explain how relevant aspects of educational practice can be guided, by the alternative social theory developed, in order to fulfil the aim of personal autonomy.