By Gary Thomas
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Extra info for Education and Theory (Conducting Educational Research)
The broad-ranging definitions they offer are insufficient to explain what is popularly meant by theory in education and a further disentangling of meanings is necessary. Let us take another text-book definition. Bryman and Cramer (1994: 2), for instance, say that, ‘Theories in the social sciences can vary between abstract general approaches (such as functionalism) and fairly low-level theories to explain specific phenomena (such as voting behaviour, delinquency, aggressiveness)’. Note, again, the opposition of adjectives such as ‘abstract’ and ‘low-level’.
The trouble is that we do know Piaget’s theory to be false in important ways, but the defences continue. According to Feyerabend, a certain form of oppositional discourse may even perpetuate the theory, leading to it becoming an ‘obstacle to thought’: [a] quite uninformed desire to be on the right side is taken as a further sign of the importance of the theory . . [But] Problematic aspects which were originally introduced with the help of carefully constructed arguments now become basic principles; doubtful points into slogans; debates with opponents become standardized [and] only serve as a background for the splendour of the new theory.
Rather, they describe intellectual processes as different as chalk and cheese. The first acknowledges theory’s traditionally held purposes of explanation and 24 Education and theory: strangers in paradigms prediction in science, while the latter could be said to take a tool-shed view: theory is a repository – a way of tidying the various bodies of knowledge and analytical instruments which might be used in education. The first is active, while the latter is passive. However, it is true to say that each definition does provide a satisfactory descriptive account of a way in which theory is sometimes used (as a word) in education.