Is education a discipline, pietig


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Is education a discipline, pietig

  1. 1. .JEANNE PlETlG ls Education a Discipline? ever be a discipline? This question has been vigorously ducation is undeniably a prolession, but is it now or could it debated in the past, and it is equally controversial today. Ùiln two recent issues of The Educational Forum, Harry S. Broudy and Frederick F. Rltsch state that education is a discipline, though not a standard academic discipline. ‘ But in another arti- cle, James R. Miller and Jon l. Young emphasize that education is nota discipline: lt is apparent that, to survlve, educators must recognize and accept the fact thai there is no discipline of education. Rather, colleges of educa- tion are professional schools. Only through the identification and validation of sound praclices that promote learning wiIl teacher education be able to survive in higher education and fullill its responsibilities to society. ’ Admittedly the view thai education is a prolession rather than a discipline is widely held, as is the view that education and other nondisciplines differ in some way or other from the established disciplines, such as physics, philosophy, and sociology. Bui exactly how do nondisciplines differ from disciplines? What are the distinctive characteristics of disciplines that education supposedly lacks? Are there compell- ing arguments lo support the view that education is a non- Jeanne P/ el/ g I's assismn! pro/ esser, School o! Education, Universiry o! Virginia, CharIoItesvi/ Ie, Virginia. 365
  2. 2. 366 The Educationnl Forum Spring 1984 discipline? l propose that we attempt lo answer these question; by finding out precisely what it is that makes a discipline a discipline. i ln order to make sense of the question “What is a discipline? " we need to ask, “What are the distinctive features o; disciplines that clearly distinguish disciplines from non. disciplines? " A satisiactory definition of discipline should pro. vide us with criteria ior differentiating fields such as physics and sociology from fields such as home economics and anima] husbandry, ior these are fields of study whose status als disciplines or nondisciplines is generally unquestioned. One way oi testing the adequacy of the criteria used to identliy disciplines, then, ls to apply the same criteria to recognized non. disciplines. Soltis uses this analytic technique to evaluate the iollowing definitions. t. A discipline is a body of subject matter that is teachable. 2. A discipline is inquiry that is abstract and theoretical; it is not practical. 3. A discipline is characterized by a unique, organized, and open-ended body of knowledge; a nondiscipline is characterized by a non- unique potpourri oi settled subject matter. 4. A discipline is a field of study that possesses a unique methodology for obtaining and organiz- ing knowledge. ’ , The criterion oi teachability in the tirst definition will not do, because it applies to a wide range of subjects, including automotive mechanics. Clearly, teachability is not a distinctive» feature of disciplines. The characteristics oi abstraction and theory in the second definition also lack discriminating torce; Can we assert that animal husbandry, as a field of inquiry, is total-j ly devoid of theoretical considerations? Or can we claim that home economics lacks abstraction? Are not the concepts budget . and nutrition abstract? Although both home economics and’ animal husbandry are practical subjects, it would be hard i0 demonstrate that subjects like physics and sociology are wholly impractical: lt would be most diificult to try to separate the Ph. D. in home economics or animal husbandry from his colleagues in physics or sociology solely by means 01‘ noting his lack of theoretical concern with his subject or its lack of abstract concepts. He may very well desire a practical result from his teaching (producing good farmers or household managers), but this hardly sets him apart from those who seek to produce well-trained physicists
  3. 3. or sociologists who can apply their skills and knowledge in their respective vocations. ‘ soltis concedes that there may be differing degrees 01 abstrac- tion and theorizing, but argues that these characteristics do not glve us a keen cutting edge tor separating disciplines from non— disciplines. The third definition slmilarly fails to provide us with sultable atandards for ldentiiying disciplines. The notion that disciplines are open-ended bodies oi knowledge, unlike nondisciplines, which consist oi settled subject matter, is inadequate; scholars ln nondisciplines do not assume that everything is completely khown about their areas of inquiry. Moreover, the third definition lmplies that nondisciplines lack autonomy because they make use of the iacts, laws, and theories of other branches of learning. But autonomy or uniqueness fails to diiierentiate disciplines from nondisciplines. History, for example, “freely uses the con- cepts and theories of economics, sociology, and political science, in a way not so diiierent from the use of biological, Îphysiological, and chemical concepts in books on animal husbandry. “ li this analogy fails to convince, consider soil science. Although this field depends on chemistry and physics, jso do many oi the established disciplines, such as biology, physlology, and geology. Soltis rejects the iourth detinition as well: methodology can- not serve as a basis for distingulshlng disciplines from non- disciplines. The same view is held by Walton, who argues that disciplines do not, in iact, possess unique methods for obtaining and organizing knowledge; How many of the subjects now taught in colleges and universities would qualiiy as disciplines if they were required to have a unique organization and method of extension? Logic, perhaps, but then logic is dependent to some extent on language. Mathematics, considered as one oi the purest disciplines, borrows from logic; and all the sciences borrow from mathematics. Perhaps history with its chronology comes nearest to being the one discipline that has a unique system. The other soclal sciences employ a variety of methods of organization and inquiry and hold a monopoly on none. ‘ lt ls apparent that the four definitions examined by Soltis iail to provide us with criteria for distinguishing disciplines from non- disciplines. But other definitions have been proposed as well. ln perusing the literature, l came across the following: 367 The Educatlonal Forum Spring 1984
  4. 4. 368 The Educailonal Forum Spring 1984 l l l l i 5. A discipline is characterized by a unique, or at least central, concern. 6. A discipline involves a mastery 0t procedures tor testing answers to certain types oi ques- tions. 7. A discipline is characterized by distinctive forms of judgment or explanation. 8. A discipline is a model or a series 0t models that interprets the events oi nature and human experience. The fifth and sixth definitions are proposed by Kuethe and Peters, who hold opposing views on the disciplinary status oif education. According to Kuethe, education is a discipline that isy concerned with the transmission of human knowledge from generation to generation and with society’s involvement in mak. ing formal provisions for the transmission to take piace. Because the classification 0t knowledge into discrete disciplines is ar- bitrary, and because the methods, subject matter, and concerns of disciplines overlap, there is no reason education cannot be studied in the same sense that physics or history are studied. ’ Peters disagrees. He points out that anthropology, psychology, and sociology have similar concerns but differ because they ask and try to answer quite diiterent questions about human beings. Education is not a discipline because it lacks procedures foro testing answers to certain types ot questions. Fiather, education is a professional field that relies on disciplined research in order to be efiective. Neither Kuethe nor Peters oifers us a satisfactory definition of discipline. Peters implies that a mastery of procedures demar- cates disciplines from non-disciplines, but we have already seeni methodology is not a distinctive characteristic offi that disciplines. What about Peters’ suggestion that disciplines are‘ identiiied by the types of questions they ask? Or Kuethe's asser-L tion that disciplines are characterized by their central, perhaps unique, concerns? These criteria also iail to separate disciplines from nondisciplines. Mortuary science, as a field 0t instruction, y can be identiiied by its unique concern, and many nondisciplines- can be distinguished by their central questions. Scholars in soil science, for example, explore the variables aiiecting crop fertili- ty; the questions they ask set them apart from other scholars, in- cluding biologists and geologists. The seventh definition is proposed by Hirst, who describes education as a distinctive theoretical pursuit rather than an V autonomous discipline. Education, he insists, lacks the distinc- tive forms of iudgment or explanation characteristic Of autonomous disciplines. Although educational theory i5 distinguishable by the particular questions it seeks to answer. il depends on many branches oi learning and cannot develOP H3 own criteria for assessing the knowledge on which it draws. ‘
  5. 5. Hirst's view that disciplines are characterized by distinctive types ci judgment or explanation is problematic. Shall we cali astrology a discipline because its forms of explanation are distinctive? Clearly not. Distinctiveness of explanation, then, is not a sufficlent criterion for identifying disciplines. Obviously this is not what Hirst had in mind, so Iet us examine his ideas iur- ther. According to Hirst, disciplines may be demarcated irom one ‘another in more than one way. History diiiers from physics because historical explanation involves types oi judgment which the natural sciences do not employ. Physics and chemistry, on the other hand, share the same theoretical or logical structure and rest firmly on empirical tests; these two differ because they have distinguishable subject matter. At this point, we must ask , why iields like animal husbandry, plant pathology, agronomy, and biomedical engineering are not recognized as disciplines. These iields also rest firmly on empirical tests. Furthermore, these fields and their parent disciplines in the natural sciences share the same logical structure. Although Hirst helps us to distinguish one discipline from another discipline, he does not help us dif- ierentiate disciplines from nondisciplines. The last deiinition is proposed by Belth, who views disciplines as models or series oi models that serve to explain and interpret the events oi nature and human experience. Educa- tion is a discipline not only because it has its own mode of in- quiry, but also because it has a distinctive subject matter——the act of thinking. Education studies the way in which models are constructed, used, altered, and reconstructed. Because educa- tion explores model-making and model-using In other disciplines, it is the "discipline oi disciplines! “ Before we can determine whether model-making and model- using are the distinguishing characteristics of disciplines, we need to know exactly what models are. Belth deiines models as constructions or inventions that serve to measure, guide, explain, and interpret the ieatures and meanings oi the actlvities clustered into speciiic disciplines. This definition does not help us, but the examples provided by Belth do enlighten: models in- clude myths, pictures, diagrams, words, sentences, and belieis. lt is apparent that Belth’s definition lacks discriminating torce; nondisciplines also create and use models to investigato their subject matter. Belth's definition, like the other seven examined in this article, fails to provide us with adequate criteria ior identi- fying disciplines. What are the distinctive characteristics or the unique ieatures of disciplines? Our analysis indicates that there are none. Why is it that we persist in describing some fields oi study as disciplines and others as nondisciplines? Soltis contends that it is an historical accident that some subiects are labeled disciplines; he surmizes that we unthinkingly continue the tradi- tion by learning to use the name discipline only ior certain sub- jects, much as we learn to cali some clerics priests and others 369 The Educatlonel Forum Spring 1984
  6. 6. 370 The educational Forum Spring 1964 mlnlsters. Because no criteria have been iound to diiierentiatg disciplines irom nondisciplines, we may conclude that it is mean, ingless to debate the disciplinary status oi education or any other field oi study. The term discipline is slmply an honorific label that has been arbitrarily accorded to some areas of lnquw A demystiflcation of the disciplines is in order. We have jugt seen that the distinctlon between disciplines and nondisciplines is groundless; many other oi our cherished notions about the academic disciplines are equally unfounded. In The Academic, Fievo/ ulion, Jencks and Riesman dispel some oi the myths that . surround the so-called disciplines: A discipline is at bottom nothing more than an adminlstratlve category. The various sub- dlsciplines within biology or history or psychology, for example, have only the most limited intellectual relatlonship to one another, and the same Is true in every other field. They are grouped together malnly because the men worklng in them went through the same sort of graduate program and have some residual ieeling oi common identlty. A good deal oi ingenulty has, lt is true, been devoted to the ra- tionalizatlon of these traditional ad hoc ar- rangements. Some 0t the resulting efiorts to show that history, biology, psychology, and so iorth are really unified fields built around certain underlying prlnclples are quite brilliant and valuable. But then so are some of the arguments made for regrouping subdisclpllnes into new patterns. “ Jencks and Fiiesman question the rigidity of the disciplinary categories into which graduate schools are characterlstically organized. They fault existing doctoral programs, not because they turn out nothing but specialists, but because they turn out generalista with the same mix of speciallzed skills. There is nothing intrinsically unrigorous about regrouping the various sub-disciplines into new comblnations: “Reassembling parts oi now-divided territories neither adds nor subtracts rigor, though lt may alter the ethos or style with which problems are tackled and neophytes socialized. " New fields oi study do run certain risks: except in the hard sciences, new combinations of subdiscipllnes often have a difflcult time winning academic acceptance or glv- ing recruits a home base and a feeling of control. But these are practical concerns rather than inherent inteliectual problems. " it appears that those areas oi study we have grown ac- customed to calling disciplines are essentially adminlstratlve categories that group particular klnds of specialties together ior more or iess historical reasons. Although American graduata education has long revered the traditional disciplinary categories, there is nothing sacred about these arrangements;
  7. 7. i. they are, in fact, arbitrary. This iconoclastic stance toward the q, disclplines may disturb some academicians, but the educational reforms outlined by Jencks and Fiiesman merit study and reflec- tion. They should not be rejected out of hand, ln the long run, a demystification oi the disciplines will enhance rather than ‘diminish our regard for the various fields oi study within universi- îity settings. We will be Iess inclined to think of each “discipIine" as a solf-contained unit, set apart from other “dlsciplines" and all iflnondisciplines. ” instead, we will be predisposed to look upon each field oi study as an administratively distinct community oi scholars who, nevertheless, have much in common with scholars in other fields of study. What are the implications for education? First, in order to ac- complish a total demystification of the disciplines, educators i may wish to investigato the reasons ior the persistence oi the 1 discipline mystique. Does allegiance to a discipline refloct the socializing power oi graduate programs? Does scholarly produc- > tivity or satisfaction increase when academicians perceive themselves to be members of a discipline? ls a discipline mysti- que created and maintained to establish academic territorial rights? What accounts ior the fact that some areas oi inquiry are accorded more status than others? Whether this iine of inquiry is frultful remains to be seen, but it may shed light on some underly- ing psychologicai, social, and political processes in higher . education. Second, there should be no further need to debate whether education is, in principio at least, a Iegltimate field of academic inquiry. Education admittedly relies on other branches of learn- ing, but so do other fields, such as physics, which depends heavi- ly on mathematics. Education lacks uniiylng principles with which to organize its subject matter, but what about philosophy or psychology or sociology? These fields are not monolithic enterprises; instead, they embrace diverse schools oi thought. Education is a professional field, but we have already seen that iields oi inquiry cannot be diiterentiatod on the basis ot their theoretical or practical concerns. The fact that education is rarely cailod a discipline need not bother us; the distinction between disciplines and nondisciplines is spurious. Third, dispelling the myths that surround the disciplines may contribute to a better understanding of education. Ali too often, discussions about the nature and aims ot education as a field of inquiry are based on unwarranted assumptions about disciplines. Those who insist that education is a discipline wish to enhance the respectability of the field, but it seems that a demystiiication, not an imitation, ot the disciplines is cailod for. On the other hand, those who insist that education is nota discipline tend to portray education as an eclectic iield that relies on disciplined research in order to be etfective. But educators musi engage in their own research ii their field is to advance. We need to avoid “either-or" thinking. ln the final analysis, education is both a pro- 371 The Educetionei Forum Spring 1984
  8. 8. 372 The Educetionei Forum spring 1984 fession and an academic field of inquiry. ln conclusion, our attempt to ascertain the disciplinary status of education has raised more questions than it has i answered. However, the inquiry has produced a new strategy; namely, demystifying the disciplines. Dispelling the myths that surround the so-called disciplines may open new avenuos of research; it will certainly sharpon our discussions about the nature and aims of education. ln the future, our recommonda. tions to improve education should be based on pragmatic con- sideratlons rather than misleading arguments about disciplines and nondisciplines. Finally, a demystification of the disciplines - may prompt us to question the current fragmentation ot higher education along traditional disciplinary Iines. Notes 1. H. S. Broudy, "What do Professore ot Education Professi" The Educetional Forum 44 (May 1980):441-51; Frederick F. Ritsch, "Teacher Preparatlon and the Liberal Arts, " The Educat/ onal Forum 45 (May 1981):405-10. 2. James R. Miller and Jon l. Young, “Professional Education: Boginnlng of the End, or End of the Beginning? ," The Educarional Forum 45 (January v 1981):145-51. 3. Jonae F. Soltis, An Introduci/ on to the Analysls o! Educariona/ concepts, 2nd ed. (Fieading, Ma. : Addlson-Wesley, 1978), pp. 23-26. . lbld. , p. 25. . lbid. , p. 26. . John Walton, “A Discipline of Education, " in The Discipline of Education, ed. John Walton and James L. Kuethe (Madison, Wi. : University or Wisconsln Prese, 1963), p. 12. 7. James L. Kuethe, “Education: The Discipline that Concern Built, " in The Discipline of Education, pp. 73-84. n.3. Peters, “Commentsfl in The Discipline or Education, pp. 18-19. Paui H. Hirst, "Phllosophy and Educationai Theory, " British Journa/ o! Educa- Ilonal studies 12 (1963):51-64. 10. Marc Belth, Education as a Discipline (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1965). 11. Christopher Jencks and David Riesman The Academic Revolurlon (Garden Cl- ty, N. Y.: Anchor Books of Doubieday, 1969), pp. 523-24. 12. lbld. , pp. 525-28. Gîflflà P9P