Theory & Education

Theory, of course, permeates everything we do. -Stephen Jay Gould

Many educators would disagree with Gould’s observation. For these teachers, “theory” is conflated with “silly ideas for which I have no time, I need to cover the material.” I understand this approach, much that we do in education can be done without directly indicating the theory behind our practice. Some who claim to be grounding their work in theory have actually found a practice they like (which may be very effective), but they become a teacher who relies solely on that one pedagogy. 

When we are informed by theory, our practices vary, but we can always frame them in terms of why we are doing what we are doing and why it will be effective. The reasoning cannot be “because, it has always worked in the past;” our reasoning must be grounded in theory which can explain and predict our successes and failure, and it must be applicable to other lessons, classrooms, grades, and schools. 

Good educational theory can be an amazingly freeing tool for educators. We are no longer burdened with figuring out if “the latest thing.” We compare it to our theory and judge it in light of it. We decide what deserves our attention and what can be ignored. More likely, we decide what gets our real attention and what gets cursory attention. 

On occasion, being theoretically aware can be a burden, however. I think back on the times when I questioned proposals that were based in dubious theory. Those times did result in some uncomfortable situations, but I regret none of them.