Where do good theories come from?


Best theories must assist practice but from where and how do best theories evolve? Questions, hypotheses and then theories arise from our practice. To adopt a theory or the point of view of a theorist means we have to interrogate our own ‘philosophical’ assumptions and prejudices about human nature and our relationships with each other and The World. To reach some provisional conclusions means that clarity can be achieved from such interrogations; otherwise would mean to be in danger of being hopelessly bound up in eclectic and contradictory tangles.

Education is a highly contested field. Our political, economic, and social and cultural positions and consequent biases are expressed and played out through our private lives and public institutions, and the corporations and the market place. The presumption from which I begin is this, because we act on the world and each other we change the world, and by changing the world we too are changed. Karl Marx put it something like this, Philosophers have interpreted the world in many ways; the point however is to change it. We interpret the world, by observing, researching, questioning, reconstructing and acting; that is, we are changed by what we do.

We learn by doing stated philosopher and educationalist John Dewey. Consequently he has the most enduring influence on my pedagogical outlook. As a teacher practitioner and aspiring pedagogue, Paulo Freire is another pedagogue who continues to speak to me in ways that will always refresh me. I find inspiration, challenges and affirmations from reading and thinking about their work. Both these philosophers understood education as a process indistinguishable from life itself.

I would argue that the challenge they pose for us is to think through the implications of the following question; if the institutions and systems of mass education are an integral aspect of our personal and social formation; how then do we respond personally and collectively while working within these social and cultural formations and systems in ways that enable us still to meet our most profound human needs and desires?

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