“Educational studies and analyzability of education: an overview”

Tamara Stojanović
Dept. of Semiotics, Tartu University
Tiigi 78, 50410 Tartu, Estonia
24.01.2011.

Introduction
Etymologically, the word ‘education’ comes from the Latin ‘educare’-‘bring up, rear,
educate’, which is related to ‘educere’-‘bring out, lead forth’, while the meaning ‘provide
schooling’ is from the XVI century. The Oxford online dictionary provides the following
definitions of ‘education’ –‘the process of receiving or giving systematic instruction, especially
at a school or university’; ‘the theory and practice of teaching’; ‘a body of knowledge acquired
while being educated’; ‘information about or training in a particular subject’. However, this is
the public meaning of education, unaffected by our personal values and beliefs about the term
(Wilson, 2003:291). In this sense it is easy to translate the word or to explain its meaning to a
child. On the other hand it is very difficult to answer to the following questions: What exactly
does education exclude and include? What is the use or value of education? What kinds of goods
does it produce, and how are we to weight these goods in comparison with goods produced by
other enterprises? What is it to learn something, and what sorts of things are really worth
learning? (Wilson, 2003:292) Wilson saw these questions as core issues in philosophy of
education while Uljens (2001:292) was focused in issues in general education and general
education theory when he asked: What is education? What makes education possible? What
makes education necessary? What are the limits of education? Is a universal theory of education
possible? How is education related to other disciplines? Can and should a general theory of
education be normative or not regarding aims and methods?
We see that both sets of question include the issue of delimitation of education as an
object of study. This is in other words the problem of the analyzability of education. It is, in a
way, the construction of an object of research, or we could say that it is a process of description
1

educational psychology. sociologists and philosophers were using the concepts and methods of their disciplines and applying those to education. So. The first four are often called ‘foundational’ disciplines. This fragmented disciplinary approach was even strengthened with the rise of curriculum studies in the 1960’s and 1970’s. the disciplines were established together. psychological. philosophy of education. The disciplines thereby signaled a pluralist vision of educational studies that sought to draw on a wide range of human knowledge and experience. In this sense we will describe education as research object and give an account of the disciplines that research it. sociological and philosophical manner. a prerequisite for the application of any system of methods. particularly influential in 1950’s 1960’s and 1970’s and McCulloch (2002) and Bridges (2003) give a good historical account of that period. Finally. Not every discipline responded to education in the same way – some of them had to develop more or less language for the description of education.of the research object in the language of a given discipline. It was the combination of their different forms of expertise that was taken to be the most effective means of addressing the problems and processes of education. constructing) their research object in a historical. as complementary approaches to the study of education.” (McCulloch 2002:103) We can see that education studies were not an autonomous discipline. In fact education was not regarded as a discipline at all. psychologists. one of the most influential authors on education at that time states that “there is no distinctively ‘educational’ way of thinking” (Tibble in McCulloch 2002:108). The disciplines of education Education is a complex phenomenon that can be object of study of many disciplines. historians. We will name here only some of them: history of education. sociology of education. In other words they were modeling (describing. Making an object analyzable is the first step of any scientific investigation on education. “In another sense. We will also see how the process of making education analyzable is related to the field of educational studies. In other words the process of making education analyzable was 2 . Tibble. we will point out some specificities of education as research object. anthropology etc.

Educational studies are defined as a field of study. if education is the research object of so many disciplines it is important to make sure that their theories and researches are directed towards educational goals and not (only) towards the goals of their respective disciplines. as we shall see (chapter seven) from narrative fiction. “It is a short step from the observation that education is not a discipline in its own right. from photography. shopping or tourism” (Bridges. Bridges (2003:40) states how difficult it is to ensure fairness. rich in approaches. more hesitantly perhaps from the creative arts. 2003:43) “disciplines cannot tackle any given practical questions as such for each tackles questions which are peculiar to itself. policy studies and political theory. from the study of language and literature. Firstly. nursing. There is as well the issue of orientation. social work.” (Bridges. poetry and. Today the number of education-studying disciplines is higher. from biography and autobiography. education needs the body of knowledge from other 3 . its own methodologies? Is it even possible to talk about education as a discipline? It would be very idealistic to expect that such complex phenomenon as education could be encompassed by one discipline. to the conclusion that it constitutes a field of theory and practice to which different disciplines can contribute – just as you might research other fields of social practice like policing. This issue was addressed by Hirst (in Bridges. “If a discipline is by definition a solid body of knowledge. those that can be raised only within its own distinctive conceptual apparatus. there is also a negative side to such diversity. how researchers can be easily confused and how the community of education-oriented scholars can become divided.” Does this mean that education should strive towards disciplinary identity and form its own body of knowledge. and. As Bridges (2003) states there is: “a huge expansion in the intellectual resources which have been brought to this study: from every nook and cranny of the social sciences and especially from ethnography. There are two main reasons for this. 2003:33) However. from politics. What was common to them is that the process of description was oriented towards an appropriation of education.different for them. 2003:39) As a consequence of this expansion various aspects of the phenomenon of education are elucidated. In fact. conceptual systems and methodologies. from cultural studies. education cannot claim that it originated this body of knowledge and so therefore it cannot claim to have a disciplinary identity. football.

(Palaiologou. education is always changing and the methods or models that work today might not work tomorrow. knowledge and methodologies in order to address educational theoretical and practical issues. It does not simply focus upon a classroom context” (Palaiologou. psychology. But it is not at all clear how far these concerns and traditions actually fit into the study of education. 2010:277) Contrary to this. Also. only this approach can be really called integrational as it can surpass the disciplinary division and fragmented knowledge. 2010:274) So. 4 . etc. investigating this issue in the context of new Education Studies curriculum. As Wilson states: “I think we have yet to learn what an adequate philosophy. In this sense we can talk about interdisciplinarity. According to her. multidisciplinarity and transdisciplinarity. their psychological rats and pigeons. of education would look like. their historical passion for institutions and Acts of Parliament. This brings us to the relation of those disciplines. Let us return now the problem of orientation mentioned earlier. 1982:10) When modeling education as a research object it is important for a historian.” (Wilson. for instance. the nature of education deals with real world problems. we cannot talk about education as a discipline but we can talk about a science of education (educational studies) consisting of many disciplines who join their efforts. What has happened. Most importantly this approach gives basis for knowledge unification and a defragmented view on education. this approach suits best the dynamicity of education – in fact. history. gave good arguments in favor of a transdisciplinary approach to education. to ask not only: what is historical in this educational situation? but also: what is educational about it and how does it contribute to the affirmation of educational studies? Answers to the latter would create some basis for the foundation of a proper field for the science of education. As a result “Disciplines may work together for a final product/project and contribution to knowledge but what they are not doing is developing synergies and synthesis that “transcend boundaries”. understandably enough. includes all disciplines and not just the favored ones and generally surpasses the disciplines. Interdisciplinarity is characterized by still rigid boundaries between disciplines and the same critique is applied to multidsiciplinarity.teams/subjects/disciplines to give it efficacy and secondly. and there is a general lack of communication. There is not enough sharing of methods and tools. Palaiologou (2010:275-279). is that the people conscripted from these disciplines to work under an educational aegis have brought the characteristic concerns of their disciplines with them—their philosophical chestnuts about the basis of ethics. their sociological roles and classes. a transdisciplinary mode of research favors creativity. sociology.

it is doubtful whether this theory/practice model can be applied to education. 'history' and 'economies'. and on the relations among those disciplines. 2003:43).” (Wilson. Wilson contested the educational theory as a body of knowledge and he added that while it is possible to have good teachers who are ignorant of theory the same is not possible for doctors and engineers (Wilson.We have seen that education as a research object needs to be constructed or modeled by the investigating discipline. On the other hand analyzability of education is also related to the object of study which can ‘dictate’ the changes needed in the discipline itself. fields which can be divided in theory and practice. “Books may be written on (say) the philosophy of punishment. in education we speak about educational theory and practice of education (teaching and learning). The same remark was made by Bridges when he was criticizing the ‘foundational’ disciplines as not being able to tell us “what we ought to do in practice” (Bridges. But unless those books were so angled as to be useful or illuminating to the practical enterprise of education. Specificities of education as an object of research in the context of analyzability We stated already that education is a field of study and it we will now add that it is also a field of applied study. However. 1982:10) Wilson is saying that the disciplines of educational studies not only can ‘tackle’ practical problems. but also have to do it. We will therefore give an account of some specific features of education as research object. In this sense education is often compared to medicine or engineering. Being a complex phenomenon we cannot talk about one discipline of education but of many disciplines participating in the study of education which we can call by one name education studies or science of education. their capacity for description. the history of education in the Byzantine period. He argued for a more practical approach to education. even when researching theory. Accordingly. in 5 . there seems no good reason to categorize them under 'education' rather than under 'philosophy'. In the context of education-studying disciplines this means that when analyzing education the disciplines have to take into account the practice of education. or the economics of educational institutions in the nineteenth century. Therefore. In other words. 1982:7). since education is practical by its nature. analyzability of education depends on the researching disciplines.

Conclusion Education is a very complex phenomenon and its investigation is not an easy task. This entails another problem – the dialogue between those who study education and those who practice it. every investigation of an educational phenomenon is inextricably related to educational aims. This is a matter of educational aims and educational policies which are often determined ideologically. depending ultimately on what goals we wish to achieve and what values to promote. it is also normative. So. Every problem in education can be resolved in different manners. it is not an object of study to be found but one to be constructed. He saw three main barriers for the realization of such interdisciplinary science: the rigid boundaries among the disciplines. the failure of education reforms and the textbooks which were not based on research findings were a proof of the need of such integration. concepts and methodologies. This pluralistic approach certainly allows the elucidation of many aspects of education and we saw that in order to take maximum 6 . According to him.order to make education analyzable the disciplines of educational studies have to develop a language that describes education practically. Dewey and James. it is an aspect of education that cannot be disregarded in educational analysis. A challenge for a science of education would be to determine the aims of education objectively. To model education so it could be scientifically researched by a discipline is to make education analyzable. There are many disciplines that can claim education as their research object which provides a great richness of approaches and methodologies and each of them models education using its own terminology. In his paper (1999) Elkind appealed for an integrative approach of a science of education and teacher practice. or in other words. Another specificity of education is that besides being practical. since first of all every person has some personal meanings and values attached to education. the masculinization of research and feminization of teaching and the legacy of the education ‘grandmasters’ – Thorndike. This is indeed a great challenge. between the scholars and the teachers. Moreover. and secondly because there are many ideological stands in the disciplines themselves. He was optimistic though that those obstacles were to be surmounted. However.

The death of a discipline or the birth of a transdiscipline: subverting questions of disciplinarity within Education Studies undergraduate courses. London. Ioanna 2010. Perspectives on the philosophy of education. Fiction written under oath. Boston. Educational Studies. David 1999. Dordrecht. 29(2):279-293 http://www. In fact. educational studies must be based on the notion of transdisciplinarity. Studies in Psychology and Education.etymonline. Gary 2002. analyzability of education derives from the nature of education itself. 36(3):269-282 Uljens. 8(1):3-19 2003.com/ www. Disciplines contributing to education? Educational studies and the disciplines. On general education as a discipline.oxforddictionaries.com 7 . British Journal of Educationl Studies. Moscow:Kluwer Academic Publishers Elkind. Further research on this matter would certainly include the following questions: how do different disciplines handle the process of making education analyzable? More specifically how does semiotics describe education? What are the specificities of a semiotic approach to education? How does semiotics communicate with other education-studying disciplines? References Bridges. 50(1):100-119 Palaiologou. Analyzability of education is related to the status of the field of educational studies or science of education. particularly form it practical and normative aspect. David 2003. New York. Oxford Review of Education.advantage of such plurality. 20:291-301 Wilson John 1982. to describe an educational phenomenon educationally means to affirm this educational studies and at the same time to determine its proper field of study. Michael 2001. 11(3):271-287 McCulloch. Oxford Review of Education. Educational Psychology Review. Educational research and the science of education. Credibility of educational studies. Furthermore.

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