Collaborating Theory and Practice

Collaborating Galaxies

We all construct the reality of the world we are a part of, and within that reality we have over 6 billion other realities contemplating their next move within their own, and in turn our own. All of them are unique, all are shaping the future and all are developing an intelligence and disseminating knowledge in various ways. Two great educational researchers, William F. Pinar and William G. Wraga, understand this truth and are both searching how “knowledge and intelligence as free exploration become wings by which we take flight, visit other worlds, returning to this one to call others to futures more life affirmative than the world we inhabit now.” (Pinar, 1992) Of course this is no miniscule task, and one of the most boisterous barriers has been the issue of design that collaborative efforts between theory and practice must resolve.

Pinar’s reconceptualist ideals are brought about by Wraga as working towards a “consistent and continual advocacy of significantly separating curriculum from practice” (Wraga, 1999). The continuous dialogue in the literature of many fields, education in this case, have been advocating alternately between bridging the gap and burning the bridges between stakeholders within the field. If history can provide us with any evidence, separating individuals only proves to be disastrous.  As Wraga discusses “exalting theory over practice have failed on two counts: Arts and sciences elitists remain unimpressed, and practitioners become alienated”. (Wraga, 199)

In a field that deals with human experience, how can we determine what theories hold any water within practical use if we do not relate theory to practice? Neither one of these facets within the educational field is independent; practice provides the precedent for change, with theory providing the theoretical framework to implement new design perspectives. It seems that this is where much of the literature tapers, their theories lack any design perspective with the big picture in mind. Politics and social forces can have very damaging and indoctrinating effects on education; therefore theorists must understand that they are too affected by their influence. As Pinar stated progressive theories “would contribute to an improvement of the nation’s schools if current power arrangements would permit curriculum theorists sufficient influence” (Wraga, 1999). Creating a larger collaborative gap between these stakeholders will simply build loathing that does not provide theorists with a louder voice, elitism is not a solution. Political processes and institutional organizations are not a bad thing, it is what they value which can be. Their failure to work with theorists provides the precedent that the entire design framework of how they all interact must be revised.

Collaboration is vital within any field, one great advocate for collaboration and rethinking the way humans work together and our natural instinct to do so is Howard Rheingold. A great lecture is embedded below:

The most important part of collaboration is what the collective group values and their goals for their field. Within education, as Pinar stated: “Intellectual freedom would allow, however, for meditation, contemplation, and exploring subjects – those associated with progressive forms of the arts, humanities, and social science” (Pinar, 1992). This would allow for students to understand what it means to be a moral citizen within our global community. Jonathan Haidt is a leading writer on the subject on the moral mind. A great lecture on the topic is embedded below:


Creating gaps within fields, education or not, ignores the fact that all aspects of theory and practice are interconnected. Practice breeds results to test the theoretical framework; you cannot have one without the other. Theory must be tested or else it is useless, and the only way to do so is through practice. Once a theory is tested it no longer becomes a theory, it becomes truth. Therefore, the only way to disseminate truth is to test the theory. Theorists must not leave behind the practitioner, and visa versa. The problems we face come from the forefront, from the student and the schools, within practice. It is the objective perspective of the theorist that allows for change to occur without letting interpersonal issues become barriers. The issue reminds me of an Inuit prose poem:

Two men came to a hole in the sky.

One asked the other to lift him up…

But so beautiful was it in heaven that

the man who looked in over the edge

forgot everything, forgot his companion

whom he had promised to help up

and simply ran off into all the

splendor of heaven.

The main problem that has created these gaps between theory and practice within the educational field is the lack of power that is given to the teacher as a researcher.  Every year a teacher will have at least 30 students, and when that teacher is creating lessons, or tuning their pedagogy they must be reflecting in some way or another on the success of their tinkering.  When teachers fail to become reflective and choose a route of inaction it creates a stagnancy and reliance on government mandated treatments.

This problem of inaction from teachers to participate is a product of antiquated human affairs.  It is difficult to find any organization that is not dominated by by a lack of reason and logic.  Most individuals are integrated within an organization simply on a whim and disperse their ideologies that may be based upon prejuidice.   These problems are found all over the world, the basic example being interrelations between nations.  As Kenneth Waltz voiced back in 1950s after World War II, he hoped that dealings between nations, organizations, governments, etc. might one day be conducted by the use of rational theory rather than by dogma and polemic.  One quote that fits well within the teaching profession from Waltz is that “the causes one finds and the remedies one proposes are often more closely related to temper and training than to the objects and events of the world around us.”

Over the past two decades there have been extraordinary happenings.  Tools, methods, designs, and ideas initially developed to understand how the universe behaves are now finding application in areas for which they were never designed; some may even view their application as ridiculous.  Physics is finding its place in the science of society.  It is the simple idea of change where the physics of society come into play.  These developments are similar to like Rene Thom’s proposal back in the 1970s of catastrophe theory.  He outlined how “sudden changes in society might be provoked by small effects.”  This theory did not hold much water and newer developments in the 1980s of Chaos Theory provided the needed fundamentals of the mechanisms and processes of change.  Today, Chaos theory does not truly resemble the physics of society, and the door is open to a new theory.

Social Physics Model

The latest theories outline the science of society as a collective behaviour, meaning both action and inaction provide variables within society.  It is this difficulty for the human species to understand how their collective behaviours affect the world around them that has caused so much pessimism within any field for change.  We must first understand where our values should be orientated within a field and advocate for change.  Action is much more powerful than inaction; it is simply the problem that the scale favours inaction currently in our society that it can become difficult to see how change can occur. We are a young species so it is no surprise that we are still having trouble taking ourselves seriously; I feel that change is coming.

What a piece of work is a man! how noble in reason! how infinite in faculties! in form and moving how express and admirable! in action how like an angel! in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals!

– William Shakespeare, Hamlet

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~ by thecosmosreader on February 15, 2009.

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