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Pragmatic Roots
Reconstuctionism in not a fully developed philosophy of life or of education. Many writers view it as only an extension of progressivism, the educational philosophy. Like progressivism, it is based on the “pure” philosophy of pragmatism. Therefore, its answers to basic questions are the same. In answer to the ontological question of what is real, reconstructionists agree that everyday, personal experience constitutes reality. The epistemological question asks: “What is truth and how do we know truth”? The reconstructionist claims that truth is what works, and we arrive at truth through a process of trial and error. The axiological question asks: “What is good and beautiful”? The reconstructionist’s answer to this is whatever the public consensus says it is!

Educational Theory

As far as his educational views are concerned, the reconstructionist sees things the same way as the progressive—up to a point. For example, reconstructionists believe that students learn more, remember it longer, and apply it to new situations better if they learn through experience, rather than through being told something.

As they see it, the teacher’s main role is that of a resource person or a research project director who guides the students’ learning rather than being a dispenser of knowledge. In this role, the teacher carries on a dialogue with students, helping them identify problems, frame hypotheses, find data, draw appropriate conclusions, and select efficacious courses of action (praxis).

Reconstructionists don’t believe in a predetermined curriculum. They would use the subject matter from any or all disciplines when needed to solve a problem. They would probably deal more, however, with the subject matter of social experience (the social sciences) in solving problems.

The teaching methods favored by reconstructionists are (1) the pupil-teacher dialogue and (2) praxis. Praxis is “effective action.” In other words, reconstructionists favor applying the problem-solving method (scientific method) of the progressives to real-life problems. After one has reached an “intellectual solution” to a problem, reconstructionists favor carefully thought-out social action to remedy or ameliorate the problem.

Reconstructionists, like progressives, do not favor any type of ability grouping. They feel students should be grouped only upon the basis of common interests.

Reconstructionists also like flexible student seating arrangements, but since there is so much involvement outside the classroom, seating is not even an issue.

Reconstructionists share the progressive’s view of student discipline. Moreover, they feel that if students are actively involved in bringing about change in areas that concern them, they will not become frustrated, and therefore, will not be likely to become discipline problems.

Reconstructionists prefer to evaluate students subjectively on the basis of their ability as a social activist rather than give written examinations. Like progressives, they feel that student self-evaluation has a proper place.

Reconstructionists’ Platform

Reconstructionists differ significantly from progressives in the matter of social policy. Progressives acknowledge the rapidly changing conditions around us. But they are content to just teach students how to cope with change. It has been said that progressives seek to teach students how to reach “intellectual solution” to problems. This often culminates in writing a paper, doing a report or a project of some kind. This kind of education would tend to “mirror the contemporary society.” On the other hand, reconstructionists believe that students must learn through practical experience how to direct change and control it. They believe strongly that our culture is in crisis. They believe that things will get uncontrollably bad unless we intervene to direct change and thereby reconstruct the social order.

Reconstructionsists believe that a “ Utopian Future” is a genuine possibility for mankind if we learn how to intervene and to direct change. They believe that the school should train students to be social activists in the tradition of Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Ralph Nader and Jesse Jackson.

Reconstructionists believe that we should apply the reflective inquiry method to life’s problems. They feel, however, that we should be prepared to act upon our conclusions. This requires a sense of commitment and responsibility on the part of students. This goal of initiating change is of course very controversial. For this reason, reconstructionism has never caught on fully in our schools. Questions have been raised concerning whether or not schools should become a tool for re-making society. Questions have also been raised as to whether students at any age have the intellectual and social maturity to participate in social action.

Advocates of social action contend that the more involvement we have, the better off we will be as a society. They claim that as things stand now, only a small percentage of people get involved in social issues because they do not know how to do so. Advocates of social action emphasize that it can be safely practiced if certain common-sense “safeguards” are applied. For example:

  1. Young students should be encouraged to act in a more limited setting than older students, such as the classroom or school, rather than the larger community.

  1. Teachers should help students weigh the probable outcomes of various lines of social action before anything is done. They should consider whether or not a given action will solve or ameliorate a problem. Moreover, they should consider the probable “side effects” of a given line of action, including how it will impact on significant others.

  1. Teachers should work with students to get them to accept the consequences (good or bad) of their actions, once they have taken place, without complaining or expecting to be let off the hook. This is important if a sense of commitment and responsibility is to be nurtured.


Dialogue in the Philosophy of Education by Howard Ozman

Philosophy and the American School by Van Cleve Morris

Contemporary Theories of Education by Richard Pratte

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