A History of Educational Theory

In 2000, on the occasion of the journal’s 50th anniversary, we commissioned five essays from leading scholars, each reviewing a decade of articles in the journal. Each author was asked to discuss the kinds of work published in the journal during that period, the issues and authors represented (and not represented) in the journal’s pages, and the ways in which the journal’s concerns reflected issues and trends in the wider field of education at the time. Together they constitute a broad canvas representing not only the history of this journal, but a history of the foundational disciplines in the United States over the past half-century.

If a history were written of the years since that anniversary issue was published, it would probably emphasize the growing internationalization of the journal and of the work it represents. One of the consequences of moving to an expanded online presence for the journal, begun in the 1990s but accelerating under the new publishing agreement with Wiley-Blackwell, is a much wider readership and authorship from countries around the world. This diversification has influenced not only the issues addressed in the journal, but also the modes of scholarship and writing that it represents.

A Half-Century of Educational Theory: Perspectives on the Past, Present, and Future, by Nicholas C. Burbules Nicholas Burbules offers an overview of the five commissioned essays for this special issue. He traces a few themes that seem to cut across the decades reviewed by these authors, and he suggests several new trends that pose an important challenge to this journal and to the endeavor of academic publishing generally. These new trends include the rise of "postmodern" discourses in our scholarship; the heightened sensitivity to how academic practices (such as peer review) act to exclude particular voices and perspectives; the emergence of a global context for writing and publishing academic work; the growth of the Internet and new possibilities for online publishing; and new genres of writing and representation that are gaining credibility as legitimate academic forms. All of these ensure that coming decades for the journal will be as intellectually stimulating as the past decades have been.


Educational Theory in the Fifties: The Beginning of a Conversation, by Walter Feinberg and Jason Odeshoo

Walter Feinberg and Jason Odeshoo discuss the first ten years of Educational Theory's existence, from its founding in 1951 to the beginning of the 1960s. The tensions which surrounded the journal's attempt to carry out its mission of "fostering the continuing development of educational theory" and "promoting effective discussion of theoretical problems within the education profession" are described. These tensions are placed within the social, political, and philosophical context of the times, and a variety of essays that appeared in the journal are highlighted in an attempt to illustrate some of the different forms which educational theorizing took on throughout the 1950s. Toward the end of the essay, Feinberg and Odeshoo examine the way in which the particular conceptions of theory that were dominant at the time influenced the journal's awareness of issues of race, gender, and sexual orientation.


The Sixties: The Calm Against the Storm, or, Levels of Concern, by Maxine Greene

Maxine Greene observes that for all the protest and disorder marking the period, the educational philosophers contributing to the journal during this period were only minimally responsive to the moral, political, and cultural unrest on campuses and in communities. Also, time had as of yet come for serious consideration of racial and sex discrimination. There was no sign of philosophical concern with questions arising from the beginnings of the Vietnam War, the violence in defense of segregation in the South, the struggle to integrate the schools, the assassinations and what they implied. The articles in Educational Theory focused on the dominance of analytic or language philosophies and the detachment, the formalism, they seemed to demand. The tension between these (British) philosophies and continental philosophies (existentialism, for instance) gave rise to increasingly sophisticated dialogues, of which examples are presented. At once, articles on one or another aspect of John Dewey's philosophy are noted. So are problems confronting educational scholars on the relation between philosophy or theory and practice. The decade concluded with a sense that educational philosophy was on the verge of taking new and sophisticated moves in the study of clarity of discourse, commitment to educational issues, and an outreach toward interdisciplinary "foundations" and intensified scholarship.


Interpreting the Seventies, or, Rashomon Meets Educational Theory, by D.C. Phillips

No single theme can adequately capture the broad range of the philosophy of education of the 1970s, as represented in the pages of Educational Theory for that decade. Like Kurosawa's movie "Rashomon," D.C. Phillips gives four different accounts of the work of the period: First, the essays in the journal are assessed using a criterion from John Dewey, namely, that philosophy should throw light on current social and moral strife. Second, Harry Broudy's remark that philosophy of education needs to be philosophically competent is used as the basis of a narrative. Third, John White's claim that philosophy of education should illuminate important educational issues is used as the basis for assessment of the essays of the 1970s. Finally, another statement from Dewey is used - namely, that knowledge of the past is significant only as it deepens understanding of the present.


Educational Theory in the Eighties: Diversity and Divergence, by Wendy Kohli

This essay marks a pivotal era for the journal and for the field of educational theory. Wendy Kohli documents the increasing presence of feminism, neo-Marxist critical theory, and postmodern thought in the journal and tracks some of the perennial debates about the contours of the field of philosophy of education. Attention is given to the tensions between theory and practice and the relationship between politics and philosophy.


An Epoch of Difference: Hearing Voices in the Nineties, by Megan Boler

Megan Boler examines the tension between invocations of consensus versus an emphasis on dissensus, or paralogy, in this essay. After examining tragedy, Boler looks specifically at an essay that traces the promising dangers of listening. The last section of this review examines essays that enact "metissage," a cross-disciplinary style well-suited to representing the tragic, pastiched subject.

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