Would Dewey, Piaget, Montessori, Friere get published today?

Imagine if Jean Piaget, John Dewey, Maria Montessori, or Paulo Friere were tenure track education or psychology professors today. They would probably not get their work published in education and psychology research journals, despite being some of the most highly influential and innovative thinkers in education.

Even some contemporary people who are or have been highly influential in education largely do not publish their work in journals for the most part, including Kieran Egan, Howard Gardner (multiple intelligences), Seymour Papert, Larry Cuban, and so forth.

They primarily publish in books.

Part of the issue is that we keep research, theory, development, and practice in separate bins. Educational research journals rarely publish about theory or development or practice; Philosophy of education journals primarily publish articles about long deceased theorists; and teacher/practitioner journals and magazines rarely publish about research or theory.

If some of the above authors submitted their work to journals, they would be rejected for not having p values and effect sizes, or because they discuss new and innovative theories and practices without devoting enough attention to past philosophers or empirical findings.

Research, theory, development, and practice are not separate but equal things. Influencing and changing education for the better is not the result of any one of those in isolation. A common thread between them all is innovation. We are interested in new, innovative ideas and practices and developments to improve education, such as those created by Piaget, Dewey, Montessori… This is more of a concept from engineering or entrepreneurship than science or philosophy. One might adopt an engineering perspective on education (as Dewey did). If you compare today’s world outside of education to the world of 100 years ago, the starkest differences and advances are a result of engineering. We don’t use p values alone to judge improvement in automobiles or computers. We don’t have to cite Plato or Kant to better understand new medical technologies.

Of course engineers do research, engineers do discuss theory and philosophy (the fPET engineering & philosophy conference is this weekend), and engineering is inherently connected to development and practice. But too often educational research is disconnected from changing theory or practice, and educational philosophers don’t engage in innovative development or empirical research. The former becomes aimless and ineffectual; the latter becomes arm-chair theorizing disconnected to everyday practice. Practitioners, too, sometimes glom onto some new idea or technology that doesn’t have a basis in research or theory, or doesn’t really change or advance their practices (IWBs, or interactive whiteboards, may be a current example).  Developers sometimes recreate activities based on outmoded and less effective ideas.  That said, are K-12 and higher education teachers and developers supposed to read and apply educational research journal articles?  I don’t think so, although there is evidence for a correlation (not a causal link): engineering instructors for example who follow educational research have better student learning outcomes, but they are a tiny minority, the exception. And it’s not entirely the responsibility of practitioners. It is our job as educational researchers, theorists, and developers to always be highly connected to innovation and making educational change happen, as were Dewey and so many others. At the very least, we should be striving to communicate our work publicly with others and allowing for public feedback and criticism from practitioners, theorists, developers, and so forth. Many more people read a magazine article or even a blog post or view a youtube video than read an educational journal article or attend a conference presentation.  My AERA talk was attend by 20 people, but after posting it online over 200 people had viewed it within a few hours.  A journal article, even an open access one, I would guess at most a few hundred read (and virtually zero practitioners), whereas an innovative new software tool or instrument or curriculum may be used by hundreds or thousands more, especially when given away for free with an open license.  I and other edubloggers, #edchat’ers, youtube educators, and educoders know this phenomenon well.  Salman Khan‘s instructional videos on youtube get more views than even all of MIT’s opencourseware courses combined.  If you google ‘cognitive load theory’ you’ll get my post that is critical about it, even though I don’t do research on that topic myself, and despite decades of other published journal articles and books on the topic.   Perhaps Dewey and Friere would have had blogs or twitter accounts or Youtube channels, like Larry Cuban, Roger Schank, Richard Hake and many other less well known but nevertheless influential educational innovators do today.

Posted in community, education, research, theory, Uncategorized
3 comments on “Would Dewey, Piaget, Montessori, Friere get published today?
  1. Frances Bell says:

    I am amazed that you can write about failure to link theory, research and practice in education without acknowledging John Dewey’s contribution to action research (and associated theory). The ‘research’ you describe is only a part of valid research in education. There is also a need for good qualitative research which can be rigorous and has a much better chance of being relevant. Theory development can also be grounded in practice see http://aom.pace.edu/AMJ/editorials/Eisenhart.Graebner.2007.pdf
    I am an editor and we are happy to publish position and opinion pieces if they are good and relevant. They can then contribute to the development and testing of theory.

  2. edtechdev says:

    I think I mentioned John Dewey in the title of the post.

    I wrote the post after speaking with numerous journal editors at AERA. I didn’t really mean the post as an attack on journals so much as a perception that there is a need for more and larger spaces to share scholarship and innovation in education, especially (in my view) in the areas of development and theory. Research and practice are fairly well covered (although still largely in a separated manner).

  3. Frances Bell says:

    I noticed that you mentioned Dewey, and my point is that he would get published in the journals that have a more inclusive approach to research than what you describe.
    Good theory development doesn’t come from out of the blue and is grounded in the scholarly work of others and tested/ explored in research. In other words, theory development is research. I think you might be critiquing journals that publish a restricted notion of research.

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