JITE v37n2 - Comments - Response to Steve Petrina's Book Review and John Ritz's Comment

Volume 37, Number 2
Winter 2000

Response to Steve Petrina's Book Review and John Ritz's comment.

Theodore Lewis
University of Minnesota

Steve Petrina's review of Foundations of Technology Education, the 44th Yearbook of the Council on Technology Teacher Education (CTTE) is indeed irreverent. But early in the work he does caution that it would be "intentionally provocative". So though he took no prisoners here, readers were forewarned, thus given ample opportunity to bail out if they wished. What Petrina does in this essay, as he promised, is shake the superstructure of the field clear to its foundations. He argues firmly that technology education, as represented by the processes surrounding publication of the yearbook and by its content, is in the grasp of a good old boy mentality. Disagreeing with Petrina John Ritz invokes the value of "teamwork", suggesting, perhaps unwittingly, that the "good of the profession" should be paramount "(A)lthough critical review is important in moving a profession forward." But one may counter that without peer review of its scholarly productions as a basic tenet, any claims to professionalism made by a field would ring hollow. Professionalism is an important value, but it does not stand independent of rigor in the business in which we are. I am happy that Petrina did not place some dubious fraternal code above his critical insights and, as a result, we have before us a pure statement of caution that can be the basis of self examination for the field and that we can choose to ignore at our peril.

Petrina argues in his essay that the approach to foundations taken in the yearbook represented opportunity lost. What we got, he suggests, are the same old foundations- tunnel-visioned, insular, parochial, ethnocentric. Certain foundation builders are rendered invisible and voiceless, as usual, he suggests. Authors seemed insulated from intellectual and political currents, he contends. They seemed to view foundations indeed to be set in concrete, assuming rigid stability in a world where the norm in our time is one of growing seismic social activity, evidenced by constructivist notions of how we come to know and contested notions of what knowledge and, indeed, whose knowledge is of worth. Petrina questions for whom these foundations are and about. Should foundations reflect what technology education has been, or what it could be? In short, he contests the very premises upon which the foundations are constructed, pushing us away from the construction site, back to the drawing board. It is the architecture that is at fault he contends. What we need here is a new design.

In my view, Petrina's is one of the most compelling voices in our field and he has earned the right to lead us in a process of introspection. One of the hallmarks of his scholarship is intellectual rigor. Always, he keeps an open mind, allowing ideas from outside of our field to inform his thoughts. The result is that he is constantly experimenting with conceptual frameworks that would provide us alternative lenses through which to examine and reshape our work. A good example of why we must take him seriously is his recent content analysis of work published in the whole history of the Journal of Technology Education ( Petrina, 1998 ). What that analysis revealed were clear asymmetries in the focus of the journal. For example, he showed that curriculum was being privileged over instruction. From the standpoint of research methodology, he showed an overwhelming tendency towards positivism and scant attention to interpretative and critical paradigms. These and other gaps or omissions are challenges for technology educators. They can be the root of new lines of work.

My point is that Petrina cannot be dismissed by mere pitch fork. He has to be contended with because he backs up his critique with exhaustive and thoughtful background homework. In the essay in question here, he suggests that in determining what are our foundations, the gaze of the scholars has tended to be fixed in the direction of capital more so than labor. Further, he calls for more than lip service to internationalism. We cannot say international but mean the United States. Since the whole area of foundations in education is changing, he suggests then that our field cannot remain oblivious to such change. We cannot just do business as usual, trotting out the same old cant. We must reassess the social, political, and historical forces that are providing new contexts for the field. Petrina is at his most adamant when he suggests that scholarly productions such as yearbooks should be sent out for peer review. Countering, John Ritz suggests that the judgements of the professionals who prepare these yearbooks ought to be sufficient quality control. Many fields, at least serious ones, would reject this out of hand. I agree with Petrina that we get supremely better quality scholarship when publications such as yearbooks, that are meant to stand across time as the best expressions of the ideas of particular generations of scholars, are peer reviewed. Yearbooks are important primary source documents. Petrina is saying, and I agree, that the processes that produce them must be consistent with normal publication expectations for serious works in serious fields.

I did not always agree with Petrina. For example, he writes that "Philosophers of technology have not been the least bit interested in 'acknowledging' that technology is a discipline". I think that is too sweeping, and probably incorrect, if we look for example at the concerns of Rapp ( 1989 ), who argues that what hampers philosophers of technology is the absence of a clearly elaborated state of their art, a problem unknown to philosophers of science. In other words, philosophers of technology do not have a discipline to which they can point, and they pay a status price here. Like ours, theirs is a field still in the making, still seeking legitimacy as valid knowledge. While it is true that a disciplinary quest for technology is to some extent political in nature, I do not see such a quest as lost energy, nor do I see it as inferior to other activity designed to establish the subject. In other words, I do not share Petrina's belief that the quest for consensus around a discipline is inherently a bad thing. If we have a field, we must be able to establish its perimeter, acknowledging that such perimeter might well be ill-defined, given the interdisciplinary character of technological knowledge and the fact that technologies tend to be nested within particular disciplinary spheres. The quest for consensus as to what constitutes that perimeter will only have been wrong-headed if it stops. Seeking consensus and redefining and rearguing what constitutes the territory of the field is one of the more exciting scholarly aspects of technology education. Few fields have as an exciting a curricular challenge as the one we face in trying to claim space and legitimacy in the curriculum.

But that is an aside. Part of the problem of our foundations is the decision whether to employ the same ones that supported industrial arts, or whether, now that we have changed the orientation of the field to technology, there is need anew for scholastic excavation. The challenge here lies in how we view technology. If we make no distinction between school technology and societal technology, then there is a real burden of unearthing foundations, an onerous burden. Science educators make a distinction between science and school science. They know they can't have particle accelerators in school labs, so their ambitions are thereby made modest. Technology is a way in which we can chronicle nothing less than the march of human existence. That is a scale that substantially dwarfs the subject whose origin in the United States we mark with the Philadelphia Exposition and with examples of dovetail joints. If we disentangle the school subject technology from the phenomenon of technology, then that is a different, more modest undertaking, and we can show the subject as something that has metamorphosed, meaning that old foundations do not disappear, but that we have to deal with new contexts and new impetuses. For example, clearly the new information age provides a dimension that was not present in the era of the manual training school. That does not invalidate the hammer, or the dovetail joint, but we must now accommodate modular labs. The subject has changed fundamentally because the industrial age has given way to information. We need to acknowledge such change and to evaluate its contribution to new foundations from which will spring the next phases of the metamorphosis of the subject.

Petrina's point about technology as the same old-same old has to be addressed. For example, Zuga ( 1996 ) has pointed out that women have been invisible in the field as foundation builders. Since industrial arts was an elementary school subject at the turn of the century, it surely must be the case that women were among the pioneers. Yet, we are hard pressed to find more than one or two among our leaders we glorify. One can also observe that we have not been able to locate Booker T. Washington and Tuskegee within the grander discussion of origins of the field, though Washington clearly is one of the originals.

John Ritz is entitled to his view, but I worry about his suggestion that some all-conquering professionalism should be the screen through which a scholar such as Petrina should filter his observations and insights. All that will get us is the party line, which in the end will have a numbing effect on scholarship. We may quibble about Petrina's tone, but ultimately we are compelled to focus on his message. And what he has to say is, in my view, important. Foundations must change as fields change. School subjects are living organisms that must respond to their contexts. If we look in the same old places, we will not find the new supporting structures for the field. Petrina wants us not so much to destroy the old foundations as to give ourselves the chance, by being open minded, to uncover new ones. How could that be bad for our field?


Lewis is Professor, Department of Work, Community and Family Education, University of Minnesota, St. Paul. He is also currently Program Officer at the National Science Foundation in Washington, DC.


Petrina , S. (1998). Men at work: Inspecting the foundations of technology education. Journal of Industrial Teacher Education , 36 (1), 99-121.

Petrina , S. (1998). The politics of research in technology education: A critical content analysis of the Journal of Technology Education volumes 1-8. Journal of Technology Education , 10 (1), 27-57.

Rapp , F. (1989). General perspectives on the complexity of philosophy of technology. In P. T. Durbin (Ed.) Philosophy and technology: Practical, historical and other dimensions (pp. ix-xxiv). Philosophy of Technology Vol. 6 , Dordrecht:Kluwer.

Ritz , J. (1999). A response to Stephen Petrina's book review. Men at Work: Inspecting the foundations of technology education. Journal of Industrial Teacher Education , 36 (3). 90-91.

Zuga , K. (1996). Reclaiming the voices of female and elementary school educators in technology education. Journal of Industrial Teacher Education , 33 (3), 23-43.