Journal of Technology Education

Journal of Technology Education

Current Editor: Chris Merrill,
Previous Editors: Mark Sanders 1989-1997; James LaPorte: 1997-2010

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Volume 2, Number 2
Spring 1991

               BOOK REVIEW
                          Toward a Philosophical Technology Education
                         FERRE, FREDERICK.  (1988).  PHILOSOPHY OF
                         HALL, $17.33 (PAPERBACK), 147 PP. (ISBN
                                   Reviewed by Carl Mitcham
                              Technology has increasing impacts on so-
                         ciety and applications in education.  Tech-
                         nology education, as a distinct area of study
                         in K-12 schools, is slowly gaining a recog-
                         nized place in the school curriculum that re-
                         flects the importance of these impacts.  But
                         what is the application of philosophy to
                         technology?  This brief textbook introduction
                         to the philosophy of technology in the highly
                         respected Prentice Hall "Foundations of Phi-
                         losophy Series" -- concerned, as it is, with
                         what education in its deepest sense has to
                         say about technology -- provides an excellent
                         starting place for addressing this question.
                              The text opens with an overview of phi-
                         losophy as "the sustained effort at wondering
                         critically about . . . comprehensive issues"
                         (p. 2) applied to technology.  What consti-
                         tutes technological knowledge (as distinct
                         from, say, scientific knowledge)?  What is
                         the relation between technology and human
                         values.  How are technologically constructed
                         objects (artifacts) different from natural
                              Such questions point readily to a need
                         to define technology.  Chapter two consti-
                         tutes a stimulating consideration of a number
                         of key questions related to the concept of
                         technology.  Must technology always be mate-
                         rial?  Is it always science-based?  Can ani-
                         mals have technologies?  Is technology
                         natural or unnatural?  Developing a defi-
                         nition that steers a middle course between
                         the Scylla of excessive narrowness and the
                         Charybdis of over generality, Ferre defines
                         technology as "practical implementations of
                         intelligence" (p. 26).  Building on this de-
                         finition chapter three goes into greater de-
                         tail to examine technology as the practical
                         implementation of practical intelligence
                         (craft), while chapter four describes that
                         peculiarly modern form of technology which is
                         the practical implementation of
                         theoretical intelligence (science).
                              The first four chapters of the text thus
                         deal with definitional and epistemological
                         issues.  The next four turn to questions of
                         life and the problems of living with technol-
                         ogy.  Chapter five, considering general is-
                         sues of "technology and modern existence,"
                         contrasts the "bright visions" of Karl Marx
                         and Buckminster Fuller with the "somber
                         visions" of Martin Heidegger and Herbert
                         Marcuse.  Chapter six focuses on the ethical
                         assessment of technology, mentioning specif-
                         ically the moral problems that arise in con-
                         junction with workplace automation,
                         computers, nuclear
                         energy, Third World development, and genetic
                              It is unfortunate that questions of edu-
                         cation and technology are not directly
                         broached in chapter six, but each of the five
                         specific areas of ethical concern certainly
                         has implications for both the utilization of
                         educational technologies and instruction in
                         and about technology in the schools.  Class-
                         room automation constitutes a kind of
                         workplace automation that can be used to de-
                         skill teachers.  Computers can be the basis
                         for invasions of privacy of and by both
                         teachers and students.  The risks of nuclear
                         war and nuclear power generation come home in
                         direct ways to the schools (remember the nu-
                         clear civil defense drills from the 1950s and
                         some recent debates about siting schools near
                         nuclear power plants).  Technological devel-
                         opment and education can raise issues of jus-
                         tice and equity for minority students as much
                         as for Third World countries.  Genetic engi-
                         neering has implications for the kinds of
                         students and teachers -- and, indeed, for the
                         kind of education -- that will take place in
                         the future.
                              The last two chapters consider debates
                         about the mutual influences between technol-
                         ogy and religion, and technology and
                         metaphysics, respectively.  The concluding
                         discussions of technological models of human
                         nature and free will versus technological
                         determinism have direct bearing upon the the-
                         ory and practice of education in the most
                         general sense, and can provide the founda-
                         tions for developing guidelines for assessing
                         the appropriateness of technologies to dif-
                         ferent educational contexts.
                              Although the relation between education
                         and technology is never directly addressed,
                         this book provides reflective background for
                         the informed development of a philosophy of
                         technology education.  This in turn can help
                         us move from the technological transformation
                         of education toward the educational transfor-
                         mation of technology.  
                         Carl Mitcham is Associate Professor, Science,
                         Technology, and Society Program, The
                         Pennsylvania State University, University
                         Park, Pennsylvania.

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               Journal of Technology Education   Volume 2, Number 2       Spring 1991