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 3, Number 2
Spring 1992

              Technology Education from the Academic Rationalist Theoretical Perspective
                        Thomas Erekson
                            The purpose for this article is to explore technology
                        education from the perspective of the academic
                        rationalist. Such an exploration is intended to provide
                        information for technology educators who are grappling
                        with education reform since it appears that the reforms of
                        the 1980s are based on academic rationalism curriculum
                        theory. This exploration includes consideration of the
                        theoretical perspective, rationale, source of content,
                        organizational structure, perceived advantages, and
                        unresolved issues.
                            Academic rationalism conceptualizes curriculum as
                        distinct subjects or disciplines. This perspective is the
                        most widely used curriculum design pattern and it
                        originates from the seven liberal arts of the classical cur-
                        riculum (Herschbach, 1989,). Academic rationalism is
                        described by Hirst and Peters (1974) as follows:
                            Academic rationalism, among the several curriculum
                        orientations, is the one with the longest history. This
                        orientation emphasizes the schools' responsibility to
                        enable the young to share the intellectual fruits of those
                        who have gone on before, including not only the concepts,
                        generalizations, and methods of the academic disciplines but
                        also those works of art that have withstood the test of
                        time. For those who embrace this curriculum orientation,
                        becoming educated means becoming initiated into the modes
                        of thought these disciplines represent or becoming informed
                        about the content of those disciplines (pp. 198-199).
                            Thus, the major purpose undergirding academic
                        rationalism is to transmit the knowledge and aesthetics of
                        one generation to the next. This is accomplished through
                        education which is organized within recognized academic dis-
                        Theoretical Perspective - Technology as a Discipline
                            Bruner (1960) proposed that curriculum organization and
                        design be based on the structure of the academic
                        disciplines. McNeil (1981) described Bruner's perspective as
                            He [Bruner] proposed that the curriculum of a subject
                        should be determined by the most fundamental understanding
                        that can be achieved of the underlying principles that give
                        structure to a discipline. The basis for his argument was
                        economy. Such learning permits generalizations, makes
                        knowledge usable in contexts other than that in which it is
                        learned, and facilitates memory by allowing the learner to
                        relate what would otherwise be easily forgotten, unconnected
                        facts. (pp. 56-57)
                            Academic disciplines organize subjects around
                        conceptions of knowledge. McNeil (1981) suggests that "the
                        irreducible element of curriculum is knowledge" and that the
                        "nucleus of knowledge and the chief content or subject
                        matter of instruction are found in academic subjects that
                        are primarily intellectual" (p. 53). Schwab (1974)
                        contends that the "knowledge of any given time rests not on
                        the facts but on selected facts and the selection of the
                        conceptual principles of inquiry" (p. 165). McNeil (1981)
                        also indicates that recognized scholars in a field or
                        discipline are the ones who select the goals and the content
                        of the curriculum.
                            Given the theoretical perspective of organizing
                        subjects around conceptions of knowledge, the academic
                        rationalist perspective of technology education will emanate
                        from a characterization of technology as knowledge, which
                        provides the boundaries or framework for a discipline. This
                        perspective is supported by the technology education study
                        group, a group of twenty-five leaders who developed the
                        document entitled, A Conceptual Framework for Technology
                        Education. In the conceptual framework document (Savage and
                        Sterry, 1990), the following definition of technology is
                        provided: "Technology is a body of knowledge and the
                        application of resources to produce outcomes in response to
                        human needs and wants (p.7)." In effect, this definition
                        embraces academic rationalism by characterizing technology
                        as "a body of knowledge." Historically, this body of know-
                        ledge has been viewed in the profession as the knowledge of
                        practice, or praxiology if you will. Praxiology was used as
                        a part of the philosophical foundation in the rationale for
                        the Industrial Arts Curriculum Project. Lux and Ray (1968)
                        provided the following description: "This body of knowledge
                        is termed 'theory of practice,' 'knowledge of practice,' or
                        'praxiology.' It encompasses man's (sic) ways of doing which
                        bring about what is valued, or ought to be, through action."
                        (p. 7)
                            Skolimowski (1972), citing work by the Polish
                        philosopher Kotarbinski, described praxiology as the theory
                        of efficient action. He contends that "it is through
                        constructing praxiological models that we accomplish
                        progress in technology" (p. 46). Of course, praxiology
                        analyzes action from the perspective of efficiency and
                        Skolimowski refers to praxiology as a "normative
                            Several technology educators have endorsed the
                        academic rationalist perspective of technology and view
                        technology as a discipline. While this perspective has
                        created some controversy, the most notable justification
                        for this perspective was made in DeVore's 1964 monograph
                        "Technology: An Intellectual Discipline." DeVore makes the
                        case for viewing technology as a discipline based on the
                        five criteria put forth by Shermis (1962) in an article
                        published in the Phi Delta Kappan. These five points were
                        presented by DeVore as follows:
                               An intellectual discipline:
                            1. has a recognizable and significant tradition, an
                               identifiable history.
                            2. has an organized body of knowledge which has
                               structure with unity among the parts. The knowledge has:
                                 a. been objectively determined by verifiable and
                                    agreed upon methods,
                                 b. stood the test of time thereby evidencing
                                 c. been found to be cumulative in nature, and
                                 d. deals in concepts and ideas from a theoretical base.
                            3. is related to man's (sic) activities and aspirations
                               and becomes essential to man by addressing itself to the
                               solution of problems of paramount significance to man and
                               his (sic) society,
                            4. identifies as a part of its tradition and history a
                               considerable achievement in both eminent men (sic) and their
                               ideas, and
                            5. relates to the future man (sic) by providing the
                               stimulation and inspiration for man (sic) to further his
                               (sic) ideas and to reach his (sic) goals. (p. 10)
                            In the monograph, DeVore describes how technology meets
                        these criteria and, therefore, is an intellectual discipline.
                        Curriculum Rationale
                            From a theoretical perspective, academic rationalists
                        believe that the curriculum should develop the mind with
                        objective knowledge that can be tested through empirical
                        evidence and reasoning (McNeil, 1981). Hirst (1974) purports
                        that the development of the mind, from a rational
                        perspective, is achieved by mastering the fundamental struc-
                        ture of knowledge, logical relations, meaning, and
                        criteria for assessing and evaluating truth.
                            However, academic rationalists do not limit their
                        perspective only to the transmission of existing knowledge
                        to future generations. Academic rationalism includes the
                        perspective that knowledge can be created and the systems
                        for disciplined inquiry are an integral part of the
                        theoretical rationale. This is described by McNeil (1981) as
                            . . . most curriculum theorists today reject this fixed
                        view of knowledge and instead hold that knowledge can be
                        constructed. The creation of knowledge -- valid
                        statements, conclusions, or truths -- occurs by following
                        the inquiry systems of particular disciplines or cognitive
                        forms. The acquiring of disciplinary forms for creating
                        knowledge constitutes the most valid aspect of the modern
                        academic curriculum; the recitation of given conclusions
                        apart from the methods and theories by which they are
                        established is less defensible in a period characterized by
                        both expansion and revision of knowledge -- new truths
                        departing from older principles. (p. 55)
                            Thus, the curriculum rationale from the academic
                        rationalist perspective is to develop a structured
                        organizing pattern which transmits knowledge and involves
                        students in the creation of new knowledge. This rationale
                        is embraced by technology educators who organize curriculum
                        such that students are immersed in doing technology, or in
                        learning through performing like technologists. This
                        perspective is supported by Bruner who suggested active
                        involvement as though a specialist in the discipline as a
                        vehicle for learning the discipline. According to Bruner
                        (1960) "the school boy (sic) learning physics is a
                        physicist, and it is easier for him (sic) to learn physics
                        behaving like a physicist than doing something else" (p.
                        31). Likewise, those who would advocate that technology is
                        a discipline would suggest that the student learn the
                        discipline by behaving like a technologist. This approach is
                        intended to facilitate the acquisition of technological
                        knowledge and knowledge of practice, or "to gain knowledge
                        in 'doing' technology not just 'knowing' about technology"
                        (Todd, 1990). After all, technological knowledge is being
                        created and changing at an ever accelerating pace.
                            This curriculum rationale, based on a perspective of
                        technology as a discipline, is further supported by the
                        identification of a method of inquiry, the "technological
                        method," in the Conceptual Framework document (Savage &
                        Sterry, 1990). The identification of the method of
                        disciplined inquiry whereby technology is created is
                        critical to the academic rationalist perspective of
                        technology education. The technological method, analogous
                        to the scientific method, is an approach to problem-solving
                        and is described by Todd (1990) as follows:
                            By attending to human needs and wants 1) problems and
                        opportunities 2) can be addressed by applying resources 3)
                        and technological knowledge 4) through technological
                        processes 5). The result of this effort can be evaluated 6)
                        to assess the solutions and impacts 7) resulting from
                        these general technological activities (p. 3).
                            Todd's description of the technological method is
                        consistent with the description provided in A Conceptual
                        Framework for Technology Education (Savage & Sterry, 1990).
                        Source of Content
                            From the academic rationalist perspective the content
                        reservoir for technology education should be based on a
                        taxonomy of technology. While there is no uniform agree-
                        ment on a taxonomy, the most widely agreed upon taxonomy
                        emanates from the Jackson's Mill project (Hales & Snyder,
                        1982). This approach identifies the domains of knowledge and
                        the interaction with the human adaptive systems. The
                        curriculum taxonomy that has evolved from Jackson's Mill
                        focuses content on four adaptive systems; manufacturing,
                        communication, construction, and transportation. Each of
                        these adaptive systems has been categorized in their
                        unique curriculum taxonomies in various state and local
                        curriculum guides.
                            The discipline of technology should not be limited to
                        only these industrial-related technologies as the source of
                        content. There are several other areas of technological
                        knowledge that are equally important for study. For example,
                        the bio-related technologies provide an array of
                        possibilities for inclusion and study in Technology. To this
                        end, the Conceptual Framework document identified four
                        sources of content for Technology Education; communication,
                        transportation, production, and bio-related technology (Sav-
                        age & Sterry, 1990). These sources of content were not
                        identified to become the end all, rather they were
                        identified to be representative of technologies that could
                        be included in the curriculum. It was further realized
                        that new technological areas would likely emerge in future
                        years and decades which would be appropriate for study.
                            An academic rationalist could also derive a curriculum
                        taxonomy based on an analysis of the technological method.
                        In effect, this approach would be to structure curriculum
                        content to develop knowledge of the technological method and
                        its components. Under this arrangement students would learn
                        how specialists in technology discover knowledge (McNeil,
                        1981). Thus, the content becomes the taxonomy of the
                        technological method.
                        Organizational Structure
                            According to Schwab (1974) the structures of modern
                        disciplines are very diverse and complex.  This complexity
                        suggests that there is no one best organizational structure
                        for all disciplines. Rather, there are diverse structures
                        depending on the discipline as described by Schwab (1974):
                            The diversity of modern structures means that we must
                        look, not for a simple theory of learning leading to a one
                        best learning-teaching structure for our schools, but for a
                        complex theory leading to a number of different struc-
                        tures, each appropriate or "best" for a given discipline or
                        group of disciplines (p. 163).
                            There is no doubt that technology is a complex, diverse
                        discipline, and there has been no "one best" structure
                        identified. Examples of diverse organizational structures
                        are provided in state curriculum guides for technology
                        education. State guides include structures such as
                        Bio-related Technology, Physical Technology, and
                        Communication Technology (State of Ohio; Savage, 1990);
                        Production Technology, Communication Technology,
                        Transportation Technology, and Energy Utilization
                        Technology (State of Illinois; Illinois State Board of
                        Education, 1989); Invention and Innovation, Enterprise,
                        Control Technology, Information Processing, Energy,
                        Materials and Processes, Technical Design and Presentation,
                        and so forth (State of New Jersey; Commission, 1987);
                        Technological Systems, Communication Technology,
                        Power/Transportation Technology, Manufacturing/Construction
                        Technology (State of Pennsylvania; Pennsylvania, 1988).
                            McNeil (1981) discusses the concept of "structure in
                        the disciplines" which has been utilized as a basis for an
                        organizing pattern and identifying curriculum content. He
                        identified three kinds of structure:
                            1. Organizational structure -- definitions of how one
                               discipline differs in a fundamental way from another. A
                               discipline's organizational structure also indicates the
                               borders of inquiry for that discipline.
                            2. Substantive structure -- the kinds of questions to
                               ask in inquiry, the data needed, and ideas (concepts,
                               principles, theories) to use in interpreting data.
                            3. Syntactical structure -- the manner in which those
                               in the respective disciplines gather data, test assertions,
                               and generalize findings. The particular method used in
                               performing such tasks makes up the syntax of a discipline.
                               (McNeil, 1981, p. 57).
                            The structure of technology education, given McNeil's
                        perspectives of structure, would follow the proposals in the
                        Conceptual Framework document (Savage & Sterry, 1990; Todd,
                        1990). The conceptual framework provides the following:
                            1. Organizational structure -- content organizers of
                               production, communication, transportation, and bio-related
                               technologies with an emphasis on "doing" technology.
                            2. Substantive structure -- problems and op-
                               portunities that come in response to human needs and
                               wants, and the social and environmental impacts often
                               provide the basis for inquiry.
                            3. Syntactical structure -- the identification of the
                               technological method, and its use, provide a syntax for the
                               discipline of technology.
                        Perceived Advantages
                            In making the case for identifying technology as a
                        discipline, DeVore (1964) states the major advantage as
                            There is only one suitable reason [for identifying
                        technology as an intellectual discipline]. A subject area
                        so identified meets certain stringent criteria established
                        by others and takes its place as an area of study essential
                        to an understanding of man (sic) and his (sic) world. By
                        becoming an intellectual discipline an area becomes ac-
                        cepted as a necessary and contributing study in the
                        education of all youth (p. 5).
                            By embracing academic rationalism, technology
                        educators have the opportunity to become an equal area in
                        the curriculum with the associated respect. In addition,
                        much of the educational reform movement is founded in ac-
                        ademic rationalism. For example, the Holmes Group
                        recommendations for the reform of teacher preparation is
                        discipline-based (Erekson, 1988). Those technology teacher
                        education programs that have perceived technology as a
                        discipline have, in effect, endorsed academic rationalism,
                        and have found it much easier to develop redesign proposals
                        in concert with the tenets of the Holmes Group.
                            Where technology education is perceived as a discipline
                        it has gained respect and an equal place in the academic
                        curriculum. This is exemplified in the proposed revised re-
                        quirements for high school graduation in the State of
                        Maryland (Maryland State Department of Education, 1991). The
                        previous standards required a one semester course in the
                        "practical arts" which could be met through a course in
                        technology education or a course in areas such as home
                        economics, vocational education, or computer education.
                        The proposed new standards eliminate the practical arts
                        requirement, however, the Maryland State Department of
                        Education has added a new requirement in technology
                        education. In effect, students may be required to take a one
                        year course in technology education to graduate from high
                        school. Thus, technology education has moved from one of the
                        practical arts to a subject equivalent to science, social
                        studies, math, and language arts. By advocating, academic
                        rationalism, that technology education is a new
                        discipline, perception and policy have changed.
                        Unresolved Issues
                            There are two major issues that need to be resolved in
                        order for technology education to be congruent with the
                        tenets of academic rationalism. First, the academic
                        rationalist conceptualization of technology education re-
                        quires that the curriculum be organized into distinct,
                        separate subjects. Technology is dynamic, diverse, and
                        inherently interdisciplinary. As such, it is difficult to
                        identify the unique boundaries of the discipline.
                            The second issue to resolve concerns the identification of
                        the scholars of technology. Academic rationalism is founded
                        on the premise of recognized disciplines which organize
                        curriculum around conceptions of knowledge. These
                        disciplines and conceptions of knowledge are identified
                        and developed over time by a body of scholars. Who are the
                        scholars for the discipline of technology? Are they
                        engineering faculty? anthropologists? historians?
                        technology teacher educators? Furthermore, if the
                        profession can identify a group of technology scholars, do
                        these scholars identify themselves with the discipline of
                            According to McNeil (1981) the separate subject,
                        academic rationalist, perspective will remain the prevailing
                        conception of curriculum in the future. If technology
                        education desires equal status in the curriculum with the
                        classical subjects, technology educators will need to
                        embrace academic rationalism and advocate the perspective of
                        technology as a new intellectual discipline. Some might
                        suggest that it will be almost an impossible task to
                        establish technology as a new intellectual discipline.
                        However, there are newer disciplines which are gaining ac-
                        ceptance in the academic arena. Examples are described by
                        McNeil (1981) as follows:
                        Newer disciplines claim to be more relevant than the older
                        ones. Psychology, for instance, is challenging literature
                        for the honor of interpreting human nature. Anthropology
                        begs admission on the grounds that it can do a better job of
                        helping pupils gain a valid world view than can history, a
                        field known for reflecting parochial interests. (p. 69)
                            It is possible to establish a new intellectual
                        discipline. Technology has the potential to become an
                        intellectual discipline and, like psychology and
                        anthropology as cited above, technology can claim to be more
                        relevant than many of the older disciplines. However, to
                        establish technology as an intellectual discipline, it
                        will require the identification of a body of scholars of
                        technology -- individuals who view themselves as scholars of
                        technology. It will also require time, perhaps decades,
                        for technology to gain acceptance as an intellectual disci-
                        pline among the academicians. However, as is the case in
                        Maryland, technology education can gain equal status with
                        the academic subjects.
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                        DeVore, P.D. (1968). Structure and content foundations
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                        DeVore, P.D. (1964). Technology: An intellectual
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                        Hales, J.A. & Snyder, J.F. (1982). Jackson's Mill
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                            conceptions of curriculum. Berkeley, CA: McCutchan Pub-
                        Illinois State Board of Education. (1989). Industrial
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                            Vocational and Technical Education.
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                        Schwab, J.J. (1974). The concept of the structure of a
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                        Tom Erekson is Dean, College of Technology, Bowling Green
                        State University, Bowling Green, OH.

              Journal of Technology Education   Volume 3, Number 2       Spring 1992