JTE v3n2 - Technology Education from the Academic Rationalist Theoretical Perspective

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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          Tom Erekson is Dean, College of Technology, Bowling Green
          State University, Bowling Green, OH.

Journal of Technology Education   Volume 3, Number 2       Spring 1992