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What if Dewey Won? Forwarding Social Inquiry in Music Education

  • Susan Wharton Conkling
Chapter
Part of the Landscapes: the Arts, Aesthetics, and Education book series (LAAE, volume 23)

Abstract

In 2002, Lagemann wrote about the history of educational research, characterizing it as an ongoing debate between John Dewey and Edward Thorndike—a debate that Thorndike eventually won. The more intriguing aspect of Lagemann’s thesis, however, is that the debate keeps reappearing, and education research continues on the side of Thorndike, but in a kind of blind adherence to the ideas of objectivity, generalizability, and prediction. I assume that music education researchers may not view themselves in a direct lineage to either Dewey or Thorndike, although I demonstrate how experimental psychology, similar to Thorndike, became pervasive in music education.

The centerpiece of the essay is a counterfactual proposal: what if Dewey won? What if his pragmatism—his idea that knowledge could be neither acquired objectively or subjectively, but only transactionally, through shared experience in the world—had become more commonplace? I imagine how the preparation of music education researchers might look, specifically focusing on how they learn to construct research problems based on imaginative use of conceptual frameworks from previous scientific inquiry. Like Dewey and other American pragmatists, I suggest that the novice researcher should be given opportunities to proceed from the concept into the field, and then back to the concept, recursively gaining insight and refining a research problem, a practice Anyon (Anyon, J. Theory and educational research: toward critical social explanation. Routledge, New York (2008)) calls “kneading the dough” of theoretical and empirical work. I then suggest replacing the idea of a literature review with literature work, an ongoing relationship with other researchers, reading and analyzing their work.

Finally, I address the thorny issue of how students learn research strategies or methods, drawing on Dewey’s pragmatism to suggest that methods are developed reflexively with the research problem. Dewey’s principle suggests that not all methods and strategies are yet known to researchers, and our students may create new means of inquiry. Although Dewey’s pragmatism often has been used as the basis for methodological pluralism, I conclude with the proposition that his view of inquiry as a communicative accomplishment—a negotiation between inquirers, participants, and readers—invites an even broader vision. Each of us, situated in a specific historical moment, has a responsibility to communicate and deliberate actively in a pluralistic community of scholars, and to welcome our students into such a community.

Keywords

Education studies Educational psychology Scientism Conceptual frameworks Problem construction Literature work Communication Community of scholars 

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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Music EducationBoston University College of Fine ArtsBostonUSA

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