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Design instructional

( documentar pentru masteranzi )



I. Gagne ̒s Theory of Instruction

II. Robert Gagne's Nine Learning Events

III. De l' "Educational Technology" à la technologie pour l'éducation

IV. Robert Mager

V. Gilbert de Landsheere

VI. From tests to current evaluative research

VII. Zece mituri privind evaluarea cadrelor didactice

VIII. Teacher Evaluation

IX. Modernism, Postmodernism, After-Postmodernism

Aprilie 2009
I. Gagne’s Theory of Instruction
prepared by
Michael Corry

Robert Gagne’s theory of instruction has provided a great number of valuable ideas to
instructional designers, trainers, and teachers. But is it really useful to everyone at all times?
During this paper, I will assume the position of a teacher educator (something I have done
formally for several years now) while examining the strengths and weaknesses of Gagne’s
theory of instruction. Driscoll (1994) breaks Gagne’s theory into three major areas – the
taxonomy of learning outcomes, the conditions of learning, and the events of instruction. I
will focus on each of these three areas while briefly describing the theory of instruction. Once
this brief introduction of the theory is completed, I will attempt to turn this theory „back upon
itself” while examining the strengths and weaknesses of it’s various assumptions.

Gagne’s Theory of Instruction

As previously explained Gagne’s theory of instruction is commonly broken into three areas.
The first of these areas that I will discuss is the taxonomy of learning outcomes. Gagne’s
taxonomy of learning outcomes is somewhat similar to Bloom’s taxonomies of cognitive,
affective, and psychomotor outcomes (some of these taxonomies were proposed by Bloom,
but actually completed by others). Both Bloom and Gagne believed that it was important to
break down humans’ learned capabilities into categories or domains. Gagne’s taxonomy
consists of five categories of learning outcomes – verbal information, intellectual skills,
cognitive strategies, attitudes, and motor skills. Gagne, Briggs, and Wager (1992) explain that
each of the categories leads to a different class of human performance.

Essential to Gagne’s ideas of instruction are what he calls „conditions of learning.” He breaks
these down into internal and external conditions. The internal conditions deal with previously
learned capabilities of the learner. Or in other words, what the learner knows prior to the
instruction. The external conditions deal with the stimuli (a purely behaviorist term) that is
presented externally to the learner. For example, what instruction is provided to the learner.

To tie Gagne’s theory of instruction together, he formulated nine events of instruction. When
followed, these events are intended to promote the transfer of knowledge or information from
perception through the stages of memory. Gagne bases his events of instruction on the
cognitive information processing learning theory.

The way Gagne’s theory is put into practice is as follows. First of all, the instructor
determines the objectives of the instruction. These objectives must then be categorized into
one of the five domains of learning outcomes. Each of the objectives must be stated in
performance terms using one of the standard verbs (i.e. states, discriminates, classifies, etc.)
associated with the particular learning outcome. The instructor then uses the conditions of
learning for the particular learning outcome to determine the conditions necessary for
learning. And finally, the events of instruction necessary to promote the internal process of
learning are chosen and put into the lesson plan. The events in essence become the framework
for the lesson plan or steps of instruction.
Strengths and Weaknesses of the Theory and it’s Assumptions

As a teacher educator who has employed Gagne’s theory into real life, I have some unique
insights into the strengths and weaknesses of the theory and it’s assumptions. I will again
structure my comments following the three areas of the theory as described by Driscoll
(1994). I will first examine the domains of learning outcomes. As a teacher the domains of
learning have helped me to better organize my thoughts and the objectives of the instructional
lesson. This proved to be very beneficial to me as a teacher, because I was always looking for
a good way to put more structure into the objectives of my lesson plans. Additionally, the
domains of learning helped me to better understand what types of learning I was expecting to
see from my students.

One of the greatest weakness that I experienced with Gagne’s theory was taking the goals I
had for my students, putting them into the correct learning outcome category, and then
creating objectives using Gagne’s standard verbs. I would like to break this problem into two
parts. First, as I began to use the theory, it quickly became apparent that some goals were easy
to classify into the learning outcome categories, but that many were not as easy to categorize.
As a teacher, I spent a great deal of time reading and studying Gagne’s categories in an
attempt to better understand how certain goals fit in the different categories. This was good in
the sense that it forced me to really understand what I wanted my students to do. But, on the
other hand, it always caused me a great deal of uneasiness about whether or not I was fouling
up the whole process by putting the goal into the wrong learning outcome category.

The second half of this weakness has to do with creating objectives using Gagne’s standard
verbs. After the experience with categorizing the goal into the proper learning outcome, I was
faced with changing my goal into a performance objective using one of the standard verbs.
This always bothered me as a teacher because I felt like I couldn’t always force my objectives
into the form that the theory needed. I do believe that writing down objectives is very
important, but the standard verbs made the process so rigid that I felt like I was filling in the
blanks. I always felt like I had no creativity in writing the objectives – I felt pigeonholed.
Along with this feeling came the fact that all objectives had to be written in performance
terms. This also made me feel a little uneasy because I felt that some of the overriding
objectives I had for my students could not be expressed in performance terms. This objectives
were more process oriented than product oriented. It was always very difficult to put these
processes into performance terms using the standard verbs.

As a teacher educator I found that the conditions of learning proposed by Gagne were very
beneficial. I saw them as guidelines to follow. I didn’t take them to be algorithmic in nature
but more heuristic. They seemed to make logical sense and in fact I think they helped me
better structure my lesson plans and my teaching. Once again however, even though I viewed
the conditions as heuristics, I did feel that I was somewhat of a robot carrying out commands.
I always felt as though I was being driven by the conditions.

This leads directly to a discussion of the events of instruction. I felt that the events of
instruction really helped me the most as a teacher. The events gave me the skeleton on which
I could hang my lesson. The events not only provided me with a road map to follow, but also
a way to look at my lesson plans in a more holistic nature. I was able to see how the parts of
the lesson fit together to achieve the ultimate goal.
This part of Gagne’s theory seemed to be the least rigid to me because you did not have to
follow it as rigorously as other parts of the theory. For example, Gagne explains that most
lessons should follow the sequence of the events of instruction, but that the order is not
absolute. While I appreciated the fact that this was less rigid than other parts of the theory, I
always had one important question. If the events of instruction follow the cognitive learning
process, then why would it be advisable to change the sequence of the events or to leave
events out? Wouldn’t this have a great impact of the learning process? Would learning still
take place?

This leads me to the learning theory upon which Gagne bases his instructional theory. As a
teacher early in my career who was very enamored with computers, cognitive information
processing theory seemed like a great explanation of the learning process (I am not sure I still
feel the same way). However, those who do not understand or agree with cognitive
information processing theory might not feel the same. For those people, I believe that
Gagne’s theory might not work very well for them.


In conclusion, I would like to summarize the points I have tried to cover in this paper. First of
all, Gagne’s theory does provide a great deal of valuable information to teachers like myself. I
believe it is mostly appealing to those teachers who may be early in their teaching careers and
are in need of structure for their lesson plans and a holistic view of their teaching. The theory
is very systematic and rigid at most points. It is almost like a cookbook recipe to ensure
successful teaching and ultimately learning by the students. However, the systematic nature of
the theory may be a turn-off for many teachers, particularly those who like to be creative,
don’t like rigidity, and who don’t believe in a cookbook approach to ensure learning.

An additional point to cover is that the theory is not always easy to implement. I am sure I am
not alone in my feeling that many times it is difficult to take the goals I had for my students,
put them into the correct learning outcome category, and then create objectives using Gagne’s
standard verbs.

The final point I would like to cover deals with the learning theory upon which Gagne bases
his theory. First of all, if the events of instruction really match up with the learning process,
then I do not believe it would be advisable to change the sequence of the events or to leave
certain events out of the sequence altogether. Second, cognitive information processing is not
acceptable to all teachers. Many teachers would not agree with this idea of how learning takes
place. For those who disagree with cognitive information processing, Gagne’s theory of
instruction would not fit their needs.


Driscoll, M. P. (1994). Psychology of learning for instruction. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Gagne, R. M., Briggs, L. J., & Wager, W. W. (1992). Principles of instructional design. Fort
Worth: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
Robert Gagne’s Nine Learning Events:
Instructional Design for Dummies
This page originally designed by Linda Stollings (2007)

Robert M. Gagne’s nine learning events (or events of instruction) have been in use by
instructional designers since their introduction in the 1960s. Originally, Gagne worked
extensively in developing the field of military training, however these events have been
adopted by educators and designers as one of the key theories in both training and educational
contexts. Many teachers and trainers have used them as a structure for lesson planning.
Someargue that Gagne’s nine events are dated and dull, however they still offer a rational
framework which beginning instructional designers can use to shape meaningful learning
spaces. While these nine events are based on behaviourist and cognitive/information
processing learning theories, their simplicity provides a design framework that can apply to a
variety of educational contexts. As well, with some imagination they can also be
conceptualized to incorporate components of constructivist and sociocultural theories to
create an eclectic learning environment.


Instruction has been defined as “a set of events external to the learner designed to support the
internal processes of learning” (Gagne, Wager, Golas & Keller, 2005, p.194). As a cognitive
psychologist, Gagne first proposed nine events of intruction and conditions of learning in
1965 as means to activate and support the processes of information processing. Interestingly,
in 1959, Gagne and Jerome Brunerworked on parallel working groups borne out a conference
in Cape Cod on science education (Bruner, 1963). Bruner’s earliest work is echoed in
Gagne’s learning events, especially in terms of concepts such as readiness, structure and

Each of Gagne’s learning events was originally designed to produce an ‘output’ that acts as an
‘input’ for the next stage in the sequence. However, Gagne was open to the influence of many
other educational theorists, which lead him to suggest that these events in their entirety should
be regarded as one form of instructional strategy. Further, he noted that the order of events
can be altered and not all events need be present in every lesson (Gagne et al., 2005). In the
end, the nine events are useful in that they represent repeatedly validated key stages in the
instructional process (Richey, 2000). The key question designers need to ask themselves is,
“What does the learner need at this point in the task?”

The Nine Learning Events

Cognitive Stuff

The following table outlines Gagne’s Nine Events and the corresponding cognitive process it
INSTRUCTIONAL EVENT Relation to Learning Process

Gaining attention Reception of patterns of neural impulses

Informing the learner of the objective Activiating a process of executive control

Stimulating recall of prerequisite Retrieval of prior learning to working memory

learned capabilities

Presenting the stimulus material Emphasizing features for selective perception

Providing learning guidance Semantic encoding; cues for retrieval

Eliciting performance Activating response organization

Providing feedback about performance Establishing reinforcement


Assessing the performance Activating retrieval; making reinforcement possible

Enhancing retention and transfer Providing cues and strategies for retrieval

(Gagne et al., 2005, p. 195)

Practice Makes it Perfect?

Researchers found that when altering the presence of each of the events during computer-
based instruction, the inclusion of practice (eliciting performance), combined with feedback
was consistently effective for enhancing student achievement. Furthermore, it was noted that
students had a more positive attitude toward instruction that included practice and examples
throughout the program (Martin, Klein & Sullivan, 2004).

Reframing the ‘Old’ into the ‘New’

The following table suggests some examples of how the nine events might be applied to the
design of three different technology-supported learning environments.

Event Games Learning Objects CMS/LMS See also VLE

 incorporate email
 utilize
Gaining  provide space for
quality video
attention  utilize animation and audio introductions/bios
clips and audio
(faculty and students)
in the set-up

 utilize graphics

 provide
Informing the  provide an
learner of the background and  provide overview, rules, and
overview of the module
objective description of tasks/quests
how to ‚win’

 relate past module

 leverage the content to new material
 incorporate pre-tests
Stimulating use of  provide module
recall background reviews
 leverage information from
information and
previous stages
levels  incorporate pre-

 provide material
 provide material that clear, that clear, up-to-date
up-to-date and accurate and accurate
 present material in a way that  provide paper
 present is user-controlled and easy based support material
Presenting the
material that is navigable  provide current
encouraging and  have important information links to online
challenging pop up resources (articles,
videos, audio etc.)
 provide animation and 3D
models when applicable  leverage
 offer  provide „Help” sections, user  provide email
guidance optional hints, guides and tutorials contacts
pop-ups with  set-up chat-rooms
alternate and threaded
choices and discussions
suggestions  offer answers to

 include links to

 assign meaningful
tasks and activities
 give clear and
concise instructions
 incorporate group
Eliciting  incorporate  assign work
performance and encourage tasks/quests/challenges/problem  leverage social
interactivity s software
 provides means for
posting work

 include aspects of
individual responsibility

 include „You’ve
 tally scores now completed...”
 provide  tally scores messages and
rewards for  provide for written and verbal encouragement

Providing achieving each feedback  encourage

feedback level  incorporate animated instructor use of
rewards for correct answers discussion threads
 plan for
written and/or  provide corrective feedback  incorporate
audio feedback assignment drop-off
box/feedback tools

 incorporate
 ensure ePortfolios – See also
 track scores/best scores
Assessing achievement is
performance assessed in a  allow for
 incorporate score reporting
timely and monitoring and
(via email)
meaningful way tracking of student
 skills can be  note transferable information  provide further
retention and
transferable readings
between levels  provide real-world
in feedback
and games examples and optional
 provide websites for further
transfer tasks
 knowledge information

can be  make connections

 provide sequenced material
transferable with other
across genres coursework/networks

(Becker, 2005 ; Gagne et al., 2005)

Utilizing the Nine Instructional Ingredients

to Create an eClectic Learning Stew

While the nine events do have their roots in behaviourism, cognition and information
processing, they can still provide a guiding hand in the development and design of learning
environments that include elements of constructivist and sociocultural theories. The following
provides some suggestions on how to leverage the events to ensure a well-rounded learning
environment. Of course not all entries will be included in any given learning event; this
merely shows where designers can situate their choices.

Gaining attention
 stimulate learners curiousity with questions
 present meaningful and relevant challenge

Providing learner with objective

 this can be a general goal that is then personalized by the learner
 utilize problem based learning

Stimulating recall
 students can tie new learning to past constructions of knowledge
 incorporate the use of concept maps

Presenting the material

 facilitate student ownership of learning material
 have students create authentic material ie. Web-sites, blogs, hypertexts
 provides spaces for students to construct knowledge
 provide models
 create Microworlds
 incorporate games

Guiding the learning

 provide guiding questions
 utilize zones of proximal development See also
 provide for scaffolding
 set up communities of learners
 incorporate knowledge building networks
 provide authentic problem-based tasks around existing software packages
and forms of “Edutainment”
 provide spaces for inquiry

Eliciting performance
 incorporate Wikis
 encourage interactivity through the use of social software like Skype

Providing feedback
 set up chat rooms for peer feedback/collaboration
 allow students to reflect on their own learning

Assessing the performance

 monitor student’s progress
 have students self-assess their progress
 incorporate ePortfolios

Enhance transfer and retention

 once students become ‘experts’ have them coach/scaffold others

Becker, K. (2005). How are games educational? Learning theories embodied in games.
Proceedings of DiGRA 2005 Conference. Retrieved February 15, 2007 from

Bruner, J. (1963). The process of education. New York, NY: Random House.

Constructivist theory (J. Bruner). [On-line]. Retrieved February 20, 2007 from

Gagne, R.M., Wager, W.W., Golas, K.G. & Keller, J.M. (2005). Principles of instructional
design. Toronto, ON: Thomson Wadsworth.

Martin, F., Klein, J. & Sullivan, H. (2004). Effects of instructional events in computer-based
instruction. Association for Educational Communications and Technology. (ERIC Document
Reproduction Service No. ED484984). [1]

Richey, R.C. (Ed.). (2000). The legacy of Robert Gagne. Syracuse, NY: ERIC Clearinghouse
on Educational Research and Improvement. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No.

II. De l’ „Educational Technology” à la

technologie pour l’éducation
European Medi@Culture-Online
Auteurs: Lebrun, Marcel.
Titre: De l’ ‚Educational Technology’ à la technologie pour l’éducation.
Source: http://www.ipm.ucl.ac.be/marcel/article_techno_1.tdm.html
La publication est faite avec l’aimable autorisation de l’auteur.
Marcel Lebrun

Les outils et les produits des technologies nouvelles de l’information et de la
communication sont chaque jour plus nombreux, plus rapides, plus performants.
A l’origine de l’interpellation dont le texte qui suit est le fruit, il y a la recherche des raisons
et du sens d’une telle course effrénée ; nous nous posions ces questions en tant que
„citoyens du monde”, en tant que chercheurs universitaires, en tant qu’enseignants à
l’université aussi. Loin des éternelles dichotomies entre hommes et techniques, relations
sociales et machines, recherche de sens et recherche d’efficience, notre regard initial sur
la problématique de la technologie pour l’éducation sera volontairement „cosmopolite” au
sens que P. Levy (1990) lui donne; l’idée d’éducation que nous ajoutons à son propos
d’écologie cognitive et que nous souhaitons enrichir par nos propositions ne peut
s’accomoder d’un point de vue étroit ou fragmentaire; l’idée d’éducation que nous ajoutons à
son propos d’écologie cognitive et que nous souhaitons enrichir par nos propositions ne peut
s’accomoder d’un point de vue étroit ou fragmentaire.
Nous souhaitons nous interroger sur le pourquoi, le comment et le pour-quoi de
l’utilisation des outils des technologies nouvelles de l’information et de la communication
dans l’enseignement et surtout dans l’apprentissage.
– S’agit-il d’un besoin commandé par une société plus avide des produits que soucieuse
des processus et des acteurs ?
– S’agit-il seulement de préparer nos étudiants, nos futurs professionnels, nos
chercheurs, nos enseignants à piloter ces outils ?
– S’agit-il d’une aubaine réelle pour la formation si ce n’est pour l’éducation de nos
étudiants ?
En réinscrivant ces différentes questions (Pourquoi ? Comment ? Pour-quoi ?) dans le
contexte large dont nous ne pouvions, comme universitaires, faire l’économie, il nous est
apparu que l’interactivité de ces outils pouvait contribuer à l’acquisition de compétences
transversales (organisation des connaissances, démarches de résolution de problèmes,
participation et gestion d’un travail en collaboration, développement de projets personnels
...) et plus loin à l’autonomie des étudiants
. Le développement de ces compétences
devient impérieux pour l’épanouissement des savoir-être et savoir-devenir des étudiants
et plus largement des personnes dans une société en complexification croissante
Dans une première partie, nous retracerons ce chemin parcouru à la recherche du rôle,
de la fonction et des finalités des outils que la science déposa progressivement sur les
marches d’une humanité en devenir. D’horizons dépassés en tierces places à découvrir,
de connaissances maîtrisées en possibles à défier, la technologie propose un esquif au
nageur, ce tiers-instruit dont M. Serres nous parle
. A ce voyageur ainsi qu’à notre lecteur
nous proposons une boussole – éducation est son nom – pour s’orienter dans la mer des
Sargasses de la société complexe.
Notre propos de réintégrer l’homme dans l’ „educational technology”, tout comme celui de
réintégrer l’homme dans la science est une exploration difficile et périlleuse dont les
sentiers ne sont pas encore balisés : „Nul n’est plus désarmé que le scientifique pour
penser sa science”
. Ce regard élargi et ardu mais nécessaire que nous proposons au
lecteur n’a pour seule ambition que de tenter de réconcilier ces pôles, ces dichotomies de
la science et de la conscience que nous avons épinglés plus haut.

Dans une deuxième partie, nous proposerons une série d’exemples dont le fond (le
contenu scientifique) et la forme (le feu d’artifice dont la technologie l’orne) ont été
maintenus dans un cadre aussi simple que possible afin que les considérations
pédagogiques et didactiques, que nous avons voulu mettre en évidence dans la première
partie, transparaissent le mieux possible.
Dès son origine, l’homme a cherché une réponse à ses besoins par la création d’outils ;
ces outils et les savoirs liés à leurs créations et utilisations ont progressivement modifié
les relations entre les individus, les groupes d’individus.
Il est loin le temps où quelques règles transmises par la tradition orale suffisaient à
maintenir la cohésion et organiser la vie de la tribu néolithique. Ce caractère immédiat et
local des relations humaines s’est rapidement complexifié ...
Des caractéristiques qui dépassaient souvent la „fonction” de l’outil se sont cumulées
autour de l’outil même : nous nous référons, par exemple, aux techniques de construction
de l’outil, aux modalités sociales de partage de l’outil, à son efficacité dans le contexte
économique, à son ergonomie sur le lieu de travail, à son développement, à la
transmission des savoirs et des savoir-faire associés , etc.
Il ne nous appartient pas de reconstruire ici l’évolution des sociétés et des savoirs, mais
nous pouvons facilement imaginer que les outils inventés ont permis à l’homme
d’augmenter son pouvoir sur la nature, de multiplier ses contacts avec d’autres hommes,
tout en rendant son savoir et ses relations sociales de plus en plus complexes. En
augmentant son savoir sur la nature, il s’est sans doute aussi progressivement extrait du
contexte „naturel” ; en augmentant son emprise par son savoir, il s’est sans doute
également singularisé dans le contexte „social”.
Plus de savoir ... plus d’outils ... plus de pouvoir ... plus de relations ... mais surtout
une complexification progressive de tous ces facteurs et de leurs interactions.

Par conséquent, la fonction assumée par les outils et plus tard par le savoir à propos des
outils devient de plus en plus cruciale dans les relations interpersonnelles. Ce savoir est
devenu à son tour de plus en plus complexe : il se multiplie, se spécialise, s’éloigne
souvent du lien direct avec les „besoins” auxquels il cherchait à répondre, de son lieu
d’origine, de sa fonction initiale.
Maîtriser ce savoir devient bientôt l’affaire de „spécialistes” ... l’homme de la rue y a de
moins en moins accès ; d’une certaine façon, le savoir finit par graviter autour de lui-
même ... les spécialistes du savoir parlent entre eux et la référence aux besoins des
hommes devient de moins en moins évidente. Reste l’outil, devenu instrument ou
média, mais que peut en faire l’homme ... ?
Une perspective interpellante et inquiétante se dégage tout au long du chemin que nous
avons rapidement parcouru :
Le paradigme dominant de la société actuelle est celui de la complexification, indiquant en
même temps la richesse et la multiplication des facteurs intervenants mais aussi la perte
progressive – en termes de finalité et de responsabilité – de l’homme comme élément
central de la société et du savoir.
C’est par rapport à ce constat que nous dresserons quelques considérations au sujet de
la „société complexe” et des „savoirs complexes”.
Notre intention est d’y repérer des éléments de réflexion qui pourront nous permettre de
construire solidement le cadre dans lequel nous situons nos préoccupations spécifiques :
celui de l’enseignement et de l’apprentissage et en particulier la question du rôle des
nouvelles technologies de l’information et de la communication dans le processus de
formation et – nous insistons sur ce point – d’éducation de nos jeunes.
Dans les points 2 et 3 qui suivent, nous accomplirons le chemin qui nous a conduit de
considérations à propos de la société complexe aux savoirs complexes qu’elle produit,
qu’elle nécessite et qui la caractérisent.


Notre question concerne la nature et le sens – signification et direction – de cette
complexité : celle-ci qualifie-t-elle un contexte où la pluralité et la différenciation des
éléments et de leurs interactions actuelles et potentielles sont telles que la désorientation,
le relativisme, le „mal-à-l’être” en sont les conséquences inévitables? Ne serait-il pas
possible et nécessaire de valoriser plutôt les opportunités que cette même société offre
afin de construire une „soi-disant utopie” de planète des hommes ?
S’agirait-il d’une entropie inéluctable du système
(social, éducatif ...) ou alors d’une
abdication ou d’une déresponsabilisation des acteurs concernés ?
Gérer une telle complexité ne pourra se faire par des lois et des règles édictées du
contexte que nous qualifions d’extérieur car il a quelque part éjecté l’homme. Tenter de
réduire les différences au sein d’un même „modèle normatif” ne fera soit que les niveler
soit que les exacerber.
Les outils actuels de l’information et de la communication nous permettent „d’exploiter”
ces richesses et ces différences ; cela ne pourrait-il pas aider l’homme, notre étudiant, à
mieux se reconnaître dans la société complexe et à mieux la gérer ? Mais une information
et une communication toujours plus sophistiquées, plus performantes aussi, pourront-
elles seules permettre à l’homme de se retrouver dans une telle dialectique d’identification
et de différenciation ?
Pour permettre à l’homme de se retrouver dans cette complexité, de se „retrouver” dans
l’image que les médias lui envoient, il est bien sûr nécessaire qu’il puisse disposer d’une
information large et accessible. La multiplication, la circulation et la gestion des
connaissances sont des besoins importants pour nos sociétés. Est-ce suffisant ?
Cette seule perspective nous laisse en fait perplexes. Savoir plus, savoir mieux, savoir
comment, savoir „pourquoi” peut-être ... mais qu’en-est il du savoir „pour-quoi” ? N’y a-t-
il pas là le danger d’une illusion fondamentale, qui croit pouvoir réaffirmer la centralité
de l’homme uniquement par la puissance des moyens à sa disposition, en évacuant ainsi
la question prioritaire qui est celle concernant les finalités et les responsabilités parlesquelles
ces mêmes moyens doivent être orientés ? Notre réflexion sur ces „objectifs
éducatifs à rechercher” complète les propositions de P. Lévy (1990) pour lequel les
développements techniques ne déterminent pas nécessairement les développements de
la société mais fournissent plutôt des occasions pour ce développement : „En écologie
cognitive, il n’y a pas de causes et d’effets mécaniques, mais des occasions et des
Dès lors, le „savoir-être” et le „savoir-devenir” de nos sociétés ne découlent pas de
façon automatique de l’augmentation des savoirs.
Pour en revenir au contexte résolument pédagogique dans lequel nous avons souhaité
inscrire notre propos, croirait-on que les „grand-messes” du savoir de nos auditoires ou
encore l’introduction massive des ordinateurs dans les classes pourraient suffire, à elles
seules, à développer le savoir-être et le savoir-devenir de nos étudiants ?
De telles ambitions demandent un recentrage plus essentiel ; le „devenir-orienté” de notre
société complexe ne pourra se construire qu’à partir d’une régulation encore plus
fondamentale. Celle-ci implique :
– une ré-actualisation des raisons d’être et des rôles des êtres qui sont origines et
moteurs de la société même ;
– une pro-motion de ces raisons et rôles par la confrontation critique des produits du
„progrès” avec les besoins de la société complexe (scientifiques, économiques,
sociaux ... mais aussi éducatifs).
En d’autres termes, nous croyons qu’il est possible d’éviter la „dérive” conduisant de la
complexification à la fragmentation jusqu’à l’absolu des individualismes, par la recherche
d’un terrain d’entente et de coopération possible sans pour cela y dissoudre les
Où pourrions-nous, hommes de la société complexe, trouver ce qui peut permettre à notre
devenir, souvent erratique et fragmenté, de se muer en un „devenir-orienté” tout en
valorisant la richesse de la pluralité et des diversités ?


Besoins générant des outils, outils nécessitant et générant des savoirs, savoirs générant
eux-mêmes de nouveaux besoins, de nouveaux outils, de nouveaux savoirs ... que de
risques encourus d’y perdre l’homme, que de risques d’asservissement à tenter de le
réinscrire dans des modèles qui n’ont été rendus possibles qu’en l’excluant. Des
résistances sont toutefois encore bien présentes : que l’on se souvienne du tollé provoqué
par la tentative d’intégrer la culture (peut-être plus fidèle à notre image que la „science”)
dans les accords économiques du Gatt !
Les outils de la technologie que les savoirs complexes nous renvoient „comme un juste
retour” sont-ils à même de permettre à l’homme d’accéder à ces savoirs complexes que
nécessite la société complexe ?
Après avoir décrit la société complexe et son risque entropique mais aussi son
opportunité d’humanité et avant de répondre à la question du rôle médiateur éventuel de
l’outil technologique, c’est le statut même du savoir, de la science et de la technique
qui retiendra notre attention.
L’histoire du développement social (et aussi économique et politique) des collectivités
humaines présente bien souvent des négligences sur le plan de l’attention à la personne
humaine ; un phénomène analogue et intrinsèquement lié à cette dynamique de
complexification semble avoir caractérisé aussi le développement du savoir, de la
Nous avons vu qu’aux besoins de l’homme ont répondu, de manière intentionnelle ou
incidente, des outils qui ont prolongé son emprise sur la nature, sa sphère d’influence sur
d’autres territoires, sur d’autres hommes. A ces extensions progressives, se sont greffés
des savoirs de plus en plus complexes. Mais ce savoir, créé par l’homme, garde-t-il sa
vocation originelle d’un savoir pour l’homme ?
Une lecture critique de l’histoire de ce savoir, inventé par l’homme, révèle que celui-ci –
qu’il soit théorique ou pratique – s’en est de plus en plus éloigné ; comme le clame E.
Morin commentant la „tâche aveugle” d’Husserl, „la science s’est fondée sur l’exclusion du

sujet”et nous ajoutons que sa complexité croissante n’en a rendu que de plus en plus
hypothétiques les retombées pour l’homme. N’est-ce vraiment que pour pouvoir se cuire,
sans beurre, un oeuf sur le plat que l’homme a été sur la lune ?
Nous pourrions parler de la science fondamentale, ce gigantesque atlas des savoirs
conceptuels dont les frontières sont sans cesse repoussées, de cette science qui quelque
part anticipe les possibles au départ de ses modèles.
L’homme invente, l’homme anticipe ... . Il s’agit moins d’un savoir ontologique ou encore
„extérieur” qui serait accessible à l’homme par la découverte et l’observation de la nature
que d’une construction effectuée par l’homme lui-même.
La question des finalités (le pour-quoi , le pour-qui ?) de la science fondamentale nous
amène au plan de la science appliquée et de la technique. La technique devrait sans
doute utiliser le grand livre des connaissances pour résoudre les problèmes qui se posent
dans la société en y trouvant des réponses concrètes .
Par exemple, le CD-Rom, extraordinaire véhicule d’informations, nous amène sur un
disque de quelques grammes un savoir encyclopédique qui illuminera l’écran vidéo de
notre ordinateur domestique ; quelques „clic” et le monde est à notre portée nous disent
d’alléchantes publicités. Répond-t-il à un réel besoin, sommes-nous capable d’utiliser ce
formidable potentiel sans nous assoupir, gavés d’informations ? La technique ne
résoudrait-elle dès lors moins les problèmes existants qu’elle ne susciterait de prétendus
problèmes en fonction des solutions dont elle dispose ? Avec J. Neirynck (1990) nous
posons la question : „La technique est la réponse, mais quelle est la question ?”
La technique poserait-elle donc elle-même les questions ? Ou alors, qui devrait
poser les questions ?
L’arbre de la connaissance est profondément enraciné dans l’homme mais ses fruits ne lui
appartiennent plus. Les produits de la science semblent être le résultat d’une fuite en
polytechniques et universitaires romandes.
avant, d’une auto-justification, d’une volonté de créer le besoin sans être à même de
rencontrer les besoins des hommes.
Nous retrouvons ainsi les questions du „pour-quoi” et du „pour-qui” que nous avons
évoquées. Cet effort de ré-actualisation et de pro-motion auquel nous attachions le futur
de nos sociétés trouve son complément dans une analogue „prise en charge” que
l’homme doit mettre en oeuvre en tant qu’acteur et producteur responsable de son savoir.
A contre courant d’une science détemporalisée, dépersonnalisée, déshumanisée, et des
„grandes parades” de la technique, des voix se lèvent de plus en plus fréquemment afin
de retrouver l’homme dans le monde que ces sciences et techniques décrivent et dans
lequel elles projettent leurs produits
. La „nouvelle alliance” recherchée affirme comme
un problème en soi l’appartenance de l’homme à ce monde ; c’est une interpellation
féconde dont la science et la technique ne peuvent faire abstraction sans risquer de
devenir les cathédrales du désert d’un savoir qui masque par son culte sa perte de sens.
Il y a, nous semble-t-il, bien longtemps que la science a renoncé à son paradigme
déterministe qui faisait craindre un réductionnisme mécaniste du „fonctionnement humain”
; de la mécanique quantique à la génétique, la reconnaissance et la gestion des possibles
ont supplanté la rigidité des équations.
Que nos considérations ne soient pas prises comme l’apologie d’une philosophie du
„retour aux origines” ou du mythe d’une innocence perdue qui alimente les rêves d’une
humanité se résignant désormais à son aliénation. A aucun moment, notre intention n’est
celle de nier les mérites de la science et des nouvelles technologies et surtout l’énorme
potentiel que celles-ci mettent à notre disposition. Ce que nous avons voulu mettre en
relief par l’analyse que nous avons tracée dans ces pages est l’abondance, l’inflation des
„réponses” existantes et possibles pour lesquelles les hommes ne connaissent pas ou
plus les questions et ne savent pas toujours les poser.
La question essentielle que nous posons est celle de la possibilité d’une nouvelle alliance
entre l’homme et l’ „educational technology” : une technologie pour l’éducation des
En synthèse des propos précédents :
– Ce que nous suggérons à la réflexion critique des lecteurs est notre refus de la spirale
inéluctable de dissolution du goût d’être et d’extériorisation des responsabilités et notre
réaffirmation de la possibilité et de la responsabilité d’être acteur de son devenir et du
devenir de la société.
– Ce que nous proposons est de voir comment et à quelles conditions les outils de la
technologie de l’information pourraient contribuer à une réappropriation de la science
par l’homme (pour-qui ?) pour vivre dans une société complexe (pour-quoi ?).
– Au-delà de l’information, de l’instruction, de la formation aux outils mêmes, notre propos
est celui d’une possible éducation ; notre cadre sera celui de l’enseignement, notre lieu
celui de l’école au sens large.
Les technologies peuvent-elles dès lors nous suggérer une nouvelle éducation?
Dans les points 4 et 5 suivants, nous rechercherons à définir le rôle de la technologie et
sa contribution potentielle à l’éducation.
En inscrivant notre problématique dans le lieu de l’école, creuset de la société, nous la
resituons également dans un contexte de relations.
A quelles conditions donc les outils de la technologie de l’information et de la
communication pourraient-ils contribuer à une nouvelle relation aux savoirs en
l’articulant dans une relation entre les personnes ?
L’expérience antérieure nous le montre : les méthodes du retour de la technologie dans
un contexte donné, de surcroît s’il est éducatif, ne sont pas indifférentes. L’immersion des
outils de la technologie (rétroprojecteur, audiovisuel, ordinateur ...) à l’école n’a pas
toujours tenu ses promesses d’ouverture et d’efficacité ; il s’agissait bien souvent d’un
contenu (comment utiliser l’outil, ses fonctionnalités ...) qui venait se greffer, se juxtaposer
à un programme déjà surchargé. L’enthousiasme des pionniers du LOGO, langage
d’exploration et de découverte de l’informatique, s’est émoussé par le peu de cas que les
apprentissages ultérieurs, généralement cloisonnés et normatifs, en faisaient.
Cependant des recherches nous montrent le rôle catalyseur de l’ordinateur lorsqu’il est
inscrit dans des méthodes pédagogiques organisées autour de modèles de
l’apprentissage coopératif et autour de modèles constructivistes de l’appropriation des
. Une méta-recherche menée par E. Bialo et J. Sivin, couvrant les années 1986 à
1990, sur l’efficacité de l’utilisation des ordinateurs à l’école, montre l’impact positif de
ceux-ci sur la motivation des apprenants et leurs attitudes envers l’apprentissage et les
savoirs et envers eux-mêmes aussi. Cette motivation et ces attitudes contribueraient
toutes deux à l’amélioration de leurs performances
Si de nombreuses recherches s’accordent avec la recherche précédente qui nous informe
sur les effets de l’utilisation des ordinateurs à l’école, plus rares sont celles qui tentent de
dénicher les causes – circonstances ou variables cachées – qui expliquent ces effets. Déjà
en 1985, R. E. Clark et S. Leonard approfondissent ainsi la méta-analyse (128 références)
de J. Kulik et ses collaborateurs
et démontrent l’importance des facteurs personnels et
surtout relationnels et méthodologiques qui supplantent les caractéristiques intrinsèques
de l’outil même. Nous laissons parler les auteurs dans leurs conclusions :
„Computers make no more contribution to learning than the truck which delivers groceries to
market contributes to improved nutrition in a community. Purchasing a truck will not
nutrition just as purchasing a computer will not improve student achievement. Nutrition gains
come from getting the correct „groceries” to the people who need them. Similarly,
gains result from matching the correct teaching methods to the student who needs it”
Utiliser les produits technologiques du savoir pour développer une nouvelle relation aux
savoirs de la société complexe est possible si nous nous dégageons de la seule
apparence de l’outil et de son signifiant, le média „per se”, pour atteindre le signifié qu’il
peut révéler en l’inscrivant au coeur même de la relation didactique.
M. J. Atkins (1993) dans son analyse critique de recherches récentes témoigne des
avantages didactiques du substrat offert par les médias au niveau de l’apport de
l’information, de la simulation de micro-mondes, de la transparence dont ils tapissent les
murs de la classe ... ; elle souligne cependant les lacunes évidentes au niveau de la
description du contexte pédagogique dans lequel les outils s’insèrent, au niveau des rôles
attribués aux enseignants et aux apprenants, au niveau aussi des valeurs qui mobilisent
et sous-tendent la volonté éducative des concepteurs de logiciels, des chercheurs, des
décideurs de curriculum : l’intérêt pour la société est-il de nature „acceptation /
reproduction” ou „challenge / transformation” ?

Comme nous l’avons vu, dans les systèmes d’instruction et de formation de nos sociétés,
le savoir a progressivement assumé un caractère transcendant sur les besoins, les outils,
les machines, les relations humaines ; cette caractéristique en a fait d’une façon
croissante la clé de voûte, presque exclusive, du système de formation même.
Au fur et à mesure que certains outils (le livre, l’audiovisuel ...) se rendaient de plus en
plus disponibles et performants, on vit dans ceux-ci l’opportunité de rapprocher le savoir
et l’homme. Ces outils firent bien souvent l’abstraction ou l’économie du tissu relationnel
dans lequel ils auraient dû s’inscrire, se ré-inscrire.
Cependant, l’amplification des savoirs complexes de la société complexe et de ses
„machines” allait elle-même faire resurgir de manière plus aiguë ce substrat relationnel
latent. Bardé de diplômes, le jeune universitaire dans sa recherche d’un emploi se voit
interrogé sur sa tête bien faite plutôt que sur sa tête bien pleine.
Cette approche critique que nous avons développée au sujet des produits de la
technologie et de leur utilisation orientera nos réflexions : nous ne parlerons ici ni d’une
technologie de l’instruction soucieuse de la planification optimale des opérations à
mettre en place pour élaborer un produit dit éducatif, ni encore d’une technologie de la
formation visant à structurer le déroulement d’une leçon afin d’en tirer la plus grande
efficacité : les manuels de l’ „educational technology” ou de l’ „instructional design”
regorgent de ces conseils
. Sans minimiser l’importance de ces connaissances, nos
préoccupations se situent plutôt dans une perspective pédagogique et didactique. Nos
considérations concernent une possible technologie pour l’éducation.
Les produits (que les destinataires n’ont pas „voulu”, qui n’ont pas nécessairement été
élaborés dans une optique éducative ...) que le savoir nous lègue, ces outils
technologiques de et pour la société complexe peuvent-ils se prétendre d’une quelconque
utilité pour l’éducation ?
Mais qu’est-ce donc que la technologie ?
Parmi d’autres définitions, nous épinglons celle de Galbraith (1979) : La technologie serait
l’application systématique des connaissances scientifiques ou autres connaissances
organisées à la résolution de problèmes pratiques

Ainsi la technologie de l’information viserait à résoudre un problème pratique
d’information. Une partie de la réponse, une partie seulement eu égard à notre problème
éducatif, résiderait dans les outils que cette technologie nous propose : le livre et surtout
l’écrit, la radio et surtout la parole et le son, le téléviseur et surtout le visage et l’image,
l’informatique et enfin le multimédia qui marie ces diverses composantes scripto-audio-
Outre les connaissances scientifiques requises pour construire et faire fonctionner l’outil
et que nous avons choisi de ne pas retenir ici, d’autres connaissances s’avèrent pour le
moins pertinentes dans le contexte où nous voulons intégrer l’outil : elles ont pour noms
communication, ergonomie, convivialité, design d’écran, ... . Dans les faits, elles visent
principalement à réorganiser ou à vulgariser les savoirs, à transformer le savoir savant
en savoir (à) enseigné(r) en se souciant peu, semble-t-il, des personnes (qu’en feront-
elles ici et après ?) et des contextes qu’elles vivent, qu’elles déterminent et avec lesquels
elles interagissent.
En amont des questions concernant les contenus, les supports qui „matérialisent” ou
„véhiculent” ces contenus, les caractéristiques concernant les individus qui apprennent ou
qui enseignent et concernant les activités qui les réunissent – apprentissage et
enseignement – doivent être prises en compte : les connaissances pédagogiques et
didactiques constituent des champs relativement éloignés des préoccupations immédiates
des technologues. Cependant des ouvrages récents
manifestent le souci d’ancrer mieux
l’ „instructional design” dans les perspectives tracées par les théories de l’apprentissage.
Enfin l’écrit, le son et l’image sont mariés ... enfin on peut interagir avec le savoir ... enfin
„le Power-PC est plus humain qu’un Macintosh”.
Est-on sûr que quelques boutons de plus sur l’écran de l’ordinateur (qui n’a pas réellement
envahi nos écoles au contraire de ce que nous annonçaient les futurologues des années
60) peuvent, à eux seuls, transformer notre relation au savoir de la société complexe des
hommes ?
Il nous semble dès lors important de réfléchir à l’impact des médias non pas seulement
comme une manifestation tangible des connaissances dans l’univers de l’homme mais
comme une occasion d’appropriation du savoir par l’homme : le média peut-il nous
provoquer à explorer le savoir, à élucider les processus qui l’ont élaboré, à nous
reconstruire le savoir, à poser enfin nous-mêmes les questions ... ? Si les médias
véhiculent des réponses à des questions que nous, perpétuels apprenants, ne nous
sommes pas encore posées, pouvons-nous les utiliser pour interroger les savoirs ?
Cette démultiplication des savoirs, des points de vue sur le savoir, des voies d’accès au
savoir ne pourrait-elle constituer le substrat fécond sur lequel pourraient se développer les
savoir-faire, savoir-être et savoir-devenir
requis pour gérer mieux et pour vivre mieux la
société complexe, pour finalement mieux s’y mettre en projet.
Cette éducation pour être et devenir avec la société complexe nous suggère-t-elle
une technologie pour l’éducation ?
A l’aube de la société complexe, la tradition orale suffisait pour la transmission des
savoirs nécessaires : l’apprentissage à l’outil par l’outil dans le contexte local (nous dirions
„sur le terrain”) et relationnel se faisait „naturellement” dans le cadre de communautés
restreintes. L’extension de l’emprise de l’homme sur la nature mais aussi sur le territoire et
sur les relations, par les outils et surtout par les savoirs progressivement développés
autour des outils, allait donner une place de plus en plus prépondérante aux savoirs par
rapport aux savoir-faire. De spécialisations en spécialisations, les savoirs se
complexifiaient et se distanciaient des besoins locaux et immédiats. Le contexte
relationnel allait lui aussi nécessiter de nouveaux savoirs qui se manifestèrent, par
exemple, dans la lecture et l’écriture : des lieux nouveaux (l’école), des médiateurs
(l’enseignant) s’avéraient ainsi indispensables pour l’apprentissage de ces savoirs.
D’abstractions en abstractions, le regard du savoir sur l’outil allait donner lieu à de
nouveaux savoirs, à de nouveaux outils. Si les premiers outils correspondaient de façon
immédiate aux besoins des hommes, les nouveaux, revisités par le savoir, s’en
éloignèrent parfois pour mieux les anticiper, parfois aussi pour les créer. Les savoirs issus
de la nécessaire „gestion” des sociétés allaient progressivement s’abstraire et se
techniciser eux aussi en assujettissant parfois les individus et en normalisant souvent
leurs relations. Les „techniciens” qui tentaient de réintégrer ces savoirs dans la sphère de
l’homme en proposant des outils pour répondre aux nouveaux besoins devaient
réapprendre et faire réapprendre à gérer l’information, à gérer les différences ...
L’informatique et les télécommunications se pointaient à l’horizon porteuses de nouveaux
concepts : information, communication, interaction, ouverture sur le monde des
techniques ... des hommes aussi ?
Au besoin de formation, polarisée sur le savoir, va-t-il se substituer un besoin
d’éducation : comment être dans la société complexe avec ces outils, ces savoirs, ces
outils d’organisation du savoir que sont les ordinateurs ?
L’outil qui nous parle de „relations”, de réseaux, d’interactivité nous permettra-t-il de
dépasser l’interactivité fonctionnelle que propose le clavier ou l’écran pour atteindre
une interactivité relationnelle permettant d’accéder à de nouveaux savoirs au travers
des êtres qui les construisent, qui les vivent ?
Nous relions notre concept d’interactivité fonctionnelle à ceux d’interactivité „réactive” et
„proactive” cités par R. A. Schwier et E. R. Misanchuk (1993) : dans l’interactivité
„réactive”, l’ordinateur attend de l’apprenant une „réponse précise” à un stimulus qu’il lui
propose (logiciels de type „drill and practice”, tutoriels ...) ; dans l’interactivité „proactive”,
l’apprenant entreprend une „construction” personnelle face à un contexte que l’ordinateur
lui propose (logiciels de type simulation, modélisation ...). Ces auteurs complètent ces
deux modes par celui d’interactivité „mutuelle” dans laquelle l’apprenant et le système
informatique „intelligent” s’adaptent mutuellement (intelligence artificielle, systèmes
experts ...)
; nous élargissons ce dernier mode dans un concept d’interactivité
relationnelle qui l’enrichit par les perspectives interpersonnelles auxquelles l’ordinateur
convie les apprenants dans le cadre de travaux coopératifs.
La figure ci-dessous organise ces concepts d’interactivité : l’interactivité constitue pour
nous un état potentiel dynamisé par les situations pédagogiques et didactiques
dans lesquelles les savoirs, et surtout les apprenants et les enseignants entrent en
interaction. Les trois niveaux d’interaction que nous présentons scandent un chemin le
long duquel la place et l’initiative de l’apprenant sont de plus en plus fortes ; c’est aussi un
chemin qui nous conduit d’un pôle centré sur l’outil, présentant des contenus spécifiques
et des situations relativement fermées, à un pôle centré sur l’apprenant et son projet
autour de situations complexes et ouvertes.
Ce chemin, fondé sur l’intégration progressive des savoirs (S) et des savoir-faire (SF),
s’ouvre de plus en plus vers des savoir-être (SE) et savoir-devenir (SD) ; ces derniers
s’exercent dans les relations interpersonnelles suscitées par des méthodes éducatives qui
mettent en place des occasions de développer les compétences transversales requises
par la société complexe.
A titre d’exemple, nous voyons que le mode interpersonnel (case en bas à droite) s’appuie
sur les quatre dimensions du savoir en les intégrant et contribue à développer (les quatre
flèches sortantes) harmonieusement ces dimensions. Des descriptions de logiciels
présentées dans la seconde partie de cet article illustreront davantage notre propos.
Comment parvenir et faire accéder à cette éducation, à laquelle nous attribuons la tâche
de réduire le décalage entropique entre savoir(s), savoir(s)-faire, savoir(s)-être et savoir
(s)-devenir des hommes ?
Pouvons-nous, dans le cadre de l’enseignement, réellement chercher à recomposer ce
puzzle, à réalimenter une intégration dynamique et progressive entre ces dimensions, à
actualiser cette utopie de la planète des hommes ?
La réponse ne se trouve dans aucune „définition” illusoirement définitive de l’éducation
que nous pourrions injecter à cette étape de nos réflexions. Le débat éternel sur la nature
de l’éducation n’est pas non plus ce qui peut effectivement nous aider à maîtriser mieux
cette complexité dans laquelle nous avons décelé les symptômes d’un „mal à l’être” diffus.
Plutôt, reconnaissons ce besoin „pragmatique” d’éducation qui, tout en intégrant
l’instruction et la formation mais les dépassant par une portée proactive bien plus
puissante, peut répondre aux besoins et aux aspirations des hommes de la société
Ces interrogations sur le „comment” de l’éducation conduisent notre attention sur les
méthodes d’enseignement dans lesquelles l’instruction, la formation et l’éducation
devraient trouver leurs articulations mutuelles et dans lesquelles aussi enseignants et
apprenants se retrouvent.
Notre propos n’est pas de nous joindre à ceux qui chantent le „requiem” de l’école, au
nom de son inefficacité endémique, de son retard chronique face aux „commandes” du
monde professionnel et économique, de sa lourdeur à s’adapter aux rythmes de la
modernité ou, encore, de son encyclopédisme qui étoufferait la créativité et la richesse
potentielle des étudiants (mais aussi des enseignants ...). Nous sommes bien conscients
que les institutions éducatives, de l’école maternelle à l’université, foisonnent d’initiatives
pédagogiques innovantes qui témoignent de la vitalité de ceux qui y oeuvrent, de leur
exigence, de leur volonté et de leur capacité de changement.
Néanmoins, nous assistons encore souvent à des „cours” qui ne donnent qu’un savoir
détemporalisé, décontextualisé, dépersonnalisé, un savoir „aseptisé” qui fait abstraction
du cheminement „humain” – souvent fait d’hésitations, d’erreurs, de questionnements
multiples, de longues périodes d’obscurité – par lequel il a été progressivement élaboré.
Les situations didactiques ressemblent trop souvent à de prestigieux monologues où le
„savoir savant” est délivré tout au long de voies royales, sans que les expériences de la
vie „concrète” quotidienne puissent le questionner, le mettre en rupture mais aussi le faire

retrouver. Il est là, prêt à être „donné” plutôt que réellement enseigné c’est-à-dire mis en
état d’être appris, prêt à être redit plus qu’à être vécu.
Nous retrouvons dans le cadre de l’enseignement et de l’apprentissage cette même
disjonction artificielle entre savoir, savoir-faire et savoir-être : l’accumulation des
savoirs reste gagnante sur l’intégration de ceux-ci dans le développement des
comportements et des attitudes des étudiants.
Cette mise en vitrine de contenus singuliers et de savoirs fossilisés à laquelle
l’enseignement est trop souvent réduit peut-elle vraiment se prétendre éducative ? Ce
„savoir qui vient d’en haut”, détaché du tissu relationnel et du contexte des besoins, des
attentes, des contraintes et des aspirations qui l’ont généré peut-il encore prendre sens,
faire sens, être sens ?
L’étudiant risque de se trouver en présence d’une multitude de pièces de quelque vague
puzzle : chaque spécialiste lui explique en long et en large sa pièce de prédilection mais
personne ne l’aide à reconstituer l’image d’ensemble permettant de situer chacune des
différentes pièces dans le tout où elle s’insère. La spécialisation ne suffit pas, ne suffit
plus , „... elle serait plutôt un poids gênant sur sa nuque qu’une aile qui lui permettrait de
s’élever „
La faillite d’un certain type d’éducation qui laisse nos jeunes avec „l’âme désarmée”
incapables d’affronter les réalités de la vie et les diversités des cultures – qui deviennent
de plus en plus difficiles à saisir et à gérer – est sous nos yeux. Des fleuves d’encre, de
mots et d’images nous parlent de la crise des valeurs, de la „me-generation”, d’une
adolescence „éternelle” de beaucoup de jeunes qui repoussent de plus en plus la
transition critique vers l’âge adulte où ils „devraient” se prendre en charge ; ou encore, ils
nous parlent des exigences ambiguës du monde professionnel pour des „meneurs”
d’idées, de projets, d’hommes et pas seulement pour des exécuteurs de consignes, même
hypercompétents ; ou encore, ils dévoilent les statistiques tragiques de la criminalité
juvénile, du suicide des adolescents, de la recherche de paradis artificiels, ... encore une
fuite face à un „mal d’être” auquel on ne trouve pas d’autres réponses.

Sommes-nous trop ambitieux (ou peut-être trop „pédagogues” ...) en affirmant que le
„réarmement de l’âme” pourrait être soutenu par un enseignement, une éducation qui
puisse concrètement aider les étudiants à s’approprier des connaissances et à
développer des compétences réellement utiles et nécessaires à la définition et à
l’accomplissement de leur projet d’étude, de leur projet professionnel et surtout de leur
projet personnel dans la société complexe ?
A l’encontre de ces disjonctions entre personne et société, entre savoir-être et contenus,
nous proposons leur conjonction par le développement dans le cadre même du système
d’enseignement de compétences transversales non seulement comme un produit à
atteindre mais comme un processus ouvert, planifié tout au long des études, sans cesse
réactualisé et visant à la promotion des personnes.
Dans les trois derniers points de cette première partie, nous décrirons certaines
caractéristiques des méthodes d’éducation pour la société complexe. C’est à l’apprenant
cependant que reviendra la tâche de s’exercer aux méthodes pour s’éduquer lui-même.
Quel rôle attribuer aux médias dans cette perspective ?
Force nous est de constater que le développement de ces compétences transversales ne
constitue pas un objectif effectivement poursuivi dans nos écoles. Mais où sont alors les
occasions d’apprendre et d’exercer activement ces compétences ? Cela devrait-il se
faire ailleurs ?
L’école se repose-t-elle dès lors sur un „ailleurs” où ces compétences seraient
effectivement acquises, construites, mises en oeuvre ? Si cet „ailleurs” (la famille, la
communauté locale...) était autrefois le ciment qui unissait ces savoirs aux savoir-être et
aux savoir-devenir, l’éclatement de la société complexe auquel nous assistons ne le
permet plus.
La réintégration et la relocalisation des savoirs de l’école :
– dans d’autres savoirs que la société propose de manière parallèle (journaux, télévision,
– dans les besoins, problèmes et relations complexes que cette société requiert
demandent aujourd’hui d’autres moyens, d’autres méthodes.
Il ne nous est pas possible dans cet article de décrire les avantages et les inconvénients
des diverses méthodes d’enseignement ; cependant, on met souvent en évidence la
méthode du „problem-solving” comme une occasion d’actualiser les savoirs structurés de
l’école dans la structuration des démarches requises pour résoudre „au mieux” des
problèmes (et non des exercices) qui se posent en dehors de l’école. Woods (1987)
préconise que ces démarches ne restent pas accessoires ou latentes face à l’avènement
de la réponse attendue et qu’elles soient enseignées à part entière ; il ne néglige
cependant pas le fait qu’une réelle démarche par résolution de problèmes nécessite une
conjonction importante de nombreux savoirs de natures et d’origines diverses
. Où
l’étudiant se les construit-il ? Des outils peuvent-ils l’aider à manipuler, à structurer les
savoirs sans qu’un enseignement systématique de ceux-ci ait lieu ?
Pourquoi certains étudiants se débrouillent-ils mieux que d’autres plus démunis ? Le
système „éducatif” ne favorise-t-il pas une caste de ceux qui ont la chance, par leur
milieu, par leurs expériences d’acquérir ces compétences transversales, de les construire,
de les mettre en oeuvre ?
Est-ce l’aveu d’une école qui accepte, qui se résigne à n’être que le temple du savoir
Est-ce encore, face à la complexité, une école ?
Si la question d’une école plus „éducative” surgit en ce moment, n’est-ce pas parce qu’elle
s’est progressivement éloignée de la société, de ses besoins, de ses outils ? Les
recherches pédagogiques que l’on vante parfois sans trop y croire souvent, la publicité
tapageuse des écoles pour de „nouvelles pédagogies”, l’étalage des moyens des salles
d’informatique trop peu utilisées ne sont-ils que le décorum d’une bonne conscience
tranquille visant à cacher l’étouffement de la signification et du sens, sous l’inflation des
savoirs éparpillés ?
Une nouvelle médiation entre les savoirs de l’école et ceux de la société complexe,
par l’exercice des compétences transversales soutenues à leur tour par les outils
technologiques de l’information et de la communication, doit dès lors être promue
par l’école même.
Au-delà des outils, le besoin d’éducation que nous avons détecté nécessite aussi des
méthodes pédagogiques profondément ancrées dans l’interaction entre les étudiants,
entre les étudiants et l’enseignant utilisant ensemble des outils à potentiel hautement
interactif, des méthodes insistant plus sur les démarches de construction des savoirs que
sur la distribution de savoirs construits. Notre proposition trouve un soutien dans les
conclusions de la méta-recherche dont nous avons parlé plus haut : elle insiste sur le fait
que ce ne sont pas tant les caractéristiques propres de l’outil qui sont importantes mais la
manière dont il est soutenu et intégré par l’environnement éducatif de la classe et de
Il s’agit de situer les médias – fruit du savoir complexe de la société complexe – dans la
relation didactique, celle qui unit les enseignants et les apprenants dans la re-création de
savoirs riches de sens.
Il serait illusoire de circonscrire les méthodes d’éducation dans des définitions
grandiloquentes et dans des recettes passe-partout. Cela signifierait vouloir „abstraire”
des processus qui se situent et se réalisent dans des contextes concrets. Nous
retomberions ainsi dans la même dynamique perverse que nous avons dénoncée : celle
d’un „savoir sur l’éducation” détaché du terrain des besoins et des relations sur lequel il
s’ancre, des finalités qui le justifient.
Plutôt, nous suggérerons quelques pistes qui toutes contribuent au développement des
étudiants au travers des situations pédagogiques interactives mises en place. En
particulier, nous montrerons comment fournir aux étudiants des occasions d’intégration de
connaissances et des moyens permettant des éclairages variés d’un concept donné afin
d’en faire ressortir la richesse, le relief, ... la complexité.
Un enseignement plus inductif et plus participatif serait d’un précieux secours dans cette
afin d’apprendre à l’étudiant :
– à se poser un problème,
– à trouver soi-même dans l’arsenal des méthodes, des modèles et des théories
l’approche la plus pertinente,
– à contrôler soi-même les limites et le degré de validité de l’approche choisie,
– à vérifier ses solutions par des méthodes alternatives,
– à s’impliquer et à se responsabiliser face à la tâche, etc.
Voici quelques uns parmi les objectifs qui nous semblent les plus pertinents et les plus
urgents pour l’éducation des hommes de la société complexe et qui devraient catalyser
les nombreux efforts produits dans le cadre des „initiatives pédagogiques” certes
méritantes de l’enseignement actuel.
Les lignes qui précèdent mettent en évidence notre souci de recentration des objectifs
éducatifs sur la personne de l’étudiant en tant qu’acteur de son apprentissage et futur
acteur dans la société. Des critiques à l’égard de cette approche et des différentes
„pédagogies” qui s’y rapportent sont régulièrement émises : „elle est sans doute plus
captivante pour les étudiants mais ce n’est pas nécessairement un gage d’efficacité” ;
„elle suscite peut être leur motivation mais il s’agit d’une implication superficielle, d’une
adhésion émotionnelle à un univers ludique plutôt que d’une démarche rigoureuse
d’approfondissement intellectuel”. Cependant, l’expérience le montre, une telle approche
pose des exigences non négligeables à la fois aux étudiants et aux enseignants.
Les premiers ne sont plus seulement des spectateurs, des récepteurs passifs du savoir
mais ils doivent participer activement et personnellement à la construction de celui-ci :
émettre des propositions, les développer, les argumenter, gérer des incertitudes ... voici
des tâches astreignantes auxquelles il n’est pas facile de convier les apprenants, parfois
réticents à sortir des habitudes, du train-train quotidien, des routines sécurisantes du
savoir „clé sur porte”, à prendre en charge des activités „normalement dévolues au
Les seconds manifestent parfois la crainte de perdre le contrôle des opérations, de
s’engager dans des voies dont ils „savent” l’inopportunité, l’inadéquation, de perdre un
temps précieux, de voir leurs certitudes chanceler ... finalement de se sentir dépossédés,
désinvestis de leur fonction. Nous nous demandons, avec Ph. Marton
, si ces craintes et
ces résistances ne doivent pas être attribuées à la faiblesse des aspects pédagogiques et
méthodologiques de la formation donnée à ceux qui se préparaient – alors encore
apprenants pour la société complexe – à devenir les „professionnels” de l’enseignement.
Ne s’agit-il pas là, pour les uns et les autres, de ces points de rupture, de ces tierces
places, dont parle M. Serres
, dans lesquelles l’apprenant et l’enseignant s’exposent et
s’investissent, dans lesquelles les certitudes se dissolvent, se régénèrent ... un tiers-
instruit ou encore un tiers-éduqué ?
Des modes d’application réalistes et adaptables sont possibles ; à titre d’exemple, nous
soulignons :
–- le rôle des exercices, travaux pratiques, projets personnels ou de groupe, etc., qui
offrent plus de place à l’apport personnel de l’étudiant ;
–- l’utilisation pédagogique de l’ordinateur, des multimédia, etc., et de leurs propriétés
dynamiques permettant la recherche par essai-erreur, le questionnement préalable et
nécessaire à l’élaboration de réponses ;
–- l’ouverture à des activités „transversales” (par exemple, l’utilisation des outils
bureautiques, base de données, traitement de textes, tableurs ...) par lesquelles
l’étudiant puisse aborder non seulement des contenus mais aussi faire l’expérience des
démarches, des méthodes, des questionnements, des incertitudes, des „va-et-vient”,
etc., qui accompagnent toute tentative de modélisation, toute recherche, toute
construction des sciences ;
–- des critères et des pratiques d’évaluation cohérentes avec les objectifs envisagés; la
promotion des compétences transversales s’accorde mal avec des méthodes
d’évaluation qui se réduisent à une mesure ponctuelle („l’examen”) d’un savoir redit.
Si l’enseignant, le médiateur, le média peuvent convier l’apprenant au voyage, c’est
l’apprenant lui-même qui va voyager, qui tôt ou tard va devoir sortir de l’école. Le passage
par l’auto-école s’avère indispensable pour apprendre l’outil (la voiture), les règles de la
circulation (le code), les savoir-faire et savoirs exercés dans un contexte artificiel ou
simulé. Un des buts de cet apprentissage „accompagné” est aussi de permettre au
conducteur de savoir-être (le code n’exclut pas la courtoisie ...) et de savoir-devenir (faire
face à des aléas, à des situations imprévues ...) sur le terrain réel de nos campagnes et
de nos grandes cités. Bien au-delà des connaissances sur le véhicule et sur le code, au-
delà aussi de son savoir-faire de conducteur, l’apprenant devra être capable d’exercer de
multiples compétences transversales toutes significatives de la manière dont l’outil, son
véhicule, s’est intégré dans le tissu complexe de la société : identifier ses besoins, choisir
un véhicule, accomplir les formalités pour le faire immatriculer et assurer mais aussi
l’utiliser rationnellement, savoir y renoncer, garder le goût pour les promenades
champêtres et surtout prendre conscience de ses responsabilités et les assumer.
L’exercice de ces compétences transversales est rendu possible par les outils
interactifs qui illuminent le savoir en le faisant sortir de l’école, en le vivifiant par la
mise en contraste, en contexte, en relation. Pourront-ils enfin permettre aux êtres
de mieux savoir, vivre et devenir, en un mot, de s’éduquer dans la société complexe
La définition usuelle de média „tout support de diffusion massive de l’information” (Petit
Robert, 1991) ne peut nous satisfaire pour différentes raisons que nous avons déjà
abordées : information ne rime ni avec formation ni avec éducation, diffusion massive ne
rime pas avec enseignement de qualité ; support d’apprentissage ne rime pas avec
apprentissage de l’apprenant. Il ne s’agit pas pour nous de dresser ici la liste de tous les
outils existants et de leurs caractéristiques techniques ; nous renvoyons le lecteur à des
ouvrages récents
qui les décrivent en analysant les particularités dont il est important de
tenir compte dans le choix du support.
Ce que nous voulons faire est de voir à quelles conditions ces différents outils, porteurs
d’informations, peuvent être aussi des outils d’éducation. A ce propos, comme nous
l’avons dit, il est opportun de situer les médias dans la relation didactique, en y actualisant
leurs différentes potentialités :
– une possibilité de prendre en compte ou de partir des intuitions, des conceptions
implicites, des expériences antérieures de l’apprenant afin de les faire évoluer ;
– un regard, une lecture et une écoute pluriels et démultipliés sur les savoirs ;
– une occasion de reconstruction personnelle des savoirs, des processus qui les ont fait
naître, des processus qu’ils permettent de mettre en place ;
– une actualisation des savoirs dans le contexte large dont ils sont issus et qu’ils
déterminent ;
– un exercice de compétences transversales opérant sur les multiples dimensions de ces
savoirs (fonctionnelle, relationnelle ...) ;
– un auto-développement de comportements et d’attitudes permettant de mieux être,
mieux vivre, mieux devenir dans la société complexe.
Ces potentialités des médias rejoignent des caractéristiques de situations pédagogiques
qui favorisent l’apprentissage : à la frontière des théories constructivistes, cognitivistes et
développementalistes, elles sont des constituants de ce qui est appelé dans la littérature
anglo-saxonne „situated learning” ou encore „anchored instruction”

Les médias constituent ainsi un haut lieu d’interactivité potentielle entre les diverses
composantes, toutes complexes, que nous avons évoquées : savoirs et éducation,
société et relations.
Cependant ces potentiels ne peuvent se révéler et s’actualiser par l’outil seul. Les craintes
démesurées exprimées par les enseignants sur le fait que l’ordinateur puisse les
remplacer, les espoirs fous que l’apprenant puisse enfin pouvoir apprendre tout seul,
manifestent la puissance surfaite, quasi animiste à laquelle l’outil ne peut prétendre.
Loin des tendances d’écartèlement des pôles du triangle didactique – savoir tout puissant,
enseignant dépossédé, apprenant enfin autonome – nous pensons plutôt aux médias
exercer, développer et promouvoir des compétences transversales. Ces dernières,
comme nous l’avons vu, sont nécessaires pour que l’apprenant puisse se re-construire
l’articulation dynamique des différents savoirs et continuer ainsi à s’éduquer dans une
comme un „facteur de dialogue” entre ces pôles. Nous complétons ainsi le concept
d’interactivité fonctionnelle de l’outil par celui de l’interactivité relationnelle des partenaires
de la relation didactique.
Le contenu d’information – issu de la société complexe et de ses savoirs – n’est plus que le
substrat sur lequel s’appuient et se développent les savoirs et savoir-faire des apprenants
dans une relation éducative qui accentue les savoir-être et savoir-devenir, porte ouverte
sur le mieux-vivre dans la société complexe.
Au carrefour de ces dimensions différentes mais toutes présentes dans l’expérience
personnelle et interpersonnelle, les médias constituent un terrain fertile pour éveiller,
interaction constructive avec la société complexe par le truchement des outils qu’elle lui
A la vision entropique de la société complexe nous proposons ainsi une vision
néguentropique de l’éducation.
Tous les droits, en particulier le droit à la reproduction et à la diffusion de même qu?à la
traduction, sont réservés. Aucune partie de l?ouvrage ne doit être ni reproduite et sous
aucune forme (photocopie, microfilm ou autres procédés) ni modifiée, diffusée ou
propagée par l?emploi d?un système électronique, sans l?autorisation écrite du détenteur
des droits.

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2 R. Viganò, & M. Lebrun (1994). Interazione e autonomia nelle situazioni pedagogiche

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cours de
publication dans Higher Education.
4 M. Serres (1991). Le Tiers-Instruit. Paris : Francois Bourin
5 E. Morin (1990). Science avec Conscience. Paris : Editions du Seuil, p. 20.
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la création:
Introduction à l’entropologie. Lausanne : Presses polytechniques et universitaires romandes.
7 P. Lévy (1990). Les technologies de l’intelligence. L’avenir de la pensée à l’ère
informatique, p.169.
8 E. Morin (1990). Science avec Conscience. Paris : Editions du Seuil, p. 125
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10 I. Prigogine, & I. Stengers (1986). La nouvelle alliance. Paris : Gallimard
11 K. Kubota (1991). Applying a Collaborative Learning Model to a Course Development
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16 Par exemple : M. D. Merril, R. D. Tennyson, & L. O. Posey (1992). Teaching Concepts :
An Instructional
Design Guide (2nd ed.). Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey : Educational Technology
17 J. K. Galbraith (1979). The New Industrial State. New York : A mentor book, p. 11. La
traduction de la
définition est proposée par J. Lapointe, & P. Gagné (1992). La savoir d’expérience et le
savoir intuitif en
technologie de l’éducation : contributions décisionnelles de savoirs négligés. In L. Sauvé
(Ed.), La
technologie éducative d’hier à demain. Actes du VIII Colloque du Conseil interinstitutionnel
pour le
progrès de la technologie éducative, Québec, 1992, 275-286.
18 Par exemple : M. Fleming, & W. Howard Levie (Eds.) (1993). Instructional Message
Design : Principles
from the Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey : Educational
19 J.-M. De Ketele (1986). L’évaluation du savoir-être. In J.-M. De Ketele (Ed.),
L’évaluation : approche
descriptive ou prescriptive ? Bruxelles-Paris : De Boeck, 179-208.
20 R. A. Schwier, & E. R. Misanchuk (1993). Interactive Multimedia Instruction. Englewood
Cliffs, New
Jersey : Educational Technology Publications.
21 F. Nietzsche (1973). Sur l’avenir de nos établissements d’enseignement. Paris : Gallimard,
p. 132.
22 R. Bloom (1987). L’âme désarmée. Essai sur le déclin de la culture générale. Montréal :
Guérin littérature.
Sommes-nous trop ambitieux (ou peut-être trop „pédagogues” ...) en affirmant que le
„réarmement de l’âme” pourrait être soutenu par un enseignement, une éducation qui
puisse concrètement aider les étudiants à s’approprier des connaissances et à
développer des compétences réellement utiles et nécessaires à la définition et à
l’accomplissement de leur projet d’étude, de leur projet professionnel et surtout de leur
projet personnel dans la société complexe ?
23 R. Viganò (1991). Psicologia ed educazione in Lawrence Kohlberg : Un’etica per la
società complessa.
Milano : Vita & Pensiero.
24 D. R. Woods (1987). How Might I Teach Problem Solving ? New Directions for Teaching
and Learning,
30, 55-71.
25 E. Bialo, & J. Sivin (1990). Report on the Effectiveness of Microcomputers in Schools, pp.
26 M. Lebrun (1991). Possibilités et méthodologies d’intégration d’outils informatiques dans
des sciences. Recherche en éducation : Théorie et pratique, 7, 15-30.
27 Ph. Marton (1992). La formation et le perfectionnement des maîtres aux nouvelles
technologies de
l’information et de la communication. In L. Sauvé (Ed.), La technologie éducative d’hier à
demain. Actes
du VIII Colloque du Conseil interinstitutionnel pour le progrès de la technologie éducative,
Québec, 1992,
28 M. Serres (1991). Le Tiers-Instruit. Paris : Francois Bourin.
29 Par exemple : R. A. Schwier, & E. R. Misanchuk (1993). Interactive Multimedia
30 D. M. Gayeski (Ed.) (1993). Multimedia for Learning : Development, Application,
Evaluation. Englewood
Cliffs, New Jersey : Educational Technology Publications ; CTGV (The Cognition and
Technology Group
at Vanderbilt) (1993). Anchored Instruction and Situated Cognition Revisited. Educational
Technology, 3,
Robert Mager is a long-standing and well-respected member of the educational technology
community. He has written many books as well as workshop courses and instructional films.
He has an engaging writing style and his books are relatively easy to read.
In 1962 Mager published Preparing Instructional Objectives. This book helped popularize the
use of performance objectives by educators and others. He described useful objectives as
having three characteristics (Mager 1984):
1) Performance. An objective always says what a learner is expected to be able to do; the
objective sometimes describes the product or the result of the doing.
2) Conditions. An objective always describes the important conditions (if any) under which
the performance is to occur.
3) Criterion. Wherever possible, an objective describes the criterion of acceptable
performance by describing how well the learner must perform in order to be considered
Mager held that an important part of writing good objectives was to use „doing words.” These
are words which describe a performance (e.g., identify) which can be observed and measured.
Words to avoid are those which describe abstract states of being (e.g., know) which are
difficult to observe or measure.
Mager’s model is still a basic part of many approaches to writing objectives.
Some other titles by Mager:
Measuring Instruction Results
Analyzing Performance Problems
Goal Analysis
Developing an Attitude Toward Learning
Making Instruction Work
Dr. Robert F. Mager is an accomplished author and world-renowned expert on training and
human performance improvement issues. Arguably the most well-known and respected figure
in his field, he is credited with revolutionizing the performance improvement industry with
his groundbreaking work. Dr. Mager holds a doctorate in psychology.
One of Dr. Mager’s most significant contributions to the performance improvement field is
his work on the Criterion-Referenced Instruction (CRI) training methodology. Developed by
Dr. Mager in conjunction with Peter Pipe, CRI is used to develop training guaranteed to work
and has become the standard for excellence in training and performance improvement. To
teach this methodology to others, Dr. Mager has authored or co-authored three train-the-
trainer workshops. To date, thousands of training professionals worldwide have been trained.
In addition to his work on CRI, Dr. Mager is a well-known author. He has written nine books
on issues relating to training and performance improvement, and over three million copies of
these classic works have been sold. He is perhaps best known for Preparing Instructional
Objectives, the largest-selling book ever written on this subject. It is recognized as the
standard work in its field and is the basis for many graduate level instructional design courses.
Dr. Mager’s work has garnered him numerous honors and awards, including:
Distinguished Contribution to the Field of Human Resource Development (American Society
for Training and Development)
Instructional Technology Ronald H. Anderson Memorial Award (American Society for
Training and Development)
Distinguished Professional Achievement (International Society for Performance
First-round inductee into TRAINING Magazine’s HRD Hall of Fame
Selection as the most respected leader in the training and development field by readers of
TRAINING Magazine Selected by a poll of his peers, conducted by the International Society
for Performance Improvement, to be the most influential individual in the field of
instructional technology
Gilbert de LandsheereL'avenir de l'Enseignement (1) (1/2)
Gilbert De Landsheere
Professeur émérite de Sciences de l'Education de
l'Université de Liège (ULg)

Alors que tous les pays industrialisés entrent dans une ère nouvelle dont les bouleversements économiques, sociaux,
culturels seront historiquement aussi importants que ceux de la Renaissance ou de la première Révolution industrielle,
notre jeunesse - idéalement, toute la jeunesse - est-elle bien préparée à faire face aux problèmes qui l'attendent? Il
importe de s'en assurer d'urgence et de prendre les dispositions qui s'imposent.

La libération des tâches routinières par l'informatique laisse une place prépondérante au jeu des processus mentaux
supérieurs : analyse, synthèse, créativité, évaluation. Dans une société qui, selon l'admirable expression de Louis
Armand, est en train de s'encéphaliser, l'intelligence est devenue l'une des marchandises les plus recherchées. "Les
échanges invisibles, écrit Caspar (1989, p. 2), constituent désormais une part essentielle des échanges entre pays. Le
Fonds monétaire international (FMI) estime que la moitié des échanges se font désormais [...] sous forme de brevets, de
hautes technologies, de capacités managériales, d'informations financières ou stratégiques... bref de savoirs."

Société de l'information et de la communication. De la surinformation aussi, surinformation qui risque de déboussoler ou

de paralyser ceux qui sont incapables de la trier, de la structurer. Société du changement accéléré. Le capital de
connaissances de l'humanité doublerait, en moyenne, tous les sept ans. Les activités professionnelles - est-ce un hasard?
- demanderaient elles aussi une reconversion au même rythme. Changement encore dans tous les aspects sociaux.

Selon des données récentes, la moitié des emplois créés d'ici l'an 2000 exigeraient une formation supérieure et environ un
tiers d'entre eux seraient destinés à des universitaires à part entière. Même pour l'exécution de tâches dites subalternes,
les processus mentaux supérieurs joueraient un rôle croissant.

Les entreprises, surtout les grandes, connaissent des transformations fondamentales. Elles découvrent que leur essor
dépend de plus en plus des investissements immatériels, c'est-à-dire des investissements dans l'intelligence : recherche et
développement, formation, affinement intellectuel et affectif des rapports d'autorité, des communications dans le travail,
des relations avec la clientèle.

De la base au sommet, le monde du travail voit disparaître sa linéarité organisationnelle et fonctionnelle au profit de
processus interactifs multidirectionnels. Idéalement, chaque travailleur devrait être, à son échelon, un décideur éclairé,
communicatif, prévoyant et flexible.

L'intelligence est donc devenue l'une des marchandises les plus recherchées et le savoir prend valeur stratégique. "Quel est
le point commun à tout cela? C'est une double conviction, autant philosophique que managériale, que n'aurait pas
reniée le Siècle des Lumières : l'homme constitue la ressource primordiale; la connaissance est la source du progrès."
(Caspar, 1989).

Qui - individu, entreprise, nation - tire le mieux et le plus vite profit de ces conditions nouvelles est un gagneur. D'où la
concurrence effrénée. Qui a le mieux compris ce qui arrive sait aussi que nous entrons dans l'ère de la mondialisation.

Si, quittant l'échelle sociétale, on s'interroge sur les caractéristiques individuelles requises, on s'aperçoit que l'individu total
- intellectuel, affectif, moral, social, physique - est interpellé. Doué d'une bonne santé physique et mentale, ayant acquis
dès le début, surtout dès le début de la scolarité, des bases solides, chacun doit idéalement pouvoir :

• prendre et analyser l'information et conquérir la connaissance;

• communiquer;
• détecter les problèmes et avoir l'envie et le pouvoir de les résoudre;
• élaborer des projets;
• anticiper;
• travailler dans des conditions mouvantes, décider et agir sans posséder tous les éléments d'information souhaitables.

Est-il besoin de continuer pareil inventaire?

Croire que chacun possédera toutes ces qualités à la perfection serait naïf. En revanche, considérer que nous trouvons là
des caractéristiques modales souhaitées des populations de demain est tout simplement réaliste. Il reste à les susciter. Si
nous le voulons, nous le pouvons. Comment? En commençant par approfondir, sans complaisance aucune, l'analyse des
problèmes majeurs d'éducation et de formation qui se posent.

1. Il faut d'abord déterminer de façon aussi précise que possible notre situation réelle, c'est-à-dire évaluer le rendement
de notre enseignement fondamental et voir où se situent les populations de 17-18 ans, qu'elles soient encore pleinement
scolarisées ou non.
2. La qualité de l'enseignement fondamental doit absolument être améliorée. A cette fin, il importe de dégager les
savoirs méthodologiques les plus sûrs et de combattre sans merci ce qui n'est qu'idéologie creuse ou fantasmes
pédagogiques. Et comme les savoirs fiables restent, à bien des égards, sérieusement lacunaires, il faut investir dans la
recherche en éducation, ce qui n'a jamais été fait significativement dans notre pays. Nous y reviendrons.
Quant à la formation des enseignants, elle n'a pas encore fait sa nécessaire mutation, ce qui rend d'autant plus pressante
une formation continuée de tout le personnel éducatif, formation dont l'ampleur doit dépasser le seuil critique à partir
duquel les effets du perfectionnement deviennent sensibles au niveau éducatif global, et pas seulement en quelques lieux

Le problème de la culture générale se repose aussi. Sans elle, l'homme deviendra esclave de la technologie au lieu de
mettre cette force prométhéenne au service de tous.

Enfin, on voudrait savoir dans quelle mesure l'Université continue à bien remplir sa mission essentielle, tout en en
assumant deux nouvelles : offrir un couronnement de culture générale à des populations qui ne se destinent pas à la
conquête scientifique supérieure et assurer une formation continuée indispensable à tous ses diplômés - et ils sont
nombreux - qui ne peuvent la trouver normalement ailleurs.

Nous voudrions maintenant revenir sur chacun des grands points qui viennent d'être évoqués pour approfondir et préciser
quelque peu la réflexion.

A société à reconstruire, éducation nouvelle

L'école est déstabilisée : elle n'est pas en crise parce qu'elle n'est pas adaptée à la société, mais parce qu'elle essaie de s'y
adapter (G. FOUREZ).

Les hommes sont d'inguérissables apprentis sorciers. Loin de diriger en constante rationalité leur existence propre et celle
de la société, ils se laissent entraîner, voire piéger par les événements. Nous sommes actuellement entraînés dans deux
de ces pièges historiques.

D'une part, la technologie a avancé beaucoup plus vite que la moyenne d'instruction de la population. Les régulations
éducatives indispensables ne se sont pas produites au bon moment parce que l'on n'avait pas vu venir le danger ou que
les responsables avertis n'ont pas jugé urgent d'y parer. Ainsi, seule une minorité s'est munie à temps des compétences
nécessaires et appartient à une nouvelle aristocratie : celle des meilleurs, des gagneurs à qui vont actuellement toutes les
faveurs sur le plan individuel.

Dans le passé, les privilèges se transmettaient sans plus. Aujourd'hui, il faut que les classes dirigeantes soient compétentes :
les parents favorisés sont prêts à payer le prix pour que les enfants le soient aussi.

La perspective néo-libérale est inacceptable. Comme le souligne G. Fourez, d'aucuns poussent l'école vers le secteur
marchand, lié à l'organisation du marché et à l'optimisation des coûts. Cette optimisation est, de toute façon limitée, car
on ne peut remplacer les enseignants par des robots ou par une main-d'oeuvre pédagogique à bon marché importée des
pays moins favorisés.

L'école ne peut pas être dominée par la recherche du rendement économique, car l'attention première, elle doit la réserver
aux valeurs. Comme service public, son devoir peut être de s'opposer à des parents ou à des élèves qui seraient prêts à
accepter un système scolaire "dualisé". La vision de l'école doit rester focalisée sur le bien commun et donc continuer à
faire place aux plus faibles.

D'autre part, des régulations sociales indispensables ne se sont pas opérées, soit par mépris pour les "perdants", soit parce
que le danger de réactions révolutionnaires auxquelles le désespoir pourrait les pousser n'est pas perçu.

Pour redresser la barre tant qu'il en est encore temps, du moins, on l'espère, une transformation profonde des mentalités
doit se produire dans le plus bref délai. Un nouveau et grand défi est ainsi lancé à l'éducation. Collaborant avec tous
ceux pour qui le respect de la dignité humaine est impérieux, elle doit contribuer de façon décisive à l'installation de
valeurs et d'attitudes nouvelles.

Dans son article L'Homme et l'outil, Riccardo Petrella (1987) a admirablement cerné le problème. La série des mots-clés
qui caractérisent la société innovante qui se dessine actuellement devant nos yeux est, nous dit-il : productivité,
compétitivité, efficacité, rentabilité, optimisation, flexibilité, contrôle, adaptabilité, mesurabilité, gestion. A cette série, il
importe d'en substituer une autre : joie, beauté, solidarité, créativité, autonomie, stabilité, espoir, coopération, identité,

Un ordre social nouveau doit s'instaurer, "celui de l'emploi pour tous, chômage zéro en l'an 2000" ou encore "celui de la
dissociation entre revenu et emploi : établissement d'une allocation universelle de base à laquelle on aurait droit non
pas parce qu'on a un emploi, mais du simple fait d'exister" (Petrella). Qu'on ne s'y trompe pas! Il faut y insister, il ne
s'agit pas ici d'un rêve, d'une utopie de plus, mais bien du seul programme humaniste susceptible de répondre
positivement aux conditions qui, sauf cataclysme, peuvent être les nôtres dans un avenir proche.

Une culture générale à reconstruire

Une culture générale de bon aloi interroge les événements naturels et les phénomènes sociaux de façon permanente, permet
de dégager l'essentiel de l'accessoire et de fonder les actions. Elle doit imprégner toute formation pour l'empêcher,
notamment, de s'enfermer dans une vision technicienne et de s'éloigner de la capacité de toujours se renouveler en un
mouvement caractérisé par une flexibilité, une polyvalence en continuel accroissement. Si cette valence devenait
universelle, la technologie et la philosophie pourraient opérer leur jonction.

Qu'une réflexion nouvelle sur la culture générale soit à l'ordre du jour n'a rien de fortuit ni de gratuit. Les grandes
entreprises comme les laboratoires de recherches les plus avancés savent que ce qui manquent souvent à leurs membres,
c'est la capacité de philosopher, de distinguer l'essentiel sous le disparate ou les particularités, de détecter les principes
généraux qui apparentent des choses en apparence très différentes, sinon étrangères.

La culture générale reconstruite, que toute éducation devrait faire acquérir, a pour mission essentielle d'offrir, aux futurs
citoyens du XXIème siècle, une référence et un code communs, une boussole intellectuelle et morale indispensable pour
tenir un cap dans le tourbillon tempétueux des innovations et des changements.

Il est grand temps, écrit en substance Domenach, dans son récent ouvrage Que faut-il enseigner ? (1989, p. 35), de
rechercher l'essentiel dans le contemporain, de le ramener à quelques règles, à quelques principes unifiants. Il importe
"d'asseoir sur des bases simples et stables, une pédagogie du complexe et du mobile", tout en sachant bien "qu'entre la
simplicité et la complexité, le chemin n'est pas univoque : on va de l'une à l'autre", et c'est dans ce va-et-vient que se
situe la dialectique de la pédagogie.

On n'insistera jamais assez sur la nécessité de construire une éducation intellectuelle et morale à l'échelle de notre temps.
Cette tâche est complexe et sa traduction en termes de programmes va demander au monde de l'éducation un énorme
effort de créativité et de réajustement.

Simultanément, toutes les disciplines d'enseignement, qu'il ne s'agit pas de fondre en un magma informe, mais d'articuler,
de "ponter", doivent être réexaminées pour décider de leur survie, de leur place, de leur esprit et de leur contenu. Cette
remise en cause s'inscrit dans la réflexion relative à la culture générale nouvelle qui, faut-il encore le dire, ignorera
l'artificielle distinction entre culture littéraire et culture scientifique.

La réflexion de G. Fourez s'inscrit dans la même ligne

Un changement fondamental de la méthodologie de l'enseignement est indispensable. Une société stable s'accommode de
contenus d'enseignement figés, d'une centration disciplinaire sur les matières inscrites aux programmes. L'écolier est
essentiellement passif, réceptif? Mais, à société en évolution, contenus d'enseignement en évolution ! Pour éduquer à la
flexibilité, au dynamisme, on ne peut plus contraindre l'élève à la passivité.

"Dans nos écoles, on tend moins à éduquer en vue d'une vie autonome et adaptée à la société qu'à y enseigner les
disciplines. Pourtant, déterminer un programme de mathématiques, c'est avant tout répondre à la question :
Qu'estimons-nous important, dans notre société, d'imposer aux jeunes et pourquoi ?"

Dans un monde aussi complexe que le nôtre, seule l'interdisciplinarité est opérationnelle

"La crise du sens dans l'enseignement est profonde. On n'y apprend guère comment croiser sciences, techniques, éthique,
droit, écologie, économie, politique, esthétique, etc., pour aborder l'existence individuelle ou collective. A partir du
moment où les savoirs ne sont plus reliés au monde et aux décisions qu'ils essaient d'éclairer, ils deviennent
dogmatiques et tendent à ressembler à des endoctrinements idéologiques (n'est-il pas caractéristique que l'on enseigne
aujourd'hui souvent les sciences comme des vérités qu'il faudra finalement croire, comme on le faisait de la religion, il y
a quelques siècles ? [...]"

L'image d'une école où l'on ne vient que pour suivre des cours, et puis d'où l'on repart aussitôt, est dommageable à
l'institution scolaire.

Il s'agirait de re-politiser l'école dans le sens noble du mot. J'entends par là que l'école doit être vue comme un lieu où
familles, enseignants, organisations sociales, entreprises, élèves, etc. négocient les structures d'une institution dont
personne ne peut se considérer comme propriétaire. Même les relations pédagogiques ne peuvent être envisagées comme
purement techniques : il faut savoir promouvoir une pédagogie qui réintroduit la distinction des perspectives entre
enseignants et étudiants, la négociation, les projets éventuellement conflictuels, et, à travers tout cela, le sens.

L'enseignement fondamental, le bien nommé

David Weikart a beaucoup frappé les esprits lorsqu'il a établi, aux Etats-Unis, que pour chaque dollar investi dans
l'éducation préscolaire des enfants de milieux socio-culturellement défavorisés, un bénéfice de 4,75 dollars était réalisé,
grâce à la réduction des affectations à l'enseignement spécial, de l'assistance publique et des moyens à déployer pour
lutter contre la drogue. D'une telle observation, on retiendra simplement combien un investissement financier fait au bon
moment dans le domaine de l'éducation peut être fécond pour l'individu et la société.

Que penser, par ailleurs, de l'affirmation, qui prend souvent valeur de slogan : "Tout se joue avant huit ans" ? Elle repose
d'abord sur une observation générale : c'est pendant les premières années de la vie que l'individu présente la plus grande
plasticité, l'apprentissage du langage et l'effet indélébile de certaines expériences précoces en témoignent. Plus
particulièrement, Freud - pour ne citer que lui - a mis en lumière le caractère infiniment profond des effets de certaines
expériences affectives précoces, tandis que des chercheurs comme Bloom, Kraus et bien d'autres ont pu démontrer
comment les apprentissages réalisés au début de la scolarité, à commencer par celui de la lecture, décident dans une
large mesure de la réussite ou des échecs qui vont suivre et influencent notre vie entière. De telles considérations
appelleraient bien des discussions techniques et des nuances, mais leur signification statistique incontestable intéresse
quiconque envisage macroscopiquement le phénomène éducatif.

Quatre conclusions s'imposent, sans la moindre contestation possible : la nécessité de préparer les futurs parents à leur
mission, de créer des conditions d'accueil de la petite enfance éducativement positives, d'offrir à la presque totalité des
enfants qui le fréquentent, dans notre pays, un enseignement maternel de très grande qualité, et de confier la charge des
premières années de l'école primaire à des maîtres de grande compétence pédagogique et psychologique. (Nous ne nous
arrêtons ici qu'aux deux premiers points. Les autres relèvent de la formation des enseignants dont il sera traité plus loin).

1. L'éducation des parents.

Alors que l'on enseigne tant de choses d'une importance contestable dans l'enseignement secondaire et dans les Universités,
notamment sous le couvert de formation générale, pourquoi ne prépare-t-on pas psychologiquement et pédagogiquement
les parents potentiels à l'une des choses les plus importantes et les plus difficiles qu'ils devront accomplir au cours de
leur vie adulte? L'éducation des enfants.

Cette préparation s'impose plus que jamais dans le nouveau contexte socio-culturel dont l'immense complexité vient d'être

On sait, en particulier, qu'à côté du curriculum scolaire explicite et implicite, il existe aussi un curriculum familial,
implicite dans sa plus grande partie, mais tout aussi important. Il est porteur de valeurs et d'attitudes qui se transmettent
plus par contagion que par discours de circonstance, et s'incruste ainsi profondément dans les personnalités. D'où,
répétons-le, l'importance de l'éducation des futurs parents.

Se référant à divers auteurs J-P. POURTOIS et M. HOUX écrivent : "L'égalité des chances à et par l'école est loin d'être
chose acquise. En particulier, l'art de développer des stratégies d'investissements scolaire rentable reste l'apanage des
classes privilégiées".

Il apparaît notamment que les parents construisent des représentations sociales de l'école différentes, non seulement en
fonction de leur appartenance socio-culturelle, mais aussi, à niveau scolaire égal, en fonction de leur trajectoire
professionnelle. Aux trajectoires, individuelles vient s'ajouter l'effet des trajectoires intergénérationnelles, qui
contribuent à définir les typologies familiales particulières, plus ou moins favorables à l'investissement dans le jeu
scolaire. Par ailleurs, une étude longitudinale montre que les pronostics de curriculum scolaire établis pour des enfants
âgés de sept ans, à partir de données individuelles et familiales, se vérifient quinze années plus tard dans sept cas sur dix.

La collaboration active entre la famille et l'école manque surtout de propositions concrètes et précises. En cela, elle déçoit
l'immense majorité des parents qui ne demandent qu'à bien faire. Par exemple, beaucoup de parents intelligents et de
bonne volonté ignorent ce qu'ils pourraient et devraient faire pour aider leur enfant au moment où il apprend à lire.
Donner à ce propos des indications concrètes, éventuellement accompagnées de petits matériels utilisables à la maison,
se révèle très efficace. Bien des suggestions de ce type sont possibles, non seulement pendant les premières années de la
scolarité, mais aussi par la suite, notamment au moment de l'adolescence, pendant laquelle les réactions des jeunes
prennent si souvent les parents au dépourvu.

Quand parents et professeurs réussissent ainsi à conjuguer leurs efforts, l'élève y gagne pratiquement toujours. L'effet de
cette coopération peut être supérieur à celui du statut socio-économique de la famille. Et se vérifie aussi bien pour les
jeunes élèves que pour les plus vieux. Evidemment, les enseignants doivent être bien préparés à cette collaboration.

2. L'accueil de la petite enfance.

De plus en plus de femmes exercent une activité professionnelle en dehors du domicile familial et les grands-parents vivent
de leur côté. D'où le besoin croissant de structures d'accueil pour les jeunes enfants, depuis les premiers mois de la vie
jusqu'à, au moins, l'entrée à l'école maternelle. Le placement se fait ou bien dans une famille ou bien dans une crèche.
Ces deux modalités font actuellement problèmes.

Selon une vérité reçue qui a la vie dure, grâce à Freud, à Bolwby et à bien d'autres psychologues, l'éloignement quelque
peu prolongé du milieu familial, spécialement de la mère, serait générateur de carences affectives souvent graves. Grâce
à des réalisations comme celles de Loczi, on sait aujourd'hui que ces effets négatifs sont loin d'être inéluctables pour
autant que le milieu d'accueil soit à la fois sécurisant, stimulant et propice à l'indépendance ou, si l'on préfère, à la
créativité comportementale.

Malheureusement, les familles d'accueil sont rarement préparées à la mission qu'elles assument et ne réunissent guère
l'ensemble des conditions qui viennent d'être évoquées. Quant aux contrôles qui peuvent être opérés, ils ne portent guère
sur la qualité éducative de ces milieux.

De leur côté, les crèches, dont le nombre est dramatiquement insuffisant, sont encore loin d'avoir accompli leur évolution
nécessaire. Surpeuplées, elles travaillent dans des conditions difficiles, très éloignées de ce qui permettrait la
sécurisation psychologique et la stimulation pédagogique optimales.
On ne semble pas encore avoir bien compris combien une amélioration quantitative et qualitative sensible des modalités
d'accueil pourrait avoir des répercussions bénéfiques sur l'avenir des enfants, notamment pour leur carrière scolaire.

La reconstruction de l'enseignement secondaire

Cette reconstruction est, elle aussi, urgente, car il n'est pas possible de mener de la même manière un enseignement
secondaire fréquenté par une minorité culturellement et socialement homogène, et un enseignement secondaire
accueillant la quasi totalité de groupes d'âge, - dès lors forcément hétérogène -, à conduire effectivement au seuil des
études supérieures.

On a perdu de précieuses décennies a échanger arguments et contre-arguments à propos de ce que nous appelons
l'enseignement secondaire rénové, alors qu'en fait le choix n'existe pas, si l'on s'en tient aux objectifs qui viennent d'être
évoqués. Et comment ne s'y tiendrait-on pas ? On sait depuis longtemps que l'éducation ne se modèle pas au gré de vues
abstraites, idéales, mais bien en fonction des besoins d'une société telle qu'elle existe en un lieu et à un moment donnés.
Et le besoin d'une valorisation massive des potentialités des jeunes existe bien.

Ce qui est encore sujet de controverse chez nous depuis longtemps est tenu pour évident dans d'autres pays, qui évitent une
sélection prématurée. Cette politique s'avère payante, à condition de savoir conduire la barque ou, si l'on préfère, de ne
pas faire n'importe quoi.

Dans l'indispensable rénovation de l'enseignement secondaire, il importe toutefois, de ne pas répéter les erreurs commises
lors de la grande réforme de ces dernières décennies, notamment:

• un certain flou conceptuel chez ceux qui ont pris l'initiative de la réforme, dans les domaines de la psychologie, des
sciences de l'éducation et de l'évaluation;
• un certain laxisme confondu avec le respect de la personnalité de l'élève et avec ses besoins particuliers;
• une préparation psychologique et pédagogique des enseignants et des cadres pédagogiques insuffisante;
• un manque de moyens et d'instruments adaptés, tant pour l'enseignement que pour l'évaluation;
• une information insuffisante des politiques et de l'opinion publique. Les généreuses professions de foi, les
affirmations essentiellement idéologiques ne suffisent pas. Il importe d'expliquer, d'apporter des preuves, de fournir des
dossiers bien étayés. Les données objectives, difficilement contestables, ne manquent pas. Encore faut-il les digérer et
les diffuser sous des formes qui conviennent;
• l'absence d'un pilotage rigoureux de la réforme. Tous les intéressés ont le droit de savoir avec précision ce qu'elle
produit, et où des difficultés particulières se manifestent.

Ils ont aussi le droit de poser des questions et d'obtenir des réponses qui ne soient pas de simples opinions.

La rénovation de l'enseignement secondaire compte parmi les urgences premières de la politique de l'éducation.

L'expansion universitaire

Une expansion externe des universités a été généreusement réalisée. Elle suffit largement à notre petit pays et bien des
rationalisations sont souhaitables.

En revanche, l'expansion interne accuse un retard dramatique et en aggravation constante. Il concerne trois aspects :
l'adaptation à des populations nouvelles, les moyens humains et matériels de la recherche, et la formation continuée.

1. La population universitaire change.

Si nous réussissons à conduire avec succès la grande majorité des jeunes jusqu'à la fin de l'enseignement secondaire
supérieur, ceux-ci jouiront, selon notre législation, du droit d'entrer à l'université, dans la plupart des cas sans la moindre
épreuve de sélection.

Ainsi va se reproduire, avec un décalage temporel, le problème d'hétérogénéité qui se pose avec tant d'acuité dans
l'enseignement secondaire. A côté des étudiants "traditionnels" sélectionnés de fait (selon des critères autant sociaux
qu'intellectuels sur lesquels nous ne revenons plus) dans l'enseignement secondaire, étudiants qui souhaitent mener à
bien des études scientifiques du plus haut niveau, vont affluer progressivement dans les universités des élèves souhaitant
y trouver, soit un parachèvement de la formation secondaire générale, soit une qualification technique valorisable le plus
rapidement possible.

Ces trois types de besoins sont éminemment respectables et il faut y répondre. Mais sans perdre de vue la mission première
de l'université : former, dans les meilleures conditions possibles, des spécialistes et des chercheurs du plus haut niveau.

Des réponses à ces questions existent et sont bien expérimentées. Ainsi, pour la culture générale, on a créé aux Etats-Unis,
depuis les années 60, des instituts annexes, les Community colleges, qui offrent des cycles courts, de deux à trois ans.
Des dispositions institutionnelles similaires doivent voir le jour chez nous.

Quant aux formations techniques ou technologiques, elles peuvent être assez facilement réalisées, soit dans l'enseignement
technique supérieur, non universitaire, bien développé dans notre pays, soit en coordonnant ces instituts avec des
sections universitaires, solution déjà pratiquée grâce à des passerelles.

Tant pour les formations générales que pour les formations techniques, de nouvelles initiatives doivent être prises.

2. La recherche, plus que jamais.

La recherche scientifique et le développement technique sont non seulement de plus en plus indispensables dans la
civilisation de l'intelligence, mais leurs apports constituent aussi une part majeure des échanges invisibles dont on a vu
l'importance croissante sur le plan tant commercial que stratégique.

Malheureusement, la recherche d'aujourd'hui coûte de plus en plus cher et devient de plus en plus difficile chez nous.

D'abord en raison des équipements souvent sophistiqués et de vie de plus en plus courte. Dans certains cas, des petites
communautés comme la nôtre devront passer des accords intercommunautaires, interrégionaux ou internationaux pour
l'acquisition des matériels les plus chers. Encore faut-il que nous puissions payer notre part!

Ensuite parce que les équipements les meilleurs ne présentent aucun intérêt s'il ne se trouve pas de chercheurs du plus haut
niveau pour s'en servir. Or cette situation nous menace, parce que les Universités ne disposent plus d'assez de moyens
pour offrir un minimum de stabilité aux plus avancés de leurs jeunes éléments, et que, par conséquent, ceux que nous
avons formés à grand prix nous sont enlevés par des pays plus avisés.

3. Organiser d'urgence la formation continuée.

L'attribution d'un diplôme universitaire atteste deux choses : que le lauréat a acquis, d'une part, une formation supérieure
aussi fondamentale et donc aussi durable que possible et, d'autre part, qu'à la date de délivrance, il était bien au fait de
l'état d'avancement de sa discipline.

A une époque où la science ne progressait que très lentement, la validité du diplôme pour une vie professionnelle entière
pouvait encore se concevoir, avec déjà, cependant, un certain nombre de réserves. Mais, à partir du moment où la totalité
des connaissances, dans une discipline donnée, double en quelques années, - ce qui est le cas dans tous les domaines
avancés -, la situation change radicalement. L'actualisation continue ou au moins périodique de la formation s'impose.
Certaines entreprises privées l'assurent à leur personnel, mais pour beaucoup d'autres professions, à commencer par les
professions libérales, cette possibilité n'existe pas.

C'est pourquoi nos universités doivent pouvoir organiser immédiatement et en grandeur réelle la formation récurrente pour
un grand nombre de leurs diplômés. Dans certains pays, les étudiants engagés dans ces formations continuées sont déjà
plus nombreux que les étudiants en formation initiale . Nous sommes encore loin d'être dans une telle situation. Nos
Universités ont pris des initiatives limitées en ce sens, sans pratiquement disposer de moyens spéciaux pour le faire.
Pour répondre aux besoins réels et urgents, il n'est plus possible de travailler dans ces conditions.

En conclusion:

Deux mesures s'imposent sans tarder : une rationalisation rigoureuse (elle est souvent évoquée, mais se traduit peu dans la
réalité) et l'attribution des crédits nécessaires aux nouvelles initiatives universitaires.


(1) Le texte de la discussion générale, dont l'ossature est due à G. de Landsheere, intègre des apports d'A. Van Haecht,
de G. Fourez, et de J-P Pourtois et Madame Houx, Assistante du Professeur Pourtois, à la Faculté de Psycho-pédagogie
de l'Université de Mons-Hainaut.



Cele cinci precizări obligatorii ale enunțului



La sfârșitul activității didactice TOȚI elevii vor fi capabili (1. SUBIECTUL PEDAGOGIC ) să aplice (2.
CAPACITATEA DE ÎNVĂȚARE )„regula de trei simplă” (3. PERFORMANȚA DE ÎNVĂȚARE )rezolvând probleme
dintr-o fișă dată pe baza unui model de rezolvare explicat în prealabil (4. SITUAȚIA DE ÎNVĂȚARE ); obiectivul va fi
considerat atins atunci când: a)- elevul va rezolva cel puțin 4 dintre cele 10 probleme existente în fișa dată; b)-sunt
permise cel mult 2 erori de calcul ; c)-nu este permisă nici o greșală de aplicare a „regulii de trei simplă”.


(Desde los tests hasta la investigación evaluativa actual. Un siglo, el XX, de intenso desarrollo de la evaluación en

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About the authors Tomás Escudero Escorza Sobre los autores
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Abstract Resumen
This article presents a review and state of art about Este artículo presenta una revisión crítica del desarrollo
development in educational evaluation in the XXth histórico que ha tenido el ámbito de la evaluación educativa
century. The main theoretical proposals are commented durante todo el siglo XX. Se analizan los principales
propuestas teóricas planteadas.
Keywords Descriptores
Evaluation, Evaluation Research, Evaluation Methods; Evaluación, Investigación evaluativa, Métodos de
Formative Evaluation Summative Evaluation, Testing, Evaluación, Evaluación Formativa, Evaluación Sumativa,
Program Evaluation Test, Evaluación de Programas


In any discipline, an investigation into its history tends to be a fundamental road to understand its conception,
status, functions, environment, etc. This fact is especially evident in the case of evaluation because it is a discipline that
has suffered deep conceptual and functional transformations throughout history and, mainly,
throughout the 20th century, in which we principally concentrate our analyses. In this sense, the
diachronic approach to the concept is essential.

We will carry out the analysis centering our-selves on three positions that we could brand as classics in recent
literature on the topic and that we use indistinctly, although we don't have the pretense of offering a synthesis position,
but rather of exact use of all them, since the three positions have an impact on the same moments and key movements.
A position, maybe the more used in our context (Mateo et al., 1993; Hernández, 1993), is that which Madaus, Scriven,
Stufflebeam and other authors offer that tends to establish six periods in their works, beginning its analysis in the 19th
century (Stufflebeam and Shinkfield, 1987; Madaus et al., 1991). They speak to us of: a) period of reform (1800-1900),
b) efficiency and “testing” period (1900-1930), c) Tyler period (1930-1945), d) innocence period (1946-1956), e)
expansion period (1957-1972) and f) the professionalization period (from 1973) that connects with the current situation.
Other authors like Cabrera (1986) and Salvador (1992) cite three major stages, taking as a central reference point the
figure of Tyler in the second quarter of the 20th century. The stages before Tyler are referred to as precedents or
antecedents, Tyler’s stage is referred to as the birth, and those which follow are considered development stages.
Guba and his collaborators, mainly Yvonna Lincoln, highlight different generations. We would currently be in the
fourth (Guba and Lincoln, 1989) which according to them is based on the paradigmatic constructivist focus and in the
needs of those stakeholders, as a base to determine the information that is needed. The first generation is that of
measurement that arrives up until the first third of this century, the second is that of description and the third that of the
judgement or valuation.
After the historical analysis, as a complement and a revision of synthesis, we offer a concise summary of the more
relevant evaluative focuses of the different models and positions that, with greater or lesser force, come to mind when we
try to delimit what is today evaluation research in education.

1. Precedents: before «tests» and measurement

Since antiquity instructive procedures in which the teachers used implicit references have been created and used,
without an explicit theory of evaluation, to value and, overall, to distinguish and select students. Dubois (1970) and
Coffman (1971) cite the procedures that were used in imperial China more than three thousand years ago to select high
officials. Other authors such as Sundbery (1977) speak of passages with reference to evaluation in the Bible, while
Blanco (1994) refers to the exams of the Greek and Roman teachers. But according to McReynold (1975), the most
important book of antiquity regarding evaluation is the Tetrabiblos that is attributed to Ptolomeo. Cicero and San Agustín
also introduce evaluative concepts and positions in their writings.
It is during the Middle Ages that the exams are introduced into the university environment with a more formal
character. It is necessary to remember the famous public oral exams in presence of a tribunal, although they were only
administered to those individuals with previous permission from their professors, with which the possibility of failure was
practically nonexistent. In the Renaissance there are continued uses of selective procedures and Huarte of San Juan, in his
Exam of geniuses for the sciences, defends the observation as a basic position of the evaluation (Rodríguez et al., 1995).
In the 18th century, as the demand and the access to education increases, the necessity of verifying individual merits is
accentuated and educational institutions embark on elaborating and introducing norms on the use of written exams (Gil,
In the 19th century, national systems of education are established and graduation diplomas appear following the passing
of exams (exams of the State). According to Max Weber (Barbier, 1993), a system of exams of a specific preparation
validation arises to satisfy the needs of a new hierarchical and bureaucratized society. In the United States, in 1845,
Horace Mann begins to use the first evaluative techniques in the form of written tests. They extend to the schools of
Boston and begin the road toward more objective and explicit references with relation to certain reading-writing skills.
However, it still is not an evaluation sustained in a theoretical focus, but rather, something that responds to routine
practices, frequently based on not very reliable instruments.
At the end of the 19th century, in 1897, a work of J.M. Rice appears that is usually pointed out as the first evaluative
research in education (Mateo et al., 1993). It discussed a comparative analysis in American schools about the value of the
instruction in the study of spelling, using as criteria the marks obtained in tests.

2. Psychometric tests
In the previous context, at the end of the 19th century, a great interest for scientific measurement of human behaviors is
awakened. This is something that is framed in the renovating movement of methodology of human sciences, when
assuming the positivism of the physical-natural sciences. In this sense, evaluation receives the same influences as other
pedagogic disciplines related with measurement processes, as experimental and differential pedagogy (Cabrera, 1986).
The evaluative activity will be conditioned in a decisive way by diverse factors that converge in this moment, such as:
a) The blossoming of the positivistic and empirical philosophical currents that supported observation,
experimentation, data, and facts as sources of the true knowledge. The demand for scientific rigor as well as for
objectivity in the measure of human behavior (Planchard, 1960) appears and written tests are promoted as a
means of combating the subjectivity of oral exams (Ahman and Cook, 1967).
b) The influence of evolutionist theories and Darwin's works, Galton and Cattel, supporting the measurement of
the characteristics of individuals and the differences among them.
c) The development of the statistical methods that favored decisively the metric orientation of the time (Nunnally,
d) The development of the industrial society that empowered the necessity to find some accreditation and
selection mechanisms of students, according to their knowledge.
Consequently with this state of things, in this period between the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th, an
intense evaluative activity known as “testing” is developed that is defined by the following characteristics:
. Measurement and evaluation were interchangeable terms. In the practice it was only referred to as measurement.
. The objective was to detect and establish individual differences, inside the pattern of trait and attribute that
characterized the psychological development of the time (Fernández Archers, 1981), that is to say, the discovery of
differential punctuations to determine the subject's relative position inside the reference group.
. The performance tests, synonym of educational evaluation, were developed to establish individual discriminations,
forgetting in great measure the representativeness and consistency with educational objectives. In the words of Guba
and Lincoln (1982), evaluation and measure had little relationship with the school curriculum. The tests showed
results about the students, but not about the curriculums with which they had been educated.
Within the educational field, some instruments of that time are highlighted, such Ayres and Freeman’s writing scales,
Hillegas’ writing, Buckingan’s spelling, Wood’s mathematics, Thorndike and McCall’s reading, and Wood and McCall’s
arithmetic (Planchard, 1960; Ahman and Cook, 1967; Ebel, 1977).
However, it was in the psychological tests where the efforts had a larger impact, being most likely the work of
Thorndike (1904) that had most influence during the beginning of the 20th century. In France the works of Alfred Binet
stand out, later revised by Terman at the Stanford University, on tests of cognitive capacities. Now we speak of the
Stanford-Binet, one of the most well-known tests in the history of the psychometry.
Years later, with the recruitment necessities in the First World War, Arthur Otis directs a team that builds collective
tests of general intelligence (Alpha for readers-writers and Beta for illiterate) and inventories of personality (Phillips,
After the war, the psychological tests are put to the service of social ends. The decade between 1920 and 1930 marks
the highest point in «testing» due to the development of a multitude of standardized tests to measure all kinds of school
abilities with relating external and explicit objectives. They are based on procedures of intelligence measurement to use
with large numbers of students.
These standardized applications are welcomed in educational environments and McCall (1920) proposes that the
teachers construct their own objective tests, to not find themselves at the mercy of the proposals made exclusively by
external specialists.
This movement was effective in parallel to the improvement process of psychological tests with the development of
statistical and factorial analysis. The fervor for «testing» began to decline at the start of the 40’s and there even began to
arise some hypercritical movements with these practices.
Guba and Lincoln (1989) refer to this evaluation as the first generation that can rightfully be called the generation of
measurement. The role of the evaluator used to be technical, as supplier of measurement instruments. According to these
authors, this first generation still remains alive because texts and publications that use indissoluble evaluation and measure
still exist (Gronlund, 1985).

3. The birth of true educational evaluation: The great “Tylerian” reform

Before the revolution promoted by Ralph W. Tyler arrived, an independent current known as docimology started during
the 1920’s in France (Pieron, 1968 and 1969; Bonboir, 1972) that supposed a first approach to true educational
evaluation. Mainly the split between that which is taught and the goals of the instruction was criticized. The evaluation
was left in the hands of the completely personal interpretation of the teacher. As a solution the following was proposed:
a) the elaboration of taxonomies to formulate objectives, b) diversification of information sources, exams, academic files,
test re-taking techniques, and tests, c) unification of correction criteria beginning with the agreement between the
correctors of the tests and d) revision of value judgments by means of such procedures as double correction, or the means
of different correctors. As can be seen, we are dealing with criteria of good and valid measurement, in some cases, even
Nevertheless, Tyler is traditionally considered the father of educational evaluation (Joint Committee, 1981), for being
the first in giving it a methodical vision, going beyond behaviorism, a trend of the time, the mere psychological
evaluation. Between 1932 and 1940, in his famous Eight-Year Study of Secondary Education for the Progressive
Education Association, published two years later (Smith and Tyler, 1942), he outlines the necessity of a scientific
evaluation that serves to perfect the quality of education. The synthesis work is published some years later (Tyler, 1950),
explaining in a clear way his idea of curriculum, and integrating in it his systematic method of educational evaluation, as
the process emerged to determine in what measure the previously established objectives have been reached (sees you also
Tyler, 1967 and 1969).
The curriculum comes defined by the four following questions:
a) What objectives are desired?
b) With what activities can they be reached?
c) How can these experiences be organized efficiently?
d) How can it be proved that the objectives are reached?
And the good precise evaluation of the following conditions:
a) Clear proposal of objectives.
b) Determination of the situations in those that should show the expected behaviors.
c) Election of appropriate instruments of evaluation.
d) Interpretation of the test results.
e) Determination of the reliability and objectivity of the measures.
This evaluation is no longer a simple measurement because it supposes a value judgement of collected information. It
alludes to, without further development, the decision making regarding the success or failure of the curriculum according
to students’ results. This theme is one that important evaluators such as Cronbach and Sufflebeam would take up some
years later.
For Tyler, the central reference in the evaluation is the preestablished objectives which should be carefully defined in
behavioral terms (Mager, 1962), keeping in mind that they should mark the student's individual development, but inside a
socialization process.
The object of the evaluative process is to determine the change in the students, but its function is wider than making
explicit this change to the very students, parents and teachers; it is also a means of informing about the effectiveness of
the educational program and also about the teacher's continuing education. According to Guba and Lincoln (1989), it
refers to the second generation of evaluation. Unfortunately, this evaluative global vision was not sufficiently
appreciated, neither exploited, for those that used its works (Bloom et al., 1975; Guba and Lincoln, 1982).
In spite of the above-mentioned issues and that the tylerianan reforms were not always applied immediately, Tyler’s
ideas were well received by the specialists in curricular development and by the teachers. Their outline was rational and it
was supported by a clear technology, easy to understand and apply (Guba and Lincoln, 1982; House, 1989) and it fit
perfectly in the rationality of the task’s analysis that began to be used with success in military educational environments
(Gagné, 1971). In Spain, the positions of Tyler extended with the General Law of Education of 1970.
After the Second World War, a period of expansion and optimism occurs that Stufflebeam and Shinkfield (1987) have
not doubted to qualify as “social irresponsibility”, due to the great consumer waste after a time of recession. It is the well-
known stage as that of the innocence (Madaus et al., 1991). Many institutions and educational services of all types are
extended, a large quantity of standardized tests are produced, there are advances in measurement technology and in the
statistical principles of experimental design (Gulliksen, 1950; Lindquist, 1953; Walberg and Haertel, 1990) and the
famous taxonomies of educational objectives appear (Bloom et al., 1956; Krathwohl et al., 1964). However, at this time,
the contribution of evaluation to the improvement of education is scarce due to the lack of coherent plans of action. Much
is written about evaluation, but with scarce influence in the improvement of the instructional work. The true development
of the tylerianan proposals came later (Anklebone, 1962; Popham and Baker, 1970; Fernández de Castro, 1973).
Ralph W. Tyler died February 18th of 1994, having lived more than ninety years, and after seven decades of fruitful
contributions and services to evaluation, research, and to education in general. Some months before, in April of 1993,
Pamela Perfumo, a graduate student of Stanford University, interviewed Tyler with the purpose of knowing his thoughts
about the current development of evaluation and of the controversial topics surrounding it. This interview, conveniently
prepared, was presented April 16, 1993 in the AERA Conference in Atlanta. Horowitz (1995) analyzes the content and
the meaning of the mentioned interview, highlighting, among other things, the following aspects of Tyler’s thoughts at the
end of his days:
a) Necessity to carefully analyze the purposes of the evaluation before beginning to evaluate. The current
positions of multiple and alternative evaluations should be adjusted to this principle.
b) The most important purpose in evaluation of the students is to guide their learning, this is, to help them to
learn. A comprehensive evaluation of all the significant aspects of their performance is necessary; it is not
enough to make sure that they regularly do their daily work.
c) The portfolio is a valuable evaluation instrument, but it depends on its content. In any event, it is necessary to
be cautious with the preponderance of a single evaluation procedure, including the portfolio, for its inability of
embracing the whole spectrum of evaluable aspects.
d) True evaluation should be idiosyncratic, appropriate for the student's peculiarities and the center of learning. In
rigor, the comparison of centers is not possible.
e) Teachers should report to parents on their educational action with students. To do this it is necessary to
interact with them in a more frequent and more informal way.
Half of a century after Tyler revolutionized the world of educational evaluation, one can observe the strength,
coherence, and validity of his thoughts. As we have just seen, his basic, conveniently up-to-date, ideas are easily
connected to the most current trends in educational evaluation.

4. The development of the sixties

The sixties would bring new airs to educational evaluation, among other things because people began to lend interest to
Tyler’s calls for attention, related with the effectiveness of the programs and the intrinsic value of evaluation for the
improvement of education.
At that time a certain conflict arises between the American society and its educational system, mainly because Russia
got ahead in the space program, after the launching of Sputnik for the USSR in 1957. A certain disenchantment appears
with public schools and pressure grows for accountability (MacDonald, 1976; Stenhouse, 1984). In 1958 a new law of
educational defense is promulgated that provides many programs and means to evaluate them. In 1964 the Elementary
and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) is established by the National Study Committee on Evaluation and, creates a new
evaluation not only of students, but to have an impact on programs and global educational practice (Mateo et al., 1993;
Rodríguez et al., 1995).
To improve the situation and to recapture the scientific and educational hegemony, millions of dollars of public funds
were dedicated to subsidize new educational programs and initiatives of American public schools’ personnel guided to
improve the quality of teaching. (Popham, 1983; Rutman and Mowbray, 1983; Weiss, 1983). This movement was also
strengthened by the development of new technological means (audiovisual, computers...) and that of programmed
teaching whose educational possibilities awoke interest in education professionals (Rosenthal, 1976).
In the same way that the proliferation of social programs in the previous decade had impelled the evaluation of
programs in the social field, the sixties would be fruitful in demand for evaluation in the field of education. This new
dynamic into which evaluation enters, though centered on the students as individuals that learn with the object of
valuation being their performance, will vary in its functions, focus, and interpretation according to the type of decision
being sought after.
To a great extent, this strong American evaluator impulse is due to the before-mentioned approval of the Elementary
and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) in 1965 (Berk, 1981; Rutman, 1984). With this law started the first significant
program for educational organization in the federal environment of the United States, and it was specified that each one of
the projects carried out with federal economic support should be evaluated annually, in order to justify future grants.
Along with the disenchantment of public school, it is necessary to point out the economic recession that characterized
the final years of the sixties, and, mainly, the decade of the seventies. This caused that general population, as taxpayers,
and the legislators themselves to worry about the effectiveness and the yield of the money that was used in improving the
school system. At the end of the sixties, and as a consequence to the above-mentioned, a new movement enters the scene,
the era of Accountability (Popham, 1980 and 1983; Rutman and Mowbray, 1983) that is fundamentally associated with the
teaching personnel's responsibility in the achievement of established educational objectives. In fact, in the year 1973, the
legislation of many American states instituted the obligation of controlling the achievement of educational objectives and
the adoption of corrective measures in negative cases (MacDonald, 1976; Wilson et al., 1978). It is comprehensible that,
outlined this way, this movement of accountability and school responsibility, gave way to a wave of protests on the part of
educational personnel.
Popham (1980) offers another dimension of school responsibility, when he refers to the school decentralization
movement during the last years of the sixties and beginning of the seventies. Large school districts were divided into
smaller geographical areas, and, consequently, with a greater direct civic control on what happened in the schools.
As a consequence of this focusing of influence, the phenomenon of educational evaluation was expended considerably.
The direct subject of evaluation continued being the student, but also included all those factors that converge in the
educational process (the educational program in a wide sense, teacher, means, contents, learning experiences,
organization, etc.), as well as the educational product itself.
As a result of these new necessities of evaluation, a period of reflection and of theoretical essays with spirit of clarifying
the multidimensionality of the evaluative process was initiated during this time. These theoretical reflections would
decisively enrich the conceptual and methodological environment of evaluation that together with the tremendous
expansion of program evaluation that occurred during these years, will give way to the emergence of the new modality of
applied research that today we refer to as evaluation research.
As landmarks of the time, it is necessary to highlight two essays for their decisive influence: Cronbach’s article (1963),
Course improvement through evaluation, and that of Scriven (1967), The methodology of evaluation. The wealth of
evaluative ideas exposed in these works forces us to refer to them briefly.
Regarding the analysis that Cronbach makes of the concept, functions and methodology of evaluation, we highlight the
following suggestions:
a) Associate the concept of evaluation with decision making. The author distinguishes three types of educational
decisions which the evaluation serves: a) about the improvement of the program and instruction, b) about the
students (necessities and final merits) and c) about administrative regulation over the quality of the system,
teachers, organization, etc. In this way, Cronbach opens the conceptual and functional field of educational
evaluation far beyond the conceptual framework given by Tyler, although he follows his line of thought.
b) Evaluation that is used to improve a program while it is being applied, contributes more to the development of
education than evaluation used to estimate the value of the product of an already concluded program.
c) Put in question the necessity that evaluative studies be comparative. Among the objections to this type of
study, the author highlights the fact that frequently the differences among the average grades are lower in inter-
groups than in intra-groups, as well as others concerning the technical difficulties that present comparative
designs in the educational framework. Cronbach pleads for some absolute criteria of comparison, outstanding
the necessity of an evaluation with reference to the criteria when defending the valuation with relation to some
very well-defined objectives and not comparison with other groups.
d) Great scale studies are questioned, since the differences among their treatments can be very large and prevent
the clear discernment of the results’ causes. Defended are the more well-controlled analytic studies that can be
used to compare alternative versions of a program.
e) Methodologically Cronbach proposes that evaluation should include: 1) process studies - facts that take place in
the classroom-; 2) measure of performance and attitudes - changes observed in the students - and 3) follow-up
studies, that is, the later path continued by the students that have participated in the program.
f) From this point of view, evaluation techniques cannot be limited to performance tests. Questionnaires,
interviews, systematic and non-systematic observation, essays, according to the author, occupy an important
place in evaluation, in contrast to the almost exclusive use that was made of tests like techniques of information
If these reflections by Cronbach were shocking, they were not less than those in Scriven’s essay (1967). His prolific
terminological distinctions vastly enlarged the semantic field of evaluation, and at the same time clarified the evaluative
chore. Below we highlight the most significant contributions:
a) Definitively established is the difference between evaluation as a methodological activity, that which the author
names the goal of the evaluation and the functions of the evaluation in a particular context. In this way
evaluation as a methodological activity is essentially the same, whatever it may be that we are evaluating. The
objective of evaluation is invariant, its main aim is the process with which we estimate the value of something
that is evaluated, while the functions of the evaluation can be vastly varied. These functions are related with the
use that is made of the collected information.
b) Scriven points out two different functions that evaluation can adopt: the formative and the summative. He
proposes the term of formative evaluation to describe an evaluation of a program in progress with the objective
of improving it. The term of summative evaluation is the process oriented to check the effectiveness of the
program and to make decisions about its continuity.
c) Another important contribution of Scriven is the criticism of the emphasis that evaluation gives to the
attainment of previously established objectives, because if the objectives lack value, one doesn't have any interest
to know to what extent they have been achieved. The need for evaluation to include the evaluation of suitable
objectives as well as determining the degreee to which these have been reached is emphasized (Scriven, 1973
and 1974).
d) Scriven makes a clear distinction between intrinsic evaluation and extrinsic evaluation, two different forms of
valuing an element of teaching. In an intrinsic evaluation, the element is valued for what it is, while in extrinsic
evaluation the element is valued for the effects that it causes in the students. This distinction is very important
when considering the criteria to be utilized, because in intrinsic evaluation the criteria are not formulated in
terms of operative objectives, while it is done in extrinsic evaluation.
e) Scriven adopts a position contrary to Cronbach, defending the comparative character that evaluation studies
should present. Along with Cronbach he acknowledges the technical problems that comparative studies involve
and the difficulty in explaining the differences among programs. However, Scriven considers that evaluation, as
opposed to the mere description, implies to produce a judgement about the superiority or inferiority of what is
evaluated with regard to its competitors or alternatives.
These two commented contributions decisively influenced the community of evaluators, impacting not only studies in
the line of evaluation research, to which is preferably referred, but also in evaluation orientated to the individual, in the
evaluation line such as assessment (Mateo, 1986). We are before the third generation of evaluation that, according to
Guba and Lincoln (1989), is characterized by introducing valuation, judgement, as an intrinsic content in evaluation. Now
the evaluator doesn't only analyze and describe reality, he also assesses and judges it in relation to different criteria.
During the sixties many other contributions appear that continue drawing an outline of a new evaluative conception that
will be finished developing and, mainly, extending in later decades. It is perceived that the conceptual nucleus of
evaluation is the valuation of the change in the student as an effect of a systematic educational situation, some well
formulated objectives being the best criteria to assess this change. Likewise, one begins to pay attention not only to the
desired results, but also to the lateral or undesired effects, and even to results or long term effects (Cronbach, 1963;
Glaser, 1963; Scriven, 1967; Stake, 1967).
There was criticism of the operativization of objectives (Eisner, 1967 and 1969; Atkin, 1968). Some criticism was
directed at the structure of the underlying assessment. Another was about centering the assessment of learning in the most
easily measurable products. Finally, other critics focus on the low attention given to the affective domain, with greater
difficulty in operativization. In spite of this, Tyler’s evaluative model would experience great improvement in these
years, with works on the educational objectives that would continue and perfect the road undertaken in 1956 by Bloom
and collaborators (Mager, 1962 and 1973; Lindvall, 1964; Krathwohl et al., 1964; Glaser, 1965; Popham, 1970; Bloom et
al., 1971; Gagné 1971). Among other things new ideas appeared about the evaluation of interaction in the classroom and
about its effects in the achievement of the students (Baker, 1969).
Stake (1967) proposed his evaluation model, the countenance model, that follows the line of Tyler. However, Stake’s is
more complete when considering the discrepancies among that which is observed and expected in the “antecedents” and
“transactions”, and when facilitating some bases to formulate a hypothesis about the causes and the shortcomings in the
final results. In his successive proposals, Stake would begin distancing himself from his initial positions.
Metfessell and Michael (1967) also presented a model of evaluation of the effectiveness of an educational program in
which, still following the basic pattern of Tyler, proposed the use of a comprehensive list of diverse criteria. The
evaluators could keep these criteria in mind at the moment of evaluation and, consequently, not be centered merely in the
intellectual knowledge reached by the students.
Suchman (1967) emphasized the idea that evaluation should be based on objective data that are analyzed with scientific
methodology, clarifying that scientific research is preferably theoretical and, in exchange, evaluation research is always
applied. His main purpose was to discover the effectiveness, success or failure, of a program when comparing it with the
proposed objectives and, in this way, trace the lines of its possible redefinition. According to Suchman, this evaluation
research should keep in mind: a) the nature of the addressee of the objective and that of the objective itself, b) the
necessary time in which the proposed change is carried out, c) the knowledge of if the prospective results are dispersed or
concentrated and d) the methods that must be used to reach the objectives. Suchman also defends the use of external
evaluators to avoid all types of misrepresentation by the teachers highly involved in the instructional processes.
The emphasis on the objectives and their measurement will also bring about need for a new orientation to evaluation, the
denominated evaluation of criterial reference. The distinction introduced by Glaser (1963) among measurements
referring to norms and criteria would have an echo at the end of the sixties, precisely as a result of the new demands that
were outlined by educational evaluation. In this way, for example, when Hambleton (1985) studies the differences among
tests referring to the criteria and tests referring to the norm he points out for the first ones, in addition to the well known
objectives of describing the subject’s performance and making decisions regarding whether or not a particular content is
known, another objective similar to that of valuing the effectiveness of a program.
Since the end of the sixties, specialists have spoken decisively in favor of criterial evaluation, as soon as that is the
evaluation type that gives real and descriptive information of the individual's or individuals’ status regarding the foreseen
teaching objectives, as well as the evaluation of that status for comparison with a standard or criteria of desirable
realizations, being irrelevant to the contrast effect, namely the results obtained by other individuals or group of individuals
(Popham, 1970 and 1983; Mager, 1973; Carreño, 1977; Gronlund, 1985).
In the evaluative practices of this decade of the sixties, two performance levels are observed. We can qualify one as
evaluation orientated toward individuals, fundamentally students and teachers. The other level is that of evaluation
orientated to decision making on the “instrument” or “treatment” or educational “program.” This last level, also
impelled by the evaluation of programs in the social environment, will be the basis for the consolidation in the educational
field of program evaluation pro and of evaluation research.

5. From the seventies: The consolidation of evaluation research

If one could characterize the theoretical contributions that specialists offer us during the 1970’s, it would be with the
proliferation of all kinds of models of evaluation that flood the bibliographical market, evaluation models that express the
author's own points of view who proposes them on what it is and how it should behave as an evaluative process. It deals
with a time characterized by conceptual and methodological plurality. Guba and Lincoln (1982) speak to us of more than
forty models proposed in these years, and Mateo (1986) refers to the proliferation of models. These will enrich the
evaluative vocabulary considerably, however, we share Popham’s idea (1980) that some are too complicated and others
use quite confusing jargon.
Some authors like Guba and Lincoln (1982), Pérez (1983) and in some measure House (1989), tend to classify these
models in two large groups, quantitative and qualitative, but we think along with Nevo (1983) and Cabrera (1986) that the
situation is much richer in nuances.
It is certain that those two tendencies are observed today in evaluative proposals, and that some models can be
representative of them, but different models, considered particularly, differ more by highlighting or emphasizing some of
the components of the evaluative process and by the particular interpretation that they lend to this process. It is from this
perspective, to our understanding, how the different models should be seen and be valued for their respective
contributions in the conceptual and methodological fields (Worthen and Sanders, 1973; Stufflebeam and Shinkfield, 1987;
Arnal et al., 1992; Scriven, 1994).
There are various authors (Lewy, 1976; Popham, 1980; Cronbach, 1982; Anderson and Ball, 1983; De la Orden, 1985)
that consider the models not as exclusive, but rather as complementary, and that the study of them (at least those that have
turned out to be more practical) will cause the evaluator to adopt a wider and more understanding vision of his work. We,
in some moment have dared to speak of modellic approaches, more than of models, since it is each evaluator that finishes
building his own model in each evaluative research as a function of the work type and the circumstances (Escudero,
In this movement of evaluation model proposals, it is necessary to distinguish two stages with marked conceptual and
methodological differences. In a first stage, the proposals followed the line exposed by Tyler in his position that has
come to be called "Achievement of Goals." Besides those already mentioned by Stake and Metfessell and Michael that
correspond to the last years of the sixties, in this stage the proposal of Hammond (1983) and the Model of Discrepancy of
Provus (1971) stand out. For these authors the proposed objectives continue being the fundamental criteria of evaluation,
but they emphasize the necessity to contribute data on the consistency or discrepancy between the designed guidelines and
their execution in the reality of the classroom.
Other models consider the evaluation process at the service of the instances that should make decisions. Notable
examples of them include: probably the most famous and utilized of all, the C.I.P.P. (context, input, process and product),
proposed by Stufflebeam and collaborators (1971) and the C.S.E. (takes its initials from the University of California’s
Center for the Study of Evaluation) directed by Alkin (1969). The conceptual and methodological contribution of these
models is positively assessed among the community of evaluators (Popham, 1980; Guba and Lincoln, 1982; House,
1989). These authors go beyond evaluation centered in final results, given that in their proposals they suppose different
evaluation types, according to the necessities of the decisions which they serve.
A second stage in the proliferation of models is one represented by the concept of alternative models that, with different
conceptions of evaluation and methodology, continue appearing in the second half of the seventies. Among those
highlighted include Stake’s Responsive Evaluation (1975 and 1976), to which Guba and Lincoln adhere to (1982),
MacDonald’s Democratic Evaluation (1976), Parlett and Hamilton’s Evaluation as Illumination (1977) and Eisner’s
Evaluation as Artistic Criticism (1985).
In general terms, this second group of evaluative models emphasizes the role of the evaluation audience and the
relationship of the evaluator with it. The high-priority evaluation audience in these models is not who should make the
decisions, like in the models orientated to decision making, neither the one responsible for elaborating the curricula or
objectives, like in the models of achievement of goals. The high-priority audience is the participants of the program
themselves. The relationship between the evaluator and the audience, in the words of Guba and Lincoln (1982), should be
“transactional and phenomenological”. We are referring to models that advocate an ethnographic evaluation, it is from
here that the methodology that is considered more appropriate is that used in social anthropology (Parlett and Hamilton,
1977; Guba and Lincoln, 1982; Pérez 1983).
This summary of models from the proliferation period is enough to approach to the wide theoretical and methodological
conceptual array that today is related with evaluation. This explains that when Nevo (1983 and 1989) tries to carry out a
conceptualization of evaluation, starting with the revision of the specialized literature, attending topics such as: What is
evaluation? What functions does it have? What is the purpose of the evaluation?... a single answer is not found to these
questions. It is easily comprehensible that the demands that evaluation suggests of programs of a part, and evaluation for
making decisions regarding the individuals of another, drive a great variety of real evaluative outlines used by teachers,
directors, inspectors, and public administrators. But it is also certain that below this diversity lie different theoretical and
methodological conceptions about evaluation. Different conceptions have given way to an opening and conceptual
plurality in the field of evaluation in several senses (Goatherd, 1986). Next we highlight the most outstanding points of
this conceptual plurality.
a) Different evaluation concepts. On one hand, we have the classic definition given by Tyler exists: evaluation as
the process of determining the consistency grade between the realizations and the previously established
objectives, to which the models orientated toward the realization of goals correspond. This definition contrasts
with the wider one that is advocated by the models orientated to decision making: evaluation as the process of
determining, obtaining, and providing relevant information to judge alternative decisions, defended by Alkin
(1969), Stufflebeam et al. (1971), MacDonald (1976) and Cronbach (1982).
Moreover, Scriven’s concept of evaluation (1967), being the process of estimating the value or the merit of
something, is recaptured by Cronbach (1982), Guba and Lincoln (1982), and House (1989), with the objective of
pointing out the differences that would involve value judgements in the event of estimating merit (it would be
linked to intrinsic characteristics of what is being evaluated) or value (being linked to the use and application that
it would have for a certain context).
b) Different criteria. It is deduced from the previously noted definitions that the criterion to use for evaluation of
the information also changes. From the point of view of the achievement of goals, a good and operative
definition of the objectives constitutes the fundamental criterion. From the perspective of the decisions and
situated inside a political context, Stufflebeam and collaborators, Alkin and MacDonald even end up suggesting
the non-evaluation of the information on the part of the evaluator, being the decision maker responsible of doing
The definitions of evaluation that accentuate the determination of “merit” as an objective of evaluation use
standard criteria for those on which the experts or professionals agree. It deals with models related to
accreditation and professional judgement (Popham, 1980).
The authors (Stake, 1975; Parlett and Hamilton, 1977; Guba and Lincoln, 1982; House, 1983) that accentuate the
evaluation process in the service of determining the “value” more than the “merit” of the entity or object
evaluated, advocate that the fundamental criterion of valuation be the contextual necessities in those that it is
introduced. In this way, Guba and Lincoln (1982) relate the terms of the valorative comparison; on one hand, the
characteristics of the evaluated object and, on the other, the necessities, expectations and values of the group to
those that it affects or with those that the evaluated object is related.
c) Plurality of evaluative processes depending on the theoretical perception that is maintained over the evaluation.
The cited evaluation models as well as others, too numerous to be in the bibliography, represent different
proposals to drive an evaluation.
d) Plurality of evaluation objects. As Nevo says (1983 and 1989), there exist two important conclusions about
evaluation that are obtained from the revision of the bibliography. On one hand, anything can be an evaluation
object and should not be limited to students and teachers and, on the other, a clear identification of the evaluation
object is an important part of any evaluation design.
e) Opening, generally recognized by all the authors, of the necessary information in an evaluative process to hold
not only the desired results, but rather to the possible effects of an educational program, intended or not. Even
Scriven (1973 and 1974) proposes an evaluation in which one doesn't have in mind sought after objectives, but
values all the possible effects. Opening also regarding the collection of information, not only of the final
product, but also of the educational process. And opening in the consideration of different results of short and
long scope. Lastly, opening not only in considering cognitive results, but also the affective ones (Anderson and
Ball, 1983).
f) Plurality in the functions of evaluation in the educational field, withdrawing the proposal of Scriven between
formative and summative evaluation, and adding others of socio-political and administrative type (Nevo, 1983).
g) Differences in the role played by the evaluator, which has come to be called internal evaluation vs. external
evaluation. Nevertheless, a direct relationship between the evaluator and the different audiences of the
evaluation is recognized by most of the authors (Nevo, 1983; Weiss, 1983; Rutman, 1984).
h) Plurality of the audience of the evaluation and, consequently, plurality in the evaluation reports. From
informal narrative reports to very structured reports (Anderson and Ball, 1983).
i) Methodological plurality. The methodological questions arise from the dimension of evaluation as evaluation
research that comes defined, in great measure, by methodological diversity.
The previous summary identifies the contributions made to evaluation in the 1970’s and 1980’s, a time period that has
been named the time of professionalization (Stufflebeam and Skinkfield, 1987; Madaus et al., 1991; Hernández, 1993;
Mateo et al., 1993). In addition to the countless models of the seventies, it was deepened in the theoretical and practical
positions and consolidated evaluation as evaluation research in the term previously defined. In this context appear many
new specialized magazines such as Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, Studies in Evaluation, Evaluation
Review, New Directions for Program Evaluation, Evaluation and Program Planning, Evaluation News, etc. Scientific
associations related to the development of evaluation are founded and universities are beginning to offer courses and
programs in evaluation research, not only in graduate degrees and doctorate programs, but also in study plans for
undergraduate degrees.

6. The fourth generation, according to Guba and Lincoln

At the end of the 1980’s, after this whole before-described development, Guba and Lincoln (1989) offer an evaluating
alternative that they call fourth generation, seeking to overcome that which, according to these authors, are deficiencies of
the three previous generations, such as a manager point of view of the evaluation, a scarce attention to the pluralism of
values, and an excessive attachment to the positivist paradigm. The alternative of Guba and Lincoln is called responsive
and constructivist, integrating somehow the responsive focus proposed originally by Stake (1975), and the postmodern
epistemology of constructivism (Russell and Willinsky, 1997). The demands, the concerns and the matters of the
individuals involved or responsible (stakeholders) serve as the organizational focus of evaluation (as a base to determine
what information is needed) which is carried out within the methodological positions of the constructivist paradigm.
The use of the demands, concerns, and matters of those involved is necessary, according to Guba and Lincoln, because:
a) They are risk groups with regard to evaluation and their problems should be adequately contemplated, so that
they are protected in the face of such a risk.
b) The results can be used against those involved in different senses, mainly if they are outside of the process.
c) They are potential users of the resulting evaluation information.
d) They can enlarge and improve the range of evaluation.
e) A positive interaction is produced among the different individuals involved.
These authors justify the paradigmatic change because:

a) Conventional methodology doesn't contemplate the necessity of identifying the demands, concerns, and matters
of the individuals involved.
b) To carry out the above-mentioned, a discovery posture is needed more than verification, typical of positivism.
c) Contextual factors are not kept sufficiently in mind.
d) Means are not provided for case by case valuations.
e) The supposed neutrality of conventional methodology is of doubtful utility when value judgements are looked
concerning a social object.
Leaving these premises, the evaluator is responsible for certain tasks that he/she will carry out sequentially or in parallel,
building an orderly and systematic work process. The basic responsibilities of the evaluator of the fourth generation are
as follows:
1) To identify all individuals involved with risk in the evaluation.
2) To bring out for each group involved their conceptions about what was evaluated and their demands and
concerns about this matter.
3) To provide a context and a hermeneutic methodology in order to be able to keep in mind, understand, and
criticize the different concepts, demands, and concerns.
4) To generate the maximum possible agreement about the said concepts, demands, and concerns.
5) To prepare an agenda for the negotiation of topics not in consensus.
6) To collect and to provide the necessary information for the negotiation.
7) To form and mediate a forum of involved individuals for the negotiation.
8) To develop and elaborate reports for each group of involved individuals on the different agreements and
resolutions about their own interests and of those of other groups (Stake, 1986; Zeller, 1987).
9) Redraft the evaluation whenever there are pending matters of resolution.
The proposal of Guba and Lincoln (1989) extends quite a bit in the explanation of the nature and characteristics of the
constructivist paradigm in opposition with those of the positivist.
When one speaks of the steps or phases of evaluation in this fourth generation, their proponents mention twelve steps or
phases, with different subphases in each one of these. These steps are the following:
1) Establishment of a contract with a sponsor or client.
. Identification of the client or sponsor of the evaluation.
. Identification of the object of the evaluation.
. Purpose of the evaluation (Guba and Lincoln, 1982).
. Agreement with the client over the type of evaluation.
. Identification of the audiences.
. Brief description of the employed methodology.
. Guaranty of access to records and documents.
. Agreement to guarantee the confidentiality and anonimity to where it is possible.
. Description of the report type to elaborate.
. Listing of technical specifications.
2) Organization to redraft the research.
. Selection and training of the appraisal team.
. Attainment of facilities and access to the information (Lincoln and Guba, 1985).
3) Identification of the audiences (Guba and Lincoln, 1982).
. Agents.
. Beneficiaries.
. Victims.
4) Development of conjunct constructs within each group or audience (Glaser and Strauss, 1967; Glaser, 1978; Lincoln
and Guba, 1985).
5) Contrast and development of the conjunct constructs of the audiences.
. Documents and records.
. Observation.
. Professional literature.
. Circles of other audiences.
. Ethical construct of the evaluator.
6) Classification of the demands, concerns, and resolved matters.
7) Establishment of priorities in the unresolved topics.
8) Collection of information.
9) Preparation of the agenda for negotiation.
10) Development of the negotiation.
11) Reports (Zeller, 1987; Licoln and Guba, 1988).
12) Recycling/review.
To judge the quality of the evaluation, we are offered three focuses called parallel, the linked to the hermeneutic
process and that of authenticity.
The parallel criteria are named this way because they try to be parallel to the criteria of rigor used for many years inside
the conventional paradigm. These criteria have been: internal and external validity, reliability and objectivity. However,
the criteron should be in agreement with the fundamental paradigm (Morgan, 1983). In the case of the fourth generation,
the criteria that are offered are those of credibility, transfer, dependence, and confirmation (Lincoln and Guba, 1986).
The credibility criteria are parallel to that of internal validity, so that the isomorphism idea between the findings and
reality is replaced by the isomorphism among the realities built by the audiences and the reconstructions of the evaluator
appointed to them. To achieve this, several techniques exist, among them the following are highlighted: a) prolonged
compromise, b) persistent observation, c) contrast with colleagues, d) analysis of negative cases (Kidder, 1981), e)
progressive subjectivity and f) control of the members. The transfer can be seen as parallel to the external validity, the
dependence is parallel to the reliability criterion and the confirmation can be seen as parallel to the objectivity.
Another way to judge the quality of evaluation is through an analysis of the process itself, something that fits with the
hermeneutic paradigm, through a dialectical process.
However, these two classes of criteria, although useful, are not completely satisfactory for Guba and Lincoln that also
defend with more insistence the criteria that they call of authenticity, also of the constructivist basis. These criteria
include the following: a) impartiality, justice, b) ontologic authenticity, c) educational authenticity, d) catalytic
authenticity and e) tactical authenticity (Lincoln and Guba, 1986).
We can complete this analysis of the fourth generation with the characteristics with which Guba and Lincoln define
a) Evaluation is a sociopolitical process.
b) Evaluation is a combined process of collaboration.
c) Evaluation is a teaching/learning process.
d) Evaluation is a continuous process, recursive and highly divergent.
e) Evaluation is an emergent process.
f) Evaluation is a process with unpredictable results.
g) Evaluation is a process that creates reality.
In this evaluation the characteristics of the evaluator are a result of the first three generations, namely that of the
technitian, the analyst, and the judge. However, these should be expanded with skills in order to gather and interpret
qualitative data (Patton, 1980). These skills include those of a historian and enlightener and those of a mediator of
judegements which serve to create a more active role as an evaluator in the concrete socio-political concontext.
Russell and Willinsky (1997) defend the potentialities of the fourth generation’s position to develop alternative
formulations of evaluating practice among those individuals involved, increasing the probability that evaluation serves to
improve school teaching. This requires, on the part of the faculty, the recognition of other positions, besides his own, the
implication of all since the beginning of the process and, on the other hand, the development of more pragmatic
approaches of the conceptualization of Guba and Lincoln, adapted to the different school realities.

7. The new impulse around Stufflebeam

To finish this analytic-historical journey from the first attempts of educational measurement to current evaluation
research in education, we want to gather the recommendations that come to us more recently from one of the figures of
this field in the second half of the 20th century. We are referring to Daniel L. Stufflebeam, proposer of the CIPP model
(the most used) at the end of the sixties, president of the Joint Committee on Standars for Educational Evaluation from
1975 to 1988, and current director of the Evaluation Center of Western Michigan University (headquarters of the Joint
Committee) and of CREATE (Center for Research on Educational Accountability and Teacher Evaluation), a center
favored and financed by the Department of Education of the American Government.
Gathering these recommendations (Stufflebeam, 1994, 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2001), into those that have been
integrating ideas of diverse notable evaluators, we don't offer just one of the lastest contributions to the current conception
of evaluation research in education; we complete in good measure the vision of the current, rich and plural panorama,
after analyzing the fourth generation of Guba and Lincoln.
Stufflebeam parts from the four principles of the Joint Committee (1981 and 1988), that is, from the idea that any good
work of evaluative research should be: a) useful, that is, to provide timely information and to influence, b) feasible, this is,
it should suppose a reasonable effort and should be politically viable, c) appropriate, adequate, legitimate, this is, ethical
and just with those individuals involved, and d) sure and precise when offering information and judgements on the object
of evaluation. Also, evaluation is seen as “transdisciplinary,” because it is applicable to many different disciplines and
many diverse objects (Scriven, 1994).
Stufflebeam invokes the responsibility of the evaluator that should act according to principles accepted by the society
and to professionalism criteria, to form judgements regarding the quality and educational value of the evaluated object
that should assist the involved individuals in the interpretation and use of its information and judgements. However, it is
also their duty, and their right, to be on the margin of the fight and the political responsibility for the decision-making
process and eventual conclusion.
To evaluate education in a modern society, Stufflebeam (1994) suggests that some basic approaches of reference should
be taken, such as the following:
. Educational necessities. It is necessary to ask oneself if the education provided covers the necessities of the
students and their families in all areas in view of basic rights, in this case, inside a democratic society
(Nowakowski et al., 1985).
. Fairness, Equity. It is necessary to ask oneself if the system is fair and equal when providing educational services,
access, the achievement of goals, development of aspirations, and the coverage for all sectors of the community
(Kellagan, 1982).
. Feasibility. It is necessary to question the efficiency of the use and distribution of resources, the adaptation and
viability of the legal norms, the commitment and participation of those individuals involved, and everything that
makes it possible for the educational effort to produce the maximum of possible fruits.
. Excellence as a permanently sought after objective. The improvement of quality, starting from the analysis of the
past and present practices is one of the foundations of the evaluation research.
Considering the reference point of these criteria and their derivations, Stufflebeam summarizes a series of
recommendations to carry out good evaluative research and to improve the educational system. These recommendations
consist of the following:
1) Evaluation plans should satisfy the four requirements of utility, feasibility, legitimacy and precision (Joint
Committee, 1981 and 1988).
2) Educational entities should be examined for their integration and service to the principles of democratic society,
equality, well-being, etc.
3) Educational entities should be valued in terms of their merit (intrinsic value, quality regarding general criteria)
as much as their value (extrinsic value, quality and service for a particular context) (Guba and Lincoln, 1982;
Scriven, 1991), as well as for their significance in the reality of the context in which it is located. Scriven (1998)
points out that using other habitual denominations, merit has fairly good equivalence with the term quality, value
with that of cost-effective relationship, and significance with that of importance. In any event, the three concepts
depend on the context, specially the one refers to significance, meaning that understanding the difference
between dependence on the context and arbitrariness is part of the understanding of the evaluation’s logic.
4) Evaluation of teachers, educational institutions, programs, etc, should always be related to their duties,
responsibilities, and professional or institutional obligations, etc. Maybe one of the challenges that educational
systems should tackle is the clearest most precise definition of these duties and responsibilities. Without it, the
evaluation is problematic, even in the formative field (Scriven, 1991a).
5) Evaluative studies should have the ability to value to what measure teachers and educational institutions are
responsible and they account for the execution of their duties and professional obligations (Scriven, 1994).
6) Evaluative studies should provide direction for improvement, because it is not enough to simply form a
judgement about the merit or the value of something.
7) Collecting the previous points, all evaluative study should have formative and summative components.
8) Professional self-evaluation should be encouraged, providing the educators with the skills needed and favoring
positive attitudes toward it (Madaus et al., 1991).
9) Evaluation of the context (necessities, opportunities, problems in an area,…) should be used in a prospective
way, to locate the goals and objectives and to define priorities. Also, evaluation of the context should be used
retrospectively to adequately judge the value of the services and educational results, in connection with the
necessities of the students (Madaus et al., 1991; Scriven, 1991).
10) Evaluation of the inputs should be used in a prospective way, to assure the use of an appropriate range of
approaches according to the necessities and plans.
11) Evaluation of the process should be used in a prospective way to improve the work plan, but also in a
retrospective way to judge to what extent the quality of the process determines the reason for why the results are
at one level or another (Stufflebean and Shinkfield, 1987).
12) Evaluation of the product is the means of identifying the desired and not desired results in the participants or
affected by the evaluated object. A prospective valuation of the results is needed to guide the process and to
detect areas of need. A retrospective evaluation of the product is needed to be able to gauge as a whole the merit
and value of the evaluated object (Scriven, 1991; Webster and Edwards, 1993; Webster et al., 1994).
13) Evaluative studies should base themselves on communication and the substantive and functional inclusion of
stakeholders with the key questions, criteria, discoveries, and implications of the evaluation, as well as in the
promotion of the acceptance and the use of their results (Chelimsky, 1998). Moreover, evaluative studies should
be conceptualized and used systematically as part of the long-term process of educational improvement (Alkin et
al., 1979; Joint Committee, 1988; Stronge and Helm, 1991; Keefe, 1994) and as grounds for action against social
discriminations (Mertens. 1999). Empowerment Evaluation which Fetterman defends (1994), is a procedure, of
democratic base, of involved individuals participating in the evaluated program, to promote their autonomy in
the resolution of their problems. Weiss (1998) alerts us that participative evaluation increases the probability
that the results of the evaluation are used, but also that it is conservative in its conception, because it is difficult
to think that those responsible for an organization put in question its foundation and the system of power. Their
interest is generally the change of small things.
14) Evaluative studies should employ multiple perspectives, multiple measures of results, and quantitative as well
as qualitative methods to collect and analyze the information. The plurality and complexity of the educational
phenomenon makes the use of multiple and multidimensional approaches in evaluative studies necessary
(Scriven, 1991).
15) Evaluative studies should be evaluated, including formative metaevaluations to improve their quality and use
as well as summative metaevaluations to help users in the interpretation of their findings and to provide
suggestions for the improvement of future evaluations (Joint Committee, 1981 and 1988; Madaus et al., 1991;
Scriven, 1991; Stufflebeam, 2001).
These fifteen recommendations provide essential elements for an approach of the evaluative studies that Stufflebeam
calls objectivist and that is based on the ethical theory that moral kindness is objective and independent of personal or
merely human feelings.
Without entering in debate concerning these final evaluations of Stufflebeam, or initiating a comparative analysis with
other proposals, for example with those of Guba and Lincoln (1989), we find it to be evident that the conceptions of
evaluation research are diverse, depending on the epistemologic origin. However, there appear some clear and convincing
common elements within all the perspectives such as contextualization, service to society, methodological diversity,
attention, respect and participation of those involved, etc., as well as a greater professionalization of the evaluators and a
wider institutionalization of the studies (Worthen and Sanders, 1991).
Stufflebeam (1998) recognizes the conflict of the positions of the Joint Committee on Standards for Educational
Evaluation with those of the present trends in evaluation denominated postmodernist. Besides Guba and Lincoln, this
conflict is represented additionally by other recognized evaluators such as Mabry, Stake and Walker, but he doesn't accept
that reasons exist for attitudes of scepticism and frustration with the current evaluative practice, because many domains of
approximation exist and the development of evaluation standards is perfectly compatible with the attention given to the
diverse group of involved individuals and their values, social contexts and methods. Stufflebeam defends a larger
collaboration in the improvement of evaluations, establishing standards in participative way, because he believes that the
approach of positions is possible, with important contributions from all points of view.
Weiss (1998) also takes similar positions when she suggests that constructivist ideas should cause us to think more
carefully when using the results of the evaluations, synthesizing them and establishing generalizations. However, she
doubts that everything has to be interpreted in exclusively individual terms, as many common elements exist among
people, programs and institutions.

8. To conclude: synthesis of model and methodological approaches of evaluation and Scriven’s final perspective
After this analysis of the development of evaluation throughout the 20th Century, it seems opportune, as a synthesis and
conclusion, to gather and emphasize those that are considered the main models, methodological positions, designs,
perspectives and current visions. His analysis, in a compact manner, is a necessary complement for such a historic vision
that, due to its lineality, runs the risk of offering an artificially divided disciplinary image.
During the seventies and the surrounding years, we have seen an appearance of evaluative proposals that traditionally
have been called models (Castle and Gento, 1995) and in some cases designs (Arnal et al., 1992) of evaluation research.
We know that several dozens of these proposals existed in the above-mentioned decade, though were very concentrated in
the time. In fact, the issue of those proposed models for evaluation seems to be a practically closed topic for nearly
twenty years. New models or proposals no longer arise, except for some exceptions that we see later on.
In spite of that said, models, methods and designs in specialized literature, mainly looking for their agreement
classification with diverse approaches, paradigmatic origin, purpose, methodology, etc. continued being discussed. Also
in the classifications, not only in the models, exists diversity, which proves that, besides academic dynamism in the area
of evaluation research, certain theoretical weakness still exists in this respect.
We have previously pointed out (Escudero, 1993) that we agree with Nevo (1983 and 1989) in the appreciation that
many of the approaches to the conceptualization of evaluation (for example, the responsive model, the goal-free model,
and the model of discrepancies, etc.) have been denominated unduly as models although none of them has the grade of
complexity and globality that the previously-mentioned concept should carry. That which a classic text in evaluation
(Worthen and Sanders, 1973) designates as «contemporary models of evaluation» (to the well-known positions of Tyler,
Scriven, Stake, Provus, Stufflebeam, etc), Stake himself (1981) says that it would be better to call it “persuasions” while
House (1983) refers to “metaphors”.
Norris (1993) notes that the concept model is used with certain lightness when referring to conception, approach or even
evaluation method. De Miguel (1989), on the other hand, thinks that many of the so-called models are only descriptions
of processes or approaches to evaluation programs. Darling-Hammond et al. (1989) use the term “model” due to habit,
but they indicate that they don't do it in the precise meaning of the term in social sciences, this is, basing it on a structure
of supposed theory-based interrelations. Finally, we will say that the very author of the CIPP model only uses this
denomination in a systematic way to refer to his own model (Stufflebeam and Shinkfield, 1987), using the terms
approach, method, etc., when referring to the others. For us, perhaps the term evaluative approaches is the most
appropriate, even if we continue speaking of models and designs simply due to academic tradition.
Our idea is that when conducting evaluative research, we still don't have a selected handful of well-based, defined,
structured and complete models, from which to choose one in particular. However, we do indeed have distinct modellic
approaches and ample theoretical and empirical support that allow the evaluator to respond in an appropriate manner to
the different matters that the research process outlines, helping to configure a global plan, a coherent flowchart, and a
«model» scientifically robust to carry out its evaluation (Escudero, 1993). Which are the necessary matters to address in
this process of modellic construction? Leaning on in the contributions of different authors (Worthen and Sanders, 1973;
Nevo, 1989; Kogan, 1989; Smith and Haver, 1990), they should address and define their answer while building a model of
evaluation research in the following aspects:
1) Object of the evaluation research.
2) Purpose, objectives.
3) Audiences/participants/clientele.
4) High-priority or preferential emphasis/aspects.
5) Criteria of merit or value.
6) Information to collect.
7) Methods of information collection.
8) Analysis methods.
9) Agents of the process.
10) Sequenciation of the process.
11) Reports/utilization of results.
12) Limits of the evaluation.
13) Evaluation of evaluation research itself / metaevaluation.
To define these elements it is logically necessary to look for the support of the different modellic approaches, methods,
procedures, etc., that evaluation research has developed, mainly in recent decades.
Returning to the denominated models of the seventies and to their classifications, we can gather some of those that
appeared in the last decade in our academic field, based on different authors. In this way, for example, Arnal and others
(1992) offer a classification of what they denominate designs of evaluation research, revising those of diverse authors
(Patton, 1980; Guba and Lincoln, 1982; Pérez, 1983; Stufflebeam and Shinkfield, 1987). The classification is as follows:

Chart 1 - Types of designs of educational research

Stufflebeam and
Guba and
Perspective Patton (1980) Pérez (1983) Shinkfield Creating authors
Lincoln (1982)
Objectives Objectives Objectives Objectives Tyler (1950)

System Rivlin (1971)

Empirical- System analysis
analysis Rossi and et al (1979)
Suchman (1967)
CIPP CIPP CIPP Stufflebeam (1966)

Artistic criticismArtistic criticism Eisner (1971)
Liable to criticism
complementarit Adversary Adversary
y Wolf (1974)
proceedings proceedings


Responsive Responsive Responsive Responsive Stake (1975)

Parlett and Hamilton

Illumination Illumination Illumination
Humanistic -

Goal-free Goal-free Goal-free Scriven (1967)

Democratic MacDonald (1976)

For their part, Castillo and Gento (1995) offer a classification of “methods of evaluation” within each one of the
paradigmas that they call conductivist-efficientist, humanistic and holistic. The following is a synthesis of these

Chart 2 - Model behaviorist-efficientist

Method / Evaluative Dominant Content of Role of the

author purpose paradigm evaluation evaluator

Achievement Measurement of Quantitative Results External

objectives achieved technician
Tyler (1940)

CIPP Information for Mixed C (context) External

making technician
Stufflebeam decisions I (input)
P (process)

P (product)

Countenance Valuation of Mixed Antecedents, External

results and technician
Stake (1967) process transactions,

CSE Information for Mixed Centered in External
determination of technician
Alkin (1969) decisions achievements of


Educational Valuation of Mixed U (evaluation External

planning process and units) technician
Cronbach T (treatment)
O (operations)

Chart 3 – Humanistic model

Method / Evaluative Dominant Content of Role of the

author purpose paradigm evaluation evaluator

Customer Analysis of the Mixed All the effects of External

service client’s the program evaluator of
necessities necessities of the
Scriven client

Opposition Opinions for Mixed Any aspect of External referee

consensus the program of the debate
Owens decision
(1973), Wolf

Artistic Critical Qualitative . Context External

criticism interpretation of stimulator of
Eisner (1981) educational . Emergent interpretations
actions processes

. Relations of


. Impact on


Chart 4 – Holistic model

Method / Evaluative Domi nante Content of Role of the

author purpose paradigm evaluation evaluator

Responsive Valuation of Qualitative Result of total External

Evaluation answer to debate on stimulator of the
Stake (1976) necessities of program interpretation for
participants individuals
Holistic Educational Qualitative Elements that External
evaluation interpretation for configure stimulator of the
MacDonald improvement educational interpretation for
(1976) action individuals
Evaluation as Illumination and Qualitative System of External
Illumination understanding of teaching and stimulator of the
Parlett and the program’s means of interpretation for
components learning individuals

Scriven (1994) also offers a classification of the “previously-mentioned models,” before introducing his
transdisciplinary perspective which will be commented on later. This author identifies six visions or alternative
approaches in the “explosive” phase of the models, in addition to others that he refers to as “exotic” that range from
models of jurisprudence to expert models. Next we succinctly comment on these visions and the “models” that are
attributed to them.
The strong decision-making vision (Vision A) provides the researching evaluator with the objective of reaching
evaluative conclusions that help he/she that should make decisions. Those that support this approach worry if the program
will reach its objectives, but they continue questioning if such objectives cover the necessities that they should cover. This
position is maintained, although not made explicit by Ralph Tyler and is extensively elaborated in the CIPP model
(Stufflebeam et al., 1971).
According to the Tylerian position, the decisions regarding a program should be based on the degree of coincidence
between the objectives and the results. The degree of change in students, which is usually the pursued objective, is the
evaluation criteria in this case.
Contrary to Tyler, Stufflebeam offers a wider perspective of the contents to be evaluated. The following are the four
dimensions that identify his model, context (C) where the program takes place or the location of the institution, inputs (I)
elements and initial resources, process (P) that is necessary to continue toward the goal and the product (P) that is
obtained. Also, it is established that the fundamental objective of evaluation research is improvement, decision-making for
the improvement of each of the four before-mentioned dimensions.
Scriven (1994) tells us that Stufflebeam has continued developing his perspective since the development of the CIPP.
However, one of his collaborators, Guba, took a different direction later on, just as we have seen when analyzing the
fourth generation of evaluation (Guba and Lincoln, 1989).
The weak vision of decision-making (Vision B) provides the evaluator with relevant information for the making of
decisions, but doesn't force him to produce critical or evaluative conclusions for the objectives of the programs. The most
genuine theoretical representative is Marv Alkin (1969) that defines evaluation as a factual process of collection and
generation of information at the service of the individual who makes the decisions, but it is this person that has to make
the evaluative conclusions. This position is logically popular among those that think that true science shouldn’t or cannot
enter into questions of value judgements. Alkin’s pattern is known as CSE (Center for the Study of Evaluation),
outlining the following phases: valuation of the necessities and fixation of the problem, planning of the program,
evaluation of the instrumentization, evaluation of progresses and evaluation of results.
The relativist vision (Vision C) also maintains the distance of the evaluative conclusions, but using the frame of the
clients' values, without a judgement on the part of the evaluator about those values or some reference to others. This
vision and the previous one have been the road that has allowed to many social scientists, integration without problems in
the “car” of evaluative research. In fact, one of the most utilized texts of evaluation in the field of social sciences (Rossi
and Freeman, 1993), utilizes this perspective.
Visions B and C are the positions of scientists connected to a free conception of scientific values. On the other hand,
those that subscribe vision A come from a different paradigm, probably due to their academic connection with history,
philosophy of education, compared education and educational administration.
Some years ago Alkin (1991) revised her positions from two decades ago, but continued without including the terms of
merit, value, or worth. He finishes defining a System of Information for the Administration (Management Information
System-MIS) for the use of the individual that makes decisions, but he doesn't offer valuations in this respect.
The simplest form of the relativist vision (Vision C) is the one developed in Malcolm Provus’ “discrepancy model” of
evaluation (1971). The discrepancies are the divergences with the sequence of projected tasks and the foreseen
temporization. This model is closely related to program control in the conventional sense; it is a type of simulation of an
The vision of the fertile, rich, complete description (Vision D) is that which understands evaluation like an ethnographic
or journalistic task in which the evaluator reports on what he/she sees without trying to produce valorative statements or to
infer evaluative conclusions, not even in the frame of the client's values as in the relativist vision. This vision has been
defended by Robert Stake as well as by many British theorists. It is a kind of naturalistic version of vision B, having
something of relativist flavor and sometimes appears to be a precursor of the vision of the fourth generation. It is based on
observation, in the observable, more than in inference. Recently it has been denominated as a vision of the solid, strong
description, to avoid the rich term that seems more evaluative.
In his first stage, Stake is tylerian in regard to evaluative conception centered on the outlined objectives, proposing the
countenance model (Stake, 1967), as a total image of the evaluation. This tour around the three components, antecedents,
transactions and results, elaborates two matrices of data, one of description and another of judgement. In that of
description, intentions are gathered from one side and the observations from the other and in the judgement matrix, the
norms, which are approved and the judgements, which are believed to be appropriate, are collected.
During the mid-seventies, Stake moves away from the tylerian tradition of concern for the objectives and revises his
evaluation method toward a position that he qualifies as “responsive” (Stake, 1975 and 1975a), assuming that the
objectives of the program can be modified over time with the purpose of offering a complete and holistic vision of the
program and to respond to the problems and real questions that are posed by those involved in the program. According to
Stufflebeam and Shinkfield (1987), this model made Stake the leader of a new school of evaluation that demands a model
that is pluralistic, flexible, interactive, holistic, subjective, and orientated to service. This model suggests “customer
service” proposed by Scriven (1973), valuing their necessities and expectations.
In a graphic way, Stake (1975a) proposes the phases of the method through a comparison of the hours on a clock,
putting the first one at twelve o’clock and continuing with the following phases in clockwise direction. These phases are
the following: 1) Speak with the clients, those responsible, and audiences, 2) Scope of the program, 3) Panorama of
activities, 4) Purposes and interests, 5) Questions and problems, 6) Data to investigate the problems, 7) Observers, judges
and instruments, 8) Antecedents, transactions and results, 9) Development of topics, descriptions and case studies, 10)
Validation (confirmation), 11) Outline for the audience and 12) Gathering of formal reports. The evaluator can also
follow the phases in a counterclockwise direction or in any other order.
In the responsive method the evaluator must interview the participants to know their points of view and to look for the
convergence of the diverse perspectives. The evaluator will interpret the opinions and differences in points of view
(Stecher and Davis, 1990) and present a wide range of opinions or judgements, instead of presenting his/her personal
The vision of social process (Vision E) that crystallized more than two decades ago around a group from Stanford
University, directed by Lee J. Cronbach (1980), plays down the importance of the summative orientation of evaluation
(external decisions about the programs and accountability), emphasizing the understanding, planning and improvement of
social programs to those that it serves. Their positions were clearly established in ninety-five theses that have had an
enormous diffusion between the evaluators and the users of the evaluations.
As for the contents of the evaluation, Cronbach (1983) proposes that the following elements are planned and controlled:
. Units (U) that are subjected to evaluation, individuals or participant groups.
. Treatment (T) of the evaluation.
. Operations (O) that the evaluator carries out for the collection and analysis of data, as well as for the elaboration
of conclusions.
. Context in which the program and its evaluation takes place.
In one specific evaluative research, several units, treatments, and operations can be given, that is, several (uto), inside a
(UTO) universe of acceptable situations.
Ernie House (1989), a theorists y practitioner of evaluation, quite independent of the latest trends in fashion, also
marked the social connection of the programs, but he was distinguished mainly for his emphasis of the most ethical and
argumentational dimensions of evaluation, perhaps motivated by the absence of these facets in Cronbach’s approaches
and his collaborators.
The constructivist vision of the fourth generation (Vision F) it is the last of these six visions that Scriven describes
(1994), being maintained by Guba and Lincoln (1989) and continued by many American and British evaluators. We have
already seen that this vision rejects an evaluation guided by the search for quality, merit, value, etc., and favors the idea
that it is the result of the construction by individuals and the negotiation of groups. According to Scriven this means that
all types of scientific knowledge are suspicious, debatable and non-objective. The same thing happens to all analytic
work, including his philosophical analysis. Scriven notes that Guba himself has always been aware of the potential “self-
contradictions” of his position.
From this revision made by Scriven, there are some evaluative positions traditionally gathered and delt with by analysts.
In this way, for example, Schuman (1967) offers an evaluative design based on the scientific method or, at least, in some
variation or adaptation of it. Owens (1973) and Wolf (1974 and 1975) propose an opposition method or discussion that
through a program, cause the emergence of two groups of evaluators, partisans and adversaries, to distribute pertinent
information for decision makers. Eisner (1971, 1975 and 1981) outlines the evaluation in terms similar to the process of
artistic criticism.
Scriven himself (1967 and 1973) proposed years ago to base evaluation on customer service and not so much on the
foreseen goals, given that the unforeseen achievements are frequently more important than those that figure in the
planning of the program. Because of this, he tends to denominate his focus as evaluation without goals. The evaluator
determines the value or merit of the program to inform the users; it is something similar to an informative middleman
(Scriven, 1980).
Evaluation as illumination (Parlett and Hamilton, 1977) has a holistic, descriptive and interpretive approach, with the
pretense of illumination on a complex range of questions that they are given in an interactive way (Fernández, 1991).
MacDonald’s democratic evaluation (1971 and 1976), also denominated holistic, supposes the collaborative participation
of those individuals involved, and contrast of opinions of the participants is presumed to be the fundamental evaluative
Scriven (1994) critically analyzes the six visions and shows himself to be closest to vision A, the strong vision on
decision-making, represented fundamentally by the CIPP model of Stufflebeam and his positions. He claims that it is the
one that comes closest to the common sense vision which is the one that working evaluators use in their own programs, in
the same way that doctors work with patients, making it the best thing possible, independently of the type and of the
patient's general state. Scriven wants to extend this vision with a vision or model that he denominates transdisciplinary
and that he qualifies as significantly different from the previously-mentioned vision A and radically different from the
In the transdisciplinary perspective, evaluation research has two components: the group of application fields of the
evaluation and the content of the discipline itself. Something similar to what happens to disciplines as the statistic and the
measurement. Definitively, evaluation research is a discipline that includes its own contents as well as those of many
other disciplines; its concern for analysis and improvement extends to many disciplines, making it transdisciplinary.
This vision is objectivist like vision A and it defends that the evaluator determines the merit or the value of the program,
of the personnel or of the researched products. In such a sense, it should be established in an explicit way and defend the
logic used in the inference of the evaluative conclusions, starting from the definitional and factual premises. Likewise, the
argumentational fallacies of the doctrine free of values should also be pursued (Evaluation Thesaurus, 1991).
Secondly, the transdisciplinary perspective is centered on the consumer rather than the agent or intermediary. The
perspective is not exclusive to the consumer, but it does consider the consumer first as a justification of the program. In
addition, it considers common good a primacy of evaluation. Beginning here, valuable information is also produced for
the agent who decides and can analyze the results of a particular program or institution in relation to its initial objectives.
This position not only lends legitimacy to the researcher when generating evaluative conclusions, but also creates a
necessity to perform such an analysis in the majority of cases.
It is also a widespread vision, though not exactly a general vision, that includes the generalization of concepts in the
field of knowledge and practice. From this perspective, evaluation research is much more than the evaluation of
programs, processes, and institutions and impacts in many other objects. In a more detailed way, this widespread vision
means that:
a) The distinctive application fields of the discipline are the programs, personnel, achievements, products,
projects, administration, and the metaevaluación of everything.
b) Evaluation research impacts in all types of disciplines and the resulting practices.
c) Evaluation research is conducted on levels, from practical to conceptual.
d) The different fields of evaluation research have many levels of interconnection and overlapping. The
evaluation of programs, personal, centers, etc., have many aspects in common.
The fourth distinct element of the transdisciplinary perspective of evaluation is that it concentrates on a technical
vision. Evaluation not only requires technical support from many other disciplines, but it includes its own unique
methodology. To conduct a proper evaluation, it probably is not necessary to be a great specialist in auxilliary techniques
and their processes of results synthesis, consequences, and their placement in the evaluation process as a whole; however,
it is a necessity to have a thorough general understanding.
This transdisciplinary perspective of Scriven’s evaluation research (1994), coincides in great measure with the positions
that we have defended in other moments (Escudero, 1996). We don't have positions contrary to the other visions in the
same measure that Scriven does and, in fact, we consider from a pragmatic position that all the visions have strong points
and that in any event, they contribute something useful to the conceptual understanding and the development of evaluation
research. However, we do think that this modern vision of Scriven is solid and coherent and broadly accepted at the
present time.
A critique could be made of this position of Scriven concerning the excessive relative emphasis placed on client
orientation, that is in the user in the strict sense. We think that this orientation should be integrated inside an orientation
to individuals involved, where different types and different audiences exist and, of course, the users in the sense of
Scriven is one of the most important, but it seems to us that evaluative research today has a more plural high-priority
orientation than that which is defended by this author.

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Myth 1: The central purpose of teacher evaluation is to improve teachers and teaching. The truth is that there is scarce
research to suggest that evaluation causes teacher growth. Rather, teachers will improve if you give them enough TIME to
work on good ideas: uninterrupted time with students, time to plan and implement what is already known, and sufficient
discretionary time to be full human beings. There are other very good reasons to evaluate: to document current good
practice, reassure teachers of a needed and effective job, reassure audiences, identify good teaching practices for
emulation, and prevent bad evaluation practices.

Myth 2: Better teacher evaluation is just a better rating instrument or framework of teacher behaviors. The truth is that
educators do not agree on what should be included in any single catalog of teacher performances or competencies, none
could encompass all of what the open-ended nature of teaching should have, teachers are effective using different sets of
small numbers of behaviors, and teachers work in varied contexts which call for different competency sets. Comprehensive
frameworks, descriptions, systems analysis, and lists of duties (e.g., Danielson, 1996; Heath & Nelson, 1974; Scriven,
1988) help build understanding of good teaching, but they don't cause good evaluation.

Myth 3: Excellent teaching is accomplished by strong performance of 22 (or 27 or 60) components of teaching. Rather, a
good teacher performs three or four components extremely well, adequately performs some others, and (to be honest)
poorly or spottily performs many other things that a teacher is "supposed" to do. Doing a few things well at the moment
carries the entire performances of teaching and learning; the other possible performances simply don't matter at the given
time in the real human world of a classroom. It is a misleading strategy to try to assess every possible component, duty,
competency, or element of a teacher performance at a point in time in order to understand the overall quality of that

Myth 4: Specific a priori goals (unique to individual or from a general framework) are needed to evaluate a teacher.
Rather, good teaching can be documented after the teaching has been done by highlighting the actual specific outcomes,
performances, or preparations that played a role in that specific teacher performance.

Myth 5: A uniform system of teacher evaluation is essential: all teachers should be evaluated the same way. The reality is
that teachers are good for different constellations of reasons. They work in quite different settings, with different kinds of
demands and criteria for quality. Also, we just cannot get all the information we might want for each instance of teacher
evaluation. Fairness demands that all teachers have an equal opportunity to document their quality in the ways most
appropriate to them.

Myth 6: Pupil achievement data cannot be used in teacher evaluation, or they can be used for all teachers. Rather, we can
get good pupil achievement data for some but not all teachers in a district; and the teacher evaluation system should reflect
the state-of-the-art of data availability.

Myth 7: Teacher quality can be objectively measured and known by using a sufficiently accurate checklist and rating
scheme, or by comparing pupil achievement test scores. Rather, all evaluation is subjective. However, there is good
subjectivity and bad subjectivity. Good subjectivity is (a) based on the best objective evidence available, (b) controlled for
individual bias, (c) involves the interested audiences, and (d) employs some public logic.

Myth 8: Teacher Evaluation and Staff Development are inextricably bound together. The reality is that these are two
important, but independent, programs.

Myth 9: The principal is the only and best evaluator. Rather, others can provide information or opinion, and should be
involved. Peer teachers, clients, and comparative norms all play a role.

Myth 10: Bad teachers cannot be dismissed. The reality is that action on unsatisfactory teachers is a principal duty which
is widely expected by lay public, parents, teachers, the legal system, and some school districts. It is difficult (and
expensive), and should be, to badly dismiss a deficient teacher or to dismiss a good teacher. However, principals can
effectively team with other district personnel to act on the small number of deficient teachers.



Although technical questions of teacher evaluation are the most frequently addressed by researchers, still other concerns
need to be examined. The most technically excellent teacher evaluation system can be installed in a school district, but be
doomed to failure if the sociological dynamics are not addressed. Sociological problems concern the effects of the larger
social structure (e.g., expectations, norms, power) on the behavior of individuals and subgroups within that structure
(Goodman, 1992; Homans, 1950, 1961; Larsen, 1962; Parsons, 1937, 1964). Sociological dynamics often describe the real
world fate of teacher evaluation programs better than a systems analysis flow chart, theoretical formulations about effective
teaching behavior or duties, or exhortations to increased professional behavior. Educational sociologists, such as Cusick
(1973), Jackson (1968), Lortie (1975), and Johnson (1990), have shown how workplace culture powerfully shapes
educational and evaluation practice. Sociological interventions in teacher evaluation largely determine whether the
organizational structure elicits compliance and support for the technical procedures, or actions contrary to the goals of the
organization and participant efforts to defeat the evaluation program itself. Sociological perspectives are under represented
in most research and development in teacher evaluation.

Selected Sociological Constructs

Having Implications and Applications for School Teacher Evaluation

Alienation Control Expectation Norm

Anomie Culture Function Power
Approval Emergent Gemeinschaft/ Relationship
Author/Pawn phenomenon Gesellschaft Reward
Authoritative Endemic Information Role
reassurance uncertainty Influence Sanction
Authority Energy Innovation Sentiment
Charisma Entrepreneurship Investment Status
Coercion Equilibrium Justice Symbol
Contract Exchange Leadership Value



The politics of teacher evaluation is largely a matter of local controversy (Kimbrough, 1964). However, one national level
political debate concerning education does have implications for teacher evaluation practice. The charge that schools are
declining in quality makes a difference in how teachers should be evaluated. For example, a true crisis in quality would call
for more use of mandatory techniques, and fewer options for teachers as recommended at this website.

A Nation At Risk (National Commission on Excellence in Education, 1983) began a series of national policy documents
that claimed that the performance of U.S. schools was in great decline. The complaints of these influential reports included
falling achievement as evidenced by lower standardized test scores, unfavorable international comparisons, and inadequate
performance of U.S. public school graduates in the workplace. The role of teachers in these critiques varied, but in no case
was the teacher seen as a well functioning, valuable contributor. This negative view of U.S. schools and teachers became
generally accepted in the lay public, media, and government (Lind, 1997; Schrag, 1997).

The Sandia Report (Carson, Huelskamp, & Woodall, 1993) was the first academic analysis of the question of school and
graduate quality. The findings of this research group were quite unequivocal: the evidence for decline in quality simply
does not exist. Rather, the data point to either constant levels, or even slight increase in some subgroups. Other studies
began to confirm this more optimistic view (Berliner & Biddle, 1995). Finally, popular journalists began to take up the
corrections (Applebome, 1995; Schrag, 1997).

If the critiques of school and teacher quality were not based upon a preponderance of the data, what reasons can be
advanced for their sudden and widespread appearance? Lind (1997), a political journalist, called these controversies "an
intersection of scholarship and politics" (p. 158), rather than rational analysis. Further, he presented evidence that the
"sacrifice of objectivity to political expediency has gone beyond the normal tendency of partisans of all persuasions to
stack evidence in favor of policies they prefer" (p. 157). Lind suggested that partisan politics were behind the critiques,
rather than scholarly, rational, or objective decision-making politics. For example, the interests of organizations or office-
seeking candidates can be advanced by diatribes against public schools. Spring (1997), a political scientist, added that a
sense of crisis serves the interests of many points of view in the process of educational policy making. For example,
liberals interested in securing more money for schools can use the sense of crisis as justification. Others interested in
private schools or vouchers use the claim of crisis as backing for their preferred changes. Table 1 summarizes reasons for
partisan critiques of education, rather than objective, scholarly, or rational debate.

TABLE 1 Reasons for "Partisan" Rather than "Objective," "Scholarly," or "Rational" Debate on School Quality
Justify government financial support for private schools where religious
and political expressions can be made (e.g., creationism, prayer)
Acquire votes for candidates of certain political groups, parties
Acquire financial contributions for certain political groups, parties,
Advocate school control centralization vs. local control
Advocate large scale standardized testing
Emphasize school curriculum for work preparation, international
competition, economic development
Advocate Standards-based education
Sense of crisis important to stimulate educational reform
Sense of crisis important to increase school resources

Political debate and decision-making concerning the quality of U.S. schools directly affects teacher evaluation thinking and
practice. If schools, and by association their teachers, are declining in quality then emphasis should be given to goals and
procedures which halt the erosion. Table 2 shows issues at stake in the debate.


Differences in Teacher Evaluation if Quality is Declining or Stable

If Teacher Quality is Stable or

If Teacher Quality is Declining
Goal: Document current
Goal: Improve teachers effectiveness

Goal: Identify incompetent Goal: Identify incompetent only

teachers minor goal

Discriminate among teachers Highlight effective practice

Reward best teachers Acknowledge best practices, best

Mandate evaluation practices
Give teachers choices



The System should:

1. Conform to state statutes concerning educator evaluation.

2. Be understood, credible, valued, and used by District personnel, Board, and community.

3. Supply information about educator quality for accountability, educator planning, retention decisions, and public and
professional dissemination.

4. Recognize and acknowledge good teaching, reassure practitioners and audiences, highlight exemplary practices for
emulation, inform hiring practices, and foster improvement.

5. Include formative, summative, and monitoring functions.

6. Be based upon the best objective evidence available, control bias, and involve the interested audiences. Value the use of
multiple and variable data sources.

7. Promote equality of opportunity for student learning.

8. Include the central involvement of individual educators and their responsi-bility for their own professional evaluation.
Promote equality of opportu-nity for professional practice and documentation of merit, value, and impact.

9. Be based on role expectations derived from national professional standards.1

10. Meet professional standards for sound evaluation, including propriety (ethical and legal), utility (useable and effective),
feasibility (practical, effi-cient, and cost-effective), and accuracy (valid and reliable).2

11. Support fairness and the rights of both educators and the institution.3

12. Include all categories of personnel, and be supported by assessment of other educational components that influence
student achievement (e.g., curricu-lum, facilities, materials, technology, resources, community support). The District
should show balance in assessing students, staff, and programs, and reciprocity and parallelism in rigor and frequency of

13. In cases of poor practice, to supply specific information for effective remediation, or to make a case for dismissal.

14. Be subject itself to evaluation, validation, refinement, and updating.

1National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (1996). What teachers should know and be able to do. Detroit, MI:
2Joint Committee on Standards for Educational Evaluation (1988). D.L. Stufflebeam (Chair),The personnel evaluation
standards. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
3 Strike, K. & Bull, B. (1981). Fairness and the legal context of teacher evalua-tion. In J. Millman (Ed.), Handbook of
teacher evaluation (pp. 301-343). Beverly Hills: Sage.


An evaluation of each instructor is to be done on a regular basis, both announced and unannounced, but no
less than once a year. It is an opportunity for the director to become acquainted with the teacher’s
instructional style and abilities. It may result in suggestions for improvement, as well as commendations for
specific strengths. It is also an opportunity for the instructor to provide feedback on the evaluation and to
develop dialog between the director and the instructor. An awareness of the quality of instruction in your
institution may assist in preventing problems in the classroom.
An evaluation of each instructor is to be done on a regular basis, both announced and unannounced, but no
less than once a year. It is an opportunity for the director to become acquainted with the teacher’s
instructional style and abilities. It may result in suggestions for improvement, as well as commendations for
specific strengths. It is also an opportunity for the instructor to provide feedback on the evaluation and to
develop dialog between the director and the instructor. An awareness of the quality of instruction in your
institution may assist in preventing problems in the classroom.

An evaluation of each instructor is to be done on a regular basis, both announced and unannounced, but no
less than once a year. It is an opportunity for the director to become acquainted with the teacher’s
instructional style and abilities. It may result in suggestions for improvement, as well as commendations for
specific strengths. It is also an opportunity for the instructor to provide feedback on the evaluation and to
develop dialog between the director and the instructor. An awareness of the quality of instruction in your
institution may assist in preventing problems in the classroom.


Teacher __________________________ Course ________________

No. of Students _____

Length of Visit ___________________ Date of Visit____________________

Mark each item according to the following scale:

G=Good I=Improvement Desired N=Not Observed U=Unsatisfactory

A. Teaching Techniques

1. Utilizes notebook and/or other guides effectively. __________

2. Demonstrates sufficient mastery of content. __________

3. Makes effective use of a variety of available materials. __________

4. Makes clear, practical demonstrations. __________

5. Provides for student participation. __________

6. Uses logical, purposeful and though-provoking questions. __________

7. Provides interesting and adequate reinforcement. __________

8. Varies procedures in working with pupils of varying abilities. __________

9. Provides motivation. __________

B. Effective Planning

1. Displays evidence of teacher preparation. __________

2. Directions to students are clearly thought out and well stated. __________

3. Materials for class are organized and available. __________

4. Provides enrichment and/or remediation where needed. __________

5. Is aware of adequate pacing. __________

6. Carefully plans student assignments. __________

C. Student/Teacher Relationships

1. Maintains student interest and attention. __________

2. Works constructively with individual or group. __________

3. Manages routine so as to avoid confusion. __________

4. Exhibits poise, voice control, and tact. __________

5. Graciously accepts less than "right" response with slow students. __________

6. Uses positive statements to students. __________

7. Makes supportive statements to students. __________

8. Maintains a friendly and respectful teacher-student relationship. __________

D. Classroom Environment

1. Environment is generally neat and attractive. __________

2. Teacher is aware of proper heat, light, and ventilation. __________

E. Commendable Features

F. Suggestions for Improvement

G. Instructor’s Comments

Director Date

Instructor Date


2008-09 Teacher Evaluation

( For Spring 2009, Fall 2009, or Spring 2010 Enrollment )

After completing all the relevant questions below, give this form to a teacher who has taught you an academic subject (for example, English, foreign
math, science, or social studies). Please also give that teacher stamped envelopes addressed to each institution that requires a Teacher Evaluation.
Legal name ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Last/Family (Enter name exactly as it appears on official documents.)
Middle (complete)
Jr., etc.
Birth date __________________________________________________________________ Social Security # _____________________________________
Address ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Number & Street Apartment #
ZIP/Postal Code
School you now attend ________________________________________________________ CEEB/ACT code _____________________________________
Please detach along perfora
/ 2008-09
The Common Application membership finds candid evaluations helpful in choosing from among highly qualified candidates. A photocopy of this reference form,
or another reference you may have prepared on behalf of this student, is acceptable. You are encouraged to keep the original of this form in your private files for
use should the student need additional recommendations. Please return it to the appropriate admission office(s) in the envelope(s) provided to you by this student.
Please submit your references promptly. Be sure to sign below.
Teacher’s name (Mr./Ms./Dr., etc.) ________________________________________________ Subject taught _______________________________________
Please print or type
Signature _________________________________________________________________________________________________ Date _____________________
Secondary school _______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
School address ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Number & Street
ZIP/Postal Code
Teacher’s phone (_______) ____________________________________________________ Teacher’s e-mail _____________________________________
Area Code
Background Information
How long have you known this student and in what context? _______________________________________________________________________________
What are the first words that come to your mind to describe this student? _____________________________________________________________________
List the courses you have taught this student, noting for each the student’s year in school (10th, 11th, 12th; first-year, sophomore; etc.) and the level of course
(AP, IB, accelerated, honors, elective; 100-level, 200-level, etc.).
No, I do not waive my right to access, and I may someday choose to see this form or any other recommendations or supporting documents submitted by me
or on my behalf to the institution at which I'm enrolling, if that institution saves them after I matriculate.
Signature _____________________________________________________________________________________________ Date ___________________

Please write whatever you think is important about this student, including a description of academic and personal characteristics, as demonstrated in
your classroom. We welcome information that will help us to differentiate this student from others. (Feel free to attach an additional sheet or another reference you
have prepared on behalf of this student.)
Academic achievement
Intellectual promise
Quality of writing
Creative, original thought
Productive class discussion
Respect accorded by faculty
Disciplined work habits
Reaction to setbacks
Concern for others
Initiative, independence
No basis
Below average
(above average)
One of the top few
I’ve encountered
(top 1%)
(top 10%)
very good
(well above
IMPORTANT PRIvACY NOTICE: Under the terms of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), after you matriculate you will have access to
this form
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Implementing Teacher Evaluation Systems:
How Principals Make Sense of Complex Artifacts to Shape
Local Instructional Practice
Richard Halverson
Carolyn Kelley
Steven Kimball
University of Wisconsin-Madison
This study examines how local school leaders make sense of complex programs designed to
evaluate teachers and teaching. New standards-based teacher evaluation policies promise to
provide school leaders and teachers with a common framework that can serve as a basis for
improving teaching and learning in schools (Danielson & McGreal, 2000; Odden & Kelley,
2002). However, implementation research suggests that the ways in which local actors make
sense of and use such policies determines the nature of the changes that actually occur in
schools (Desimone, 2002; Spillane, Reiser, & Reimer, 2002). In this paper, case studies of
schools in a large school district are used to examine school-level implementation of a
standards-based teacher evaluation system. Specifically, we examine the ways in which
school and district leaders emphasize and select from the many features of a teacher
evaluation framework in the implementation process. We then discuss the ways in which key
features of the process were co-opted, ignored, or adapted in accordance with school context,
and we point to how the resulting teacher evaluation practices help to create conditions for
more substantive conversations about reforming teaching practice.
To appear in
Educational Administration, Policy and Reform: Research and Measurement
Research and Theory in Educational Administration, Volume 3.
W.K. Hoy and C. G. Miskel (Eds.)
Greenwich, CT.: Information Age Press. 2004
While it is generally acknowledged that teachers exert great influence over the
improvement of student learning (Darling-Hammond & Ball, 1997; Wright, Horn & Sanders,
1997), the role that school leaders play in shaping system capacity for successful teaching
and learning is often underappreciated (Murphy, 1994; Hallinger & Heck 1996; Elmore
2002). For the most part, principals affect instruction indirectly, through practices such as the
acquisition and allocation of resources, supporting and encouraging staff, enforcing rules for
student conduct, or taking personal interest in the professional development process
(Berends, et. al., 2002; Peterson, 1989). However, principals can also affect teaching practice
directly through teacher supervision and evaluation. Evaluation is a formal means for school
leaders to communicate organizational goals, conceptions of teaching, standards, and values
to teachers (Wise, Darling-Hammond, McLaughlin & Bernstein, 1984).
Teacher Evaluation Frameworks
Teacher evaluation is a common, often mandatory practice in schools. The traditional
programs and practices of teacher evaluation, however, are based on limited or competing
conceptions of teaching (Darling-Hammond, Wise, & Klein, 1999), and are often
characterized by inaccuracy, lack of support (Peterson, 1995) and insufficient training (Loup,
Garland, Ellett, & Rugutt, 1996). Traditional teacher evaluation practices tend to preserve the
loose coupling between administration and instructional practices, consequently limiting the
ability of principals to foster improvements in teaching and learning (Weick, 1976; 1996;
Rowan 1990). Rather than being used as tools for instructional leadership, traditional
evaluation programs are often seen as perfunctory and treated by both teachers and principals
as an administrative burden. Teacher assessment has frequently been used to weed out the
poorest performing teachers rather than to hold all teachers accountable or to improve the
performance of all teachers (Darling-Hammond et al., 1999; Haney, Madaus & Kreitzer,
1987). Because of these traditional limits on scope and efficacy, teacher evaluation has had a
limited impact on teacher performance and learning (Peterson, 1995; Darling-Hammond,
Wise & Pease, 1983).
A number of districts developed evaluation systems based on teaching standards to
address these concerns. These new systems focus evaluation on a common vision of teaching
elaborated across broad domains of practice, comprehensive standards and rubrics, and
multiple-sources of evidence (Kimball, 2003; Milanowski & Heneman, 2001; Davis, Pool, &
Mits-Cash, 2000). One such model, Danielson’s (1996) Enhancing Professional Practice: A
Framework for Teaching, develops standards to assess and promote teacher development
across career stages, school levels, subject matter fields, and performance levels. The
framework is organized into four domains of planning and preparation, the classroom
environment, instruction, and professional responsibilities. These domains include 22
components spelled out by 66 elements to specify a range of appropriate behaviors. Each
element includes rubrics to assess unsatisfactory, basic, proficient, and distinguished
performance. The framework is also intended to foster teachers’ development by specifying
techniques for assessing each aspect of practice, a program of evaluator training, and
emphasis on using the framework to include formative as well as summative evaluation
(Danielson & McGreal, 2000).
Prior research on the implementation of this type of standards-based teacher
evaluation system has examined the initial perceptions of teacher and administrator
acceptance (Milanowski & Heneman, 2001; Davis, Pool, & Mits-Cash, 2000), the nature of
feedback, enabling conditions and fairness perceptions (Kimball, 2003) and the relationship
of these evaluation systems to student achievement (Gallagher, 2002). Yet we know
relatively little about how local school leaders actually use such systems in practice, which
features they select from the frameworks to emphasize in their evaluations, and how they
adapt the systems to existing evaluation practices. In this paper, we use sensemaking theory
as a lens to examine how local school leaders use the framework to shape teaching practices
in schools. This knowledge will help policy makers and school leaders to better understand
both obstacles and opportunities afforded by comprehensive teacher evaluation frameworks.
Sensemaking theory addresses the cognitive dimensions of change in people and
organizations (Spillane, Reiser, & Reimer, 2002; Weick, 1996). Sensemaking begins with the
constructivist assumption that learning is shaped by prior experience (Greeno, Collins, &
Resnick, 1996; Confrey, 1990). Through experience, people build mental models to
anticipate regular patterns of action in the world (Gentner & Stevens 1983; Hammer & Elby
2002). Mental models act as perceptual filters that help to determine both what we notice,
and how it is interpreted (Starbuck & Milliken, 1988). Our models shape what we notice in
new experiences, and can override the potential of new ideas to transform behavior (Cohen &
Barnes, 1993). The impact of new ideas can be either marginalized or co-opted by
preexisting practices and ideas (Chinn & Brewer, 1993; Keisler & Sproull, 1982). The
tendency to interpret the new in terms of the old may lead people to attend to the surface
similarities of new concepts and practices instead of attending to the deeper, structural
differences (Gentner, Ratterman & Forbus, 1993; Ross, 1987). People also tend to retain
practices they value, and value the practices they retain.
The sense we make of new information is also shaped by our social and situational
context (Greeno, 1998). Organizations and institutions routinize existing models through
policies, programs, and traditions. Thus, the intended effects of innovations are not
necessarily altered by the malice or laziness of implementers, but instead by the best efforts
of local actors seeking to satisfice conflicting goals (Spillane, Reiser, & Reimer 2002,
Fischoff 1975; March & Simon, 1958). Actors make sense of new practices within their
existing social and situational context, and often adjust the meaning of the new in terms of
their established context of meaning.
Our cognitive models, however, are not rigid structures that determine what we notice
and name. Rather, our models interact with our perceptions and experience in an iterative
process through which new experiences can come to shape our existing models. Successful
learning requires an active process of readjusting mental schema to what we already know
(Carey, 1985; Schank & Abelson, 1977). The tenacious hold our existing ideas have on what
we notice and name can require an experience of expectation failure to jolt us into
reconstructing our network of assumptions (Schank, 1982). In organizations, new policies
and programs can provide this jolt to existing practice, encouraging practitioners to reframe
their practice in terms of the new expectations. The ways that practitioners make sense new
initiatives in terms of pre-existing models make the implementation of new, complex
programs a far from linear and predictable process.
Artifacts as a Window on Sensemaking
Because of its iterative and transitory nature, the sensemaking process has proven to
be difficult to research. One way to access sensemaking is to identify occasions when
existing models are perturbed by interventions (Bronfenbrenner, 1979). Leaders and policy-
makers introduce policies and programs into organizations to reshape existing practices. In
these cases, policies and programs can be understood as sophisticated artifacts intended to
shape or reform existing practices in an institutional context (Pea, 1993; Norman, 1993;
Wartofsky, 1979; Halverson & Zoltners, 2001). Organizational artifacts originate from
different locations. Artifacts such as district policies, state and federal programs, and teacher
professional networks originate outside the local school context, whereas other artifacts
originate within the school as locally designed efforts to resolve emergent and/or recurrent
problems of practice (Halverson, 2002). Taken together, the network of received and locally
designed artifacts composes a local situation that both facilitates and constitutes local
leadership and teaching practice (Spillane, Halverson & Diamond, 2001).
Artifacts have several features important for understanding sensemaking. First,
artifacts are designed in order to shape practice in certain ways. The consequent effect on
practice, however, is not a direct translation of artifact features to desired outcomes. Those
who use artifacts perceive certain features as affordances (Gibson, 1986; Norman, 1993) that
support a certain range of actions. Affordances are an actor’s perception of the ways the
artifact can be used in practice. The actual use of a complex artifact, such as a teacher
evaluation policy, depends not only on the features built into the design of the artifact, but
also on affordances of artifact use perceived by actors. The affordances perceived by local
actors determine which features of the artifact are implemented. For example, an artifact that
features evaluation in multiple domains of practice can afford a more comprehensive
approach to teacher assessment by addressing out-of-classroom as well as classroom practice.
The availability of these features does not mean the artifact will be used as intended. For
example, an evaluator could focus only on classroom teaching behaviors while effectively

ignoring out-of-classroom behaviors. In the hands of another evaluator, however, the

evaluation artifact could afford a better-rounded assessment of professional practice.
Artifacts can also serve to constrain behavior (Norman, 1993). Like affordances, constraints
are perceptions of artifact features that limit or qualify behaviors. Teacher union contracts,
for example, often constrain evaluator action by permitting a maximum of two formal
observation occasions during the school year. While certain affordances and constraints are
built into artifacts by design, the challenge of implementation rests on the interests and
abilities of local actors to identify and exploit the intended artifact features.
An artifact-based approach to the analysis of implementation focuses on how local
leaders select certain features of complex artifacts as affordances and consider other features
as constraints. Policy artifacts are introduced into schools not only to alter existing practices,
but also to enhance the capacity of local actors to understand their work in new ways and to
alter the organizational conditions of the work. A sensemaking perspective highlights how
the introduction of complex artifacts draws upon and contributes to the evolution and
interaction of individual understanding and local capacity.
School principals play a key role in how evaluation artifacts are implemented. In
many school districts, administrative certification is required for performing teacher
evaluations. Principals shoulder most of the burden of teacher evaluation processes. We use
the concepts of principal will and skill and organizational structure to capture the interplay
between actors and the school context. The principal’s capacity for innovation is measured
in terms of individual will and skill to enact new practices. Will refers to the level of
motivation of the local leader to implement the artifact. Leaders who have had a role or stake
in the development of the artifact, and those who view instructional leadership as core to
their role may be more likely to embrace the artifact, emphasizing its affordances and
deemphasizing the constraints it may impose. Skill is the ability of leaders to engage in the
intended practice. From a sensemaking perspective, skill levels are determined by the
relevant experience of the leader as well as by the training received for the intended practice.
Will and skill are not generic capacities appropriately activated in predictable ways. From a
sense making perspective, the availability of will and skill depends critically on how actors
interpret the need for action in a given situation.
In addition to the will and skill of individuals, local leadership capacity is framed by
the context of organizational structures, such as pre-existing practices and available
resources, to support innovative practice. Leadership capacity is determined by the prior
context of practice, including pre-existing similar practices, constraints on innovation, and
multiple professional responsibilities. Our sensemaking perspective emphasizes how a
leader’s perception of structural possibilities, in the form of artifact affordances and
constraints, bear on implementation. In the example of teacher evaluation offered above, the
perceived needs and capacity of the local situation help to shape both a local leader’s will to
enact difficult features of a complex evaluation program, and her skill in fully implementing
the artifact. Organizational capacity is both shown and determined through the material and
temporal resources perceived necessary to support the implementation process.
This study focuses on the ways that school leaders make sense of a complex district
teacher evaluation artifact in their local school setting. We chose a case study approach to
collect, interpret and present our data. Case studies provide opportunities to explore practices
in depth, and to understand the complex interactions that characterize local systems (Stake,
1995). In order to make comparisons across cases, we chose to develop three cases of schools
within a single district, faced with similar pressures to implement district policies.
Site selection
The study takes place in a large school district in the Western United States, which
we refer to as Valle Verde Unified.
The district was chosen because it has made a
substantial effort to implement a standards-based teacher evaluation system based on the
framework for teaching (Danielson, 1996). The framework interested the district because it
addressed criticisms of traditional teacher evaluation models by incorporating more
sophisticated and elaborate evidence gathering and by providing feedback to enhance
teaching practice for teachers at all skill levels and career stages.
We adopted a multi-dimensional approach to investigating how school leaders made
sense of the teacher evaluation system. The data collected for the study include:
• interviews with district leaders and with principals and teachers from 7 elementary, 4
middle and 3 high schools in the district, for a total of 14 schools;
• written teacher evaluations in each school; and
• data describing the local demographic environment and instructional contexts.
Fourteen schools were selected from the district’s elementary, middle and high
schools. We consulted with a district representative to choose schools with a range of
socioeconomic contexts and perceived levels of acceptance of the evaluation reform. Other
schools were randomly sampled from among the remaining schools available.
Data Analysis
We began our analysis by examining themes that emerged from interviews conducted
in all 14 schools. We searched for patterns in the how the artifact was used to support the
principal’s role as evaluator and instructional leader. The triangulation of principal self-
reports with (a) teacher and district administrator interviews, (b) teacher assessment scores
and (c) written (narrative) teacher evaluations provide multiple sources of data to understand
principal perceptions of the constraints and affordances presented by the evaluation
Analysis of the data collected from the 14 schools shaped our selection of an
elementary, middle and high school for more detailed case analysis of leadership sense
making. We developed a coding scheme iteratively to allow patterns to emerge from the data.
The coding scheme enabled us to explore the programmatic context, characteristics of the
implementation process, local perceptions of artifact affordances and constraints, the impact
of the evaluation system on principals, teachers and on the school, and local perceptions of
artifact utility. After coding the data, we constructed three school cases to describe the
implementation process in each school. The cases were then analyzed to reveal shared and
unique characteristics of the sensemaking and implementation process.
In the following sections, we present a summary of findings from the teacher
evaluation experiences in the 14 schools sampled in the district, including perceptions of
administrators and teachers of system features and implementation. Following an analysis of
the experiences across the schools, we provide illustrative case descriptions of the ways in
which three Valle Verde schools implemented the new teacher evaluation framework. Each
school case includes a brief demographic background, a description of the evaluator’s
perspective, an outline of the evaluation process, a summary of the written evaluation forms,
and an account of the evaluators’ and teachers’ perceptions of the utility of the process.
Experiences Across the District
The evaluation system at Valle Verde, based on the Framework for Teaching
(Danielson, 1996), was implemented in 2000 following three years of planning and field-
testing. In contrast to the prior system, the new approach represented a more comprehensive
set of teaching standards, with explicit performance rubrics, and multiple sources of
evidence. The new district policy required that all teachers participate an evaluation cycle of
a) a goal setting meeting, b) a pre-observation meeting, c) the observation, and d) discussion
of the observation write-up. The cycle was organized around the district-developed
evaluation model. The number of observations ranged from nine times per year for
beginning, or probationary, teachers to single observations for experienced, or post-
probationary, teachers. Key findings relating to principal and teacher interview responses,
written evaluations and evaluation decision-making in the 14 schools are summarized below:
Principal responses. Teachers and school leaders alike felt the evaluation system
provided the opportunity to observe and reflect on teaching practice. Principal perceptions of
the evaluation system ranged from an opportunity to develop morale or team building in the
school to a significant time-management problem or a mandate that needed accommodation.
Compared to the previous, open-ended system at Valle Verde, principals who viewed
themselves as strong instructional leaders felt constrained by the specificity of the new
system. Other principals liked the clarity of the new system for providing guidance on the
focus of evaluation. Most principals viewed evaluation as a time management challenge, with
increased meetings required and more paperwork requirements. Some made adjustments by
streamlining their evaluation approach or cutting back on the amount and types of evaluation
evidence. Others made changes to build in more time at school for evaluation activities.
More details about the district evaluation policy are available in Appendix A.
Many gave up significant personal time to complete all of the evaluations. Each principal
saw merits in the system despite the widespread belief that teacher evaluation itself was not a
primary force improving teaching. Most evaluators adhered to the basic evaluation
procedures and tried to complete the goal-setting session, the required number of
observations, and the post-observation conferences.
Teacher responses. Teachers were largely positive about the feedback they received
as a result of evaluation. With a few exceptions, feedback was seen as frequent, timely, and
positive. Teachers cited specific examples of feedback that they utilized to change aspects of
their instruction. Most said that their evaluator was qualified to provide feedback. However,
in a few cases, teachers felt their evaluators were not adequately qualified to evaluate
content-based pedagogy. In particular, evaluators who lacked instructional skills (e.g., those
with a background in physical education, special education, or business) were not perceived
as having the ability to evaluate instructional content decisions or pedagogical content
knowledge. Few claimed dramatic change in instructional practice as a result of the
evaluation process, but teachers were positive about the specific changes to theirs practice
such as better questioning techniques, use of materials, and improved student engagement.
Overall, teachers were positive about interactions with their principals and other
evaluators. Several post-probationary teachers remarked that their ability to select their
evaluation domain contributed to the fairness, but not necessarily the accuracy of the
evaluation. Others said that the principal or other evaluator set the stage for fairness by
actively seeking dialogue with the teacher about the evaluation rating and getting the
teachers’ input. Several spoke of the principal encouraging teachers to offer other evidence if
they disagreed with a rating.
Nature of evidence used in the evaluation. There was variation in the evidence
gathered across evaluators. The evidence primarily consisted of class observations and
related discussions. Although lesson plans and student artifacts were required to be
collected, they did not appear to be systematically gathered or analyzed. In addition, some
evaluators skipped the goal-setting session and either left out the goal-setting process or
combined it with the post-observations conference (for the next series of observations).
The evaluation system was perceived as a low-stakes, formative artifact. Principals
emphasized praise in written evaluations and provided ‘gentle’ criticisms if they criticized
teachers at all. The district evaluation form contained an area for rating based on a number of
rubrics and space for a narrative evaluation. Very little critical feedback was provided either
through evaluation scores or in narratives. Principals did not assign an unsatisfactory rating
in any of the 485 written evaluations we reviewed. For evaluation decisions, some principals
evaluated teacher performance by comparing the teacher’s practice to the proficient level
(Level 2), and adjusted scores as evidence warranted. Others allowed scores to evolve more
naturally from their analysis of the evidence. Narrative feedback was affirmative and seemed
intended to foster reflection and growth. Written evaluations provided by elementary and
middle school principals in many cases included longer narratives, despite often having more
staff to evaluate than middle or high school principals. High school evaluations contained
minimal written feedback, usually one to three sentences, even though the evaluation role
was shared in high schools. Most evaluators allowed considerable teacher input into what
would be observed and into the performance ratings (e.g., teachers could bring additional
evidence to bear in the decision).
The analysis of the data from across the district revealed a substantial investment by
district and local school leaders in designing and implementing the teacher evaluation
framework. Many teachers and leaders were grateful for the opportunity to talk about their
teaching. However, the reception of the artifact into local school contexts caused several
conflicts. The evaluation program required a considerable amount of time. The time
pressures, as we shall see in our cases, forced leaders to select which artifact features to
implement. While the artifact was intended by designers to give local leaders a tool to
improve teaching, most leaders did not use the artifact to disturb existing administrator-
teacher relations. Praise rather than critique, and high scores rather than low, characterized
the written feedback provided by evaluators. In the next section, we provide three cases to
illustrate themes of how principals made sense of the artifact in their local school contexts.
La Esperanza Elementary School
La Esperanza Elementary is a K-6 school in the heart of the largest city in the Valle
Verde district. Principal Susan Richards and her staff see the education of students learning
English as a second language as the main challenge for the school. La Esperanza’s 36
teachers are organized into grade-level teams throughout the school. 81 percent of the 690
students are members of a minority group (primarily Latino), and 84 percent of the students
qualify for free and reduced lunch. Nearly half are classified as English as a Second
Language (ESL) students. The school is currently under significant accountability pressure
from the state and is being monitored and assisted in the effort to improve student academic
The teachers interviewed at La Esperanza included one first grade, one second grade,
and two third grade teachers. Three of the four teachers did not have substantial teaching
experience, while the fourth had been teaching for more than a decade at the school. All four
of these teachers (along with the rest of the faculty) were evaluated by the principal. All of
the teachers interviewed and the principal agreed that La Esperanza had challenges not faced
by other district schools. Principally, the presence of significant numbers of non-English
speaking students meant that teachers must be patient with and accommodate students.
Evaluator characteristics. Principal Richards had been at the school for four years.
Before coming to La Esperanza elementary, she worked for eight years as a fourth grade
teacher, served as a teacher leader, and a trainer for the district initiatives in writing and
math. In addition, she worked as a dean of students for four and a half years and as an
elementary school principal for three years. Part of her prior work was on a Native American
reservation, working with a highly at-risk student population.
Richards viewed her role as an instructional coach for the faculty. She believed that
her experience with the district provided her with the knowledge and skills she needs to
identify appropriate teaching techniques and make helpful suggestions. She recognized the
potential stress associated with a summative evaluation system that attempts to provide
formative feedback to teachers, and works with teachers to reassure them that the system is
formative and an opportunity for growth, rather than for humiliation and anger:
My goal is to make them, to help them feel more comfortable, that I am not just an
evaluator but I am also a coach. That is my role. That is the role I want. I want to be a
supervisory coach. And so we work hard at trying to establish that kind of rapport.
And we are getting there. It has taken four years of trust to know that I am not going
to beat them up…and destroy them.
Teacher interviews corroborated Richards’ description. All four teachers commented
on their positive and upbeat interactions with Richards. One teacher said that “she truly is
there to help us. I mean, not to criticize or anything like that…I love it when she would come
in because I know she is watching me to help me improve what I am doing.”
Evaluation process. Richards estimated that she spent approximately fifteen hours
per year on each teacher’s evaluation. (With 36 teachers, this is the equivalent of fully a third
of the academic year spent on observation, evaluation, and feedback). The evaluations were
based on evidence collected through formal observations and intermittent informal
observations, such as walk-throughs, throughout the year. The principal also gathered
information regarding teacher performance during other committee meetings and
professional gatherings. She viewed the new evaluation system as flexible in its use. For
example, this past year she chose to emphasize teacher goal-setting and required all teachers
to submit their goals in the first month of the school year. As part of goal-setting sessions,
teachers evaluated themselves and then discussed her evaluation of their performance.
Richards connected the evaluation process to how teachers met their goals.
In her classroom observations, Richards split her time between scripting part of the
lesson and observing classroom dynamics. This process allowed her to get a sense of how the
classroom worked while using examples of classroom conversation and activity in her report.
She focused on teacher skills in questioning and responding to students. After recording her
reflections on the observation form, Richards dropped the written evaluation off for the
teacher to sign and arranged for a post-observation conference. During the conference, she
asked about the strengths and weaknesses of the lesson and what the teachers might do
differently. She offered positive feedback to highlighting the successful aspects of the lesson.
Richards reminded teachers of needed changes in a positive manner “until the third time, that
is my key, a third time…if I have asked you three times to clarify your lesson plans …and
they are still not clarified, then it becomes an evaluative measure... that is all lettered and
Summary of written evaluations. An analysis of the evaluations revealed that the
mean score for the faculty across evaluation domains at La Esperanza was between
“proficient” and “area of strength” on the district scale. No teacher received an
unsatisfactory rating. This indicated that, according to the principal, most teachers are
performing at or above a proficient level.
Richards included a significant number of written comments on the teacher
evaluation forms. The narrative section averaged just over 24 sentences per evaluation. The
majority of the narratives were composed of excerpts from Richards’ scripted observation
notes. Each evaluation had a final summative paragraph, which expressed the high value that
person added to the school. In addition, this final paragraph always included a sentence
saying that the teacher was an important member to the La Esperanza family. For example,
she described one teacher as being a “wonderful asset for La Esperanza.”
There was no clear relationship between the assigned scores and the amount and
content of the written narratives. For example, there were several instances where a score of
a 1 was given, but there was little or no discussion of the rationale for the low score in the
narrative. Information gathered from the teacher and principal interviews suggested that
substantial dialogue was taking place between the principal and the teachers that was not
documented in the evaluation forms. For example, one teacher reported that, after an
observation, the principal gave her a recommendation about how to improve her questioning
and answering techniques with her students. This recommendation could not be found in the
written evaluation narrative. The teachers also reported that they regularly received verbal
suggestions from the principal throughout the school year.
Perceptions of the evaluation process. All four of the teachers interviewed indicated
that Richards’ written evaluations are extremely affirmative, emphasizing many positive
aspects of their teaching. As the principal said, “I try to find their highlights…and then I will
make one recommendation. I won’t beat a dead horse, but I will make one recommendation
because that is what I should do and to assist my teachers.” The principal indicated that
teachers have been positive about the evaluation process. She gave the following example of
a positive response from teachers as a result of the evaluation process:
I was in a first grade classroom and I saw a lot of the same writings hung up on a wall
that had been there all year. And I didn’t have. . . a problem with that but I was
curious for the teacher to tell me what was the purpose to maintain those? And their
reasoning was excellent. Based on this reading training that we had which is the
children go around and they read familiar print continuously so that they have success
with finding the writings and it is also finding words and they do word writing. So
that kind of conversation is really good so I understand what they are doing. And they
also are aware of what is going on in the classroom.
The principal’s focus on positive feedback and coaching, along with the team-based
instruction throughout the school, helped to create a climate of openness to observation,
evaluation, and feedback among teachers. Teamed teachers often worked together to address
evaluation goals. While the evaluation was not a primary focus, teamed teachers typically
discussed with one another their evaluation goals as they planned their work for the year.
Despite the large time commitment and teacher reception to the evaluation system,
Richards did not believe that the evaluation process was a good tool to improve teaching in
her school. When asked whether the evaluation system could change teaching, she said,
On average, no. I don’t think so. … I think it can be very disheartening. I think
evaluations can either encourage and give teachers a pat on the back that they don’t
often get or it can totally destroy them. It is just how you approach it. And I have seen
both things happen. It is a very hard thing to do. And I don’t think it changes people. I
think it can stop people. I don’t think it changes them.
While the evaluation system itself may not have led to deep change, the principal described
how state accountability requirements provided pressure to change.
I think what changes us, what drives change here for my teachers will be, well, it
really comes down from the State Department beating us up. And then as a team, it is
a total team effort, we get together and look at our scores, look and what we are
doing, and then we look at what we need to change and how to implement change?
Richards’ low estimate of the impact of the evaluation system contrasted with
teacher’s views. Teachers provided several examples of how Richards’ evaluation feedback
enhanced their teaching. Newer teachers remarked how the evaluations helped to improve
classroom management. A veteran teacher offered an example of feedback regarding
pedagogical content in math. Much of this feedback was specific and not directly connected
to the evaluation framework. For example, one teacher indicated that the principal suggested
using a microphone at the next student presentation and having a master of ceremonies to
host the show. Another recommendation focused on increasing wait time after questioning
students, or shifting the balance of large and small group time to improve student discussion.
Teachers did not mention evaluation rubrics in their comments about principal feedback.
Several new teachers believed that the framework itself provided a “progress map” to
identify areas for improvement. One teacher said that the system “kind of gives you the
direction to go to or work towards.” While these new teachers noted the effect of the system
on their practice, one veteran teacher did not think that the system caused teacher change.
However, the veteran teacher did say that the system provided a good “method to track” what
type of professional development she would seek. All four teachers believed that the system
was fair. The teachers reported considerable input into what went into the final evaluation.
One teacher said that she can “discuss with her why I feel I am at a 2 and maybe at a 1 there.
She is very fair about taking my suggestions into her reasoning.”
Woods Middle School
Woods Middle School serves about 1000 6
and 8
graders in a large city in the
Valle Verde district. In 2001-02, 17% of Woods students were Latino, and 28% qualified for
free or reduced-price lunch. Student performance in reading, language arts, and mathematics
is above national norms for eighth grade students; however, significant gaps exist between
the test scores of white and ESL students. The school staff included 42 teachers, five special
education teachers, and five additional teaching staff. The teachers interviewed at Woods
included one probationary teacher, two teachers on major evaluations, and two on minor
evaluations. The probationary teacher was in his first year, the two major evaluation teachers
had been teaching for less than five years, and the two minor evaluation teachers had been at
Woods for at least eight years. Two taught math and three taught English.

The school was organized around a cohort model that grouped students and teachers
together as they passed through grade levels. This structure gave teachers opportunities to get
to know their students well, and established structures for common instructional planning
time. While several of the veteran teachers mentioned this structure as an occasion to share
strategies about instruction, other teachers designed and taught their lesson plans
Evaluator characteristics. The Woods administrative team included Principal John
Storm, an assistant principal and a Dean of Students. Storm was in his seventh year at Woods
Middle School, his third year as principal. After an earlier career as a managing partner of a
private sector business, Storm has spent his past twelve years as an educator in the district.
Storm feels that his main strength as a principal has been his ability to listen to teachers,
students, and parents and to solve problems as they emerge in the school. This blend of
problem-solving and listening has enabled him to use the evaluation system to point out
potential instructional issues while being sensitive to teacher’s professional context:
Because then I can point out problems to (the teachers) …and that requires a little bit
of discussion. Some of it just comes from personal experience. I have been doing this
long enough where I happen to know that so and so is working on their master’s
degree. I don’t have to ask them. I just know they are doing it.
Principal Storm saw the teacher evaluation framework as an important, if
burdensome, supplement to his role as school instructional leader. Storm felt the evaluation
system was particularly useful as a tool to help or dismiss probationary teachers. His
approach to the new evaluation program was informed by his own six-point system for what
constitutes good teaching:

The first is that the objective is clearly stated … and the kids have to know what it is
they are supposed to learn. The lesson has to have a clearly defined structure. You
can’t just do this and that. They all have to be related. I expect to see most of the
students actively participating in their learning, not just sitting there and listening. I
expect to see a teacher checking for understanding frequently so that they don’t keep
teaching after they have lost their kids. And then I expect to see teacher/student,
student/student interactions to be appropriate. And any misbehavior I expect the
teacher to respond to appropriately.
Teachers reported that Storm’s six-point system characterized their experience of the
evaluation process. Four of the five teachers interviewed reported that the principal’s
concerns with checking for understanding, classroom management, and clearly defined
organization structure came across in the evaluation process. When asked to provide a
specific example of feedback, four of the teachers mentioned Storm’s review of their
questioning practices. The teachers did not seem to differentiate between Storm’s established
checklist and the new framework. One veteran teacher noted that Storm’s focus on
questioning technique flowed from “the evaluation form he always uses.”
Evaluation process. Storm used the new evaluation system as a complement to his
existing informal system of formative feedback. Storm began the evaluation process with
brief visits to each classroom within the first several weeks of school. “Leading up to that I
spent some time in the classroom informally, two times that I documented, and then two or
three times just walking around getting into the classroom.” His multiple observation practice
enabled him to get a sense of where potential problems might occur in the school as well as
to introduce himself to students and teachers throughout the school.
Storm considered the observations themselves to be an important component of the
evaluation process. Allocating sufficient time to observe all teachers requires annual
planning. “What I do is I reserve 25 percent of my day, one period a day, to do observations.
And then I will sit down with the teacher’s schedule…and I will actually book observations a
month in advance.” His time commitment to the evaluation process – fully 25% of his time --
is corroborated by the 114 formal visits recorded on the official evaluation forms.
The annual cycle began with an opportunity for teachers to rate themselves using the
evaluation system:
At the beginning of the year I ask the teachers to go through the rubric and self-
evaluate. And then when they sit down with me to go through their goals for the year,
I will ask them about their self-evaluation….I find teachers to be pretty much on
target. They know where they are.
Storm then scheduled individual teacher observations. He used a laptop to record his
observations of classroom practice. Storm’s ability to write-up his comments in the class
enabled him to provide feedback to teachers by the end of the school day. These comments
serve as a rough draft for the final evaluation report, and give teachers the chance to discuss
the main points of the report before it takes final form.
Storm relied on his past experience as an evaluator as well as the observation data to
make his judgment about the quality of teaching. Storm began each rating at Level Two, the
basic level of performance. If the teacher has met the Level Two criterion, Storm moves to
Level Three. “Level Three is just a little extension of Level Two. In fact, most of the rubric is
written, take Level Two, and then add a little component to it.” Level One ratings provide a
special challenge in writing the final report. Storm commented: “Level One is poor teaching
even though it is satisfactory, it is still poor teaching.” Storm felt that the level of
documentation must be much greater in a Level One evaluation, as it is directed toward
remediation or to establish grounds for termination. Consequently, Storm reported that
teachers with Level One evaluations received more substantive feedback for their
Summary of written evaluations. 48 Woods teachers were evaluated during the 2001-
2002 school year. Average scores ranged between “proficient” and “area of strength” across
the four evaluation domains. No teachers received an unsatisfactory rating in any domain.
Limited narrative feedback was provided for each teacher. Forms for post-probationary
teachers included an average of 9.7 sentences per domain area, while the probationary
teachers received 10.2 per area. Most of the narratives included a balance of descriptive and
laudatory sentences. There was an average of less than one sentence per evaluation directed
toward either suggestions or critiques of teaching. Although both the teachers and the
evaluators remarked on the value of the scripted comments made in class, these scripted
comments were not present in the written evaluation forms. Over half of the evaluations
included sentences commending the teacher’s contribution to the local school culture, hard
work, or participation in extra-curricular activities.
Perceptions of the evaluation process. Teachers were generally more positive than
Storm about the potential effect of the evaluation process on their teaching. One teacher
commented how the rubrics and domain structure of the evaluation program “helps create a
common sense of good teaching” among the staff. Another teacher mentioned that the
framework offers a structured opportunity to reflect on practice that “helps me strengthen my
content knowledge.” Teachers differed about their assessment of the Storm’s time
investment. Two teachers noted that, even though the time taken by the observation and
evaluation process signified administrative interest in teaching, the principal did not spend
enough time in their classroom to really make a difference.
Even though he questioned the effect of the new system on shared perceptions of
teaching, Principal Storm saw the teacher evaluation program as an improvement on the
system it replaced. The older system focused on nine “topics” of teaching, and allowed
teachers to pick three topics on a major evaluation, and one topic for a minor. The
disadvantage of that system was that it allowed teachers to “focus on one area and just ignore
everything else.” The new system:
Forces you to look at a broad range of teacher skills. And in that respect it is very,
very good. Because, as an administrator, I am looking at this, boy, they have a lot of
stuff they have to do as teachers. And it helps me remember the things that I am
supposed to be looking for.
In Storm’s view, the new system was particularly helpful in documenting poor
performance and for helping new teachers. These affordances of the system accorded with
Storm’s belief in the importance of working with probationary teachers. The system rubrics
provided a common reference for communicating about substandard teaching practice. Storm
offered an example of how:
In Domain Three, under grouping of students, if I were to tell a teacher that his or her
instructional groups are inappropriate to the students or the instructional goals, that is
unsatisfactory. Now, if a teacher knew that, then they could go to this rubric and say,
well, what is satisfactory? … So, for someone who is doing poorly, it is very
The system helped Storm and the teachers frame formative programs to improve their
teaching. Storm described a teacher evaluated as unsatisfactory several years before: “I was
very, very specific in the areas and had very concrete evidence as to why he was
unsatisfactory. And I have worked with him for four years now and I would say this year he
has made some real improvements.”
According to Storm, the capacity of the system for identifying and helping poor
teaching did not seem to apply equally well to good teaching. Because he spent the most time
with newer or poorer performing teachers, good teaching received relatively less feedback.
Storm contrasted the value of the system for probationary and proficient teachers:
But I view this system as extremely effective for an unsatisfactory or a Level One
teacher. For a teacher who is proficient or a very strong teacher, we are just
documenting the fact that they are good teachers.
Storm did not feel that the new evaluation system supported the establishment of agreement
about what good teaching means: “I think every teacher thinks that their teaching is good.
Whatever they do is good. And they haven’t tailored their teaching style to meet the rubric.”
The novelty of the system may mean that it has not had a chance to create a shared sense of
agreement. Storm commented, “you have to remember . . . these teachers weren’t brought up
in this system. This system has been imposed on teachers that have been here a long, long
time.” It is interesting to note that while Principal Storm emphasized the value of the
evaluation process for novice and poor teachers, it was the veteran teachers with relatively
higher scores who reported the most benefit to their teaching. Two veteran teachers valued
the opportunity to reflect on their teaching afforded by the process. One teacher mentioned

that the “rubrics helped me understand the difference between Level 2 and Level 3 teaching,”
and that the rubrics gave him something to aim toward in his teaching.
Storm’s final point concerned the lack of feedback he has received on being an
evaluator. While he noted that he received valuable training to conduct evaluations, he has
received no feedback on his own evaluation practices. In his words:
I have never gotten any feedback from anyone on [whether] I am doing a good job as
an evaluator…. I mean, my bosses never ever talk to me about the evaluations that I
have written. I don’t think my boss has ever read my evaluations. So, I wouldn’t mind
getting some feedback to know whether or not I am meeting district standard or not.
Jaye High School
The Jaye High School context presents special challenges for understanding how
evaluators make sense of the evaluation process. In 2001-02 the largely upper-middle class
student population at Jaye included 1,880 students. The student transience rate was 16
percent, 6.8 percent were labeled as special education students, 3.1 percent of the students
were English-language learners, and the free/reduced price lunch population was 11.2
percent. Student performance on a national norm-referenced test was higher than the average
performance of other district high schools. The 93 teachers on staff included 10 probationary
teachers. The teachers and principal commonly reflected upon two features of the school
context during the interviews. The first involved efforts to involve staff across the curriculum
in setting school goals. The second, and a related factor, was a strong sense of collegiality in
the school.
Teachers interviewed at Jaye included a veteran English teacher, a mid-career biology
teacher, an early/mid-career history teacher, and a novice mathematics teacher. Principal

Jennifer Fredericks was in her third year at the school and had extensive experience as a
teacher and administrator. The four other administrators who acted as evaluators were not
Evaluator characteristics. Fredericks sought to develop department and school-based
instructional goals, using a consensus-building approach. She explained that from her first
day in the school, she worked to get the school to focus on data (e.g., student test scores) to
set goals and to monitor progress. She encouraged teachers to share best practices during
staff meetings. These processes were intended to develop a “common building belief system
of what we are doing as a community, the sense of community to serve the students.”
Principal Fredericks supported the new teacher evaluation system and was willing to
invest the time and effort to make it productive. She asserted that the system fit with their
“school wide belief system in rubrics. … It gives you a verbal picture of what you want to
see.” Her active support of the evaluation system capitalized on her instructional expertise
and was reflected in how she structured the evaluation process. Fredericks described the
evaluation system as fitting her philosophy on instructional leadership and incorporated the
rubrics into her “own contextual belief system.” She compared her leadership approach to the
four domains of the evaluation system by planning what she wanted to do before she became
a principal (reflecting domain 1); creating an environment “where people felt free to interact
with me, to interact with one another,” (modeling domain 2); then implementing the plan or
plans (domain 3); and finally, giving back to her school community by working and sharing
with each other through best practices during faculty meetings (domain 4). As she
summarized, “We have actually role-modeled the [evaluation system]” as school leaders.

Fredericks explained that her experience, training, and practice as a teacher made her
a good evaluator. Before she became an administrator, she attended Madeline Hunter training
sessions and developed her skills in scripting classroom observations. In addition to the skills
needed to conduct evaluations, Fredericks asserted that her credibility as a classroom teacher
was a critical attribute for her legitimacy as an evaluator. As a principal, she saw her most
important strength as her “ability to see all sides of the situation and to put myself in the
shoes of the other person, whether it be a parent, a student, a teacher; to understand where
everyone is coming from. And not to take anything personally.”
Despite the increased demands of the evaluation system, Fredericks said she was able
to manage the process because, “I am a pretty good time manager … I look over a semester
and I can figure out where I have to be.” To handle the time and workload demands, she
planned one semester at a time and began with the probationary teachers, who required more
time due to the structure of the evaluation system and their uncertainty in practice. Then she
worked with teachers on the major evaluation and finally addressed the minor evaluations,
“… because they take less time.” She lamented that the time dedicated to probationary
teachers, although necessary, limited how much she could work with other teachers.
Evaluation process. The evaluation process described by the principal was similar to
that described by teachers who had other evaluators. Fredericks held pre-observation
conferences to meet with the teachers before the evaluation process began. During the
meetings, she went through the evaluation rubrics and procedures to explain the process. She
asked where teachers saw themselves in the rubrics. If a specific rubric lacked clarity, she
would discuss what she believed it was trying to get at. When the questions were resolved,
the focus of the evaluation was selected (i.e., domain(s), components, and elements).

Teachers set a target for growth for each domain. Teachers chose a growth goal for each
domains on which they were evaluated. Probationary teachers prepared one goal for each of
the four domains. The targets of growth served as the focus for the written evaluation.
Fredericks structured her evaluation approach to focus on probationary teachers and
centered her efforts on maximizing formative feedback to these novice teachers. She
assigned herself a larger share of probationary teachers than the other evaluators. As she
explained, “I want the new teachers I hire to have that connection with me and…I think that
is a very formative time.” She saw probationary teachers as vulnerable and was concerned
about attrition, because new teachers typically “are just not mentored and encouraged.”
To lower teacher anxiety about the process, Fredericks told teachers to feel free to
make mistakes and not to worry about her being in the room. She also gave them flexibility
in scheduling observations. As she stated, “I am not there to look at a perfect lesson … so I
try to put them at ease ... because I see this role as a helping role, not to go in there and catch
them doing something wrong.” She also tried to make sure that teachers were aware that
what was being written down would be in the evaluation. As she explained, “There is never
anything in the evaluation that I do that surprises. There is never anything in writing or
checks in those boxes that the teacher has not been with me [and discussed]… And I try to
always find something to commend them on.” She explained that she was careful about what
she wrote and how she phrased written comments in order to prevent teachers from reacting
negatively to evaluations. When she first started doing evaluations as an administrator, she
“… was amazed that the use of a word could make somebody very anxious.” So, “… I am
more careful about using words like ‘very’ or ‘often’ or ‘frequently’ or ‘occasionally’.”
During conferences, she asked teachers to talk about instructional artifacts (planning
documents, test results, etc.) involved in the lesson. Consistent with the leadership approach
discussed above, teamwork and school wide goals re-emerged during evaluation discussions.
Fredericks tried to foster self-reflection and monitoring/correcting and used
constructive criticism, trying to help teachers think about the observed situation “… and go
back to it in their mind and think about how they might do it differently. And then I will say
‘or you could have …,’ but I don’t say ‘this is the way it should always be done.’ There is
never one way to do anything.” She tried to encourage teachers to have interactive classes,
where kids are major participants.
Summary of written evaluations. The evaluation context at Jaye is made more
complex because of the multiple evaluators involved. Thus, even though Fredericks played
an important role in making sense of the evaluation artifact for the school program, the other
evaluators brought their own assumptions to the process. Thus it is not surprising that both
the written evaluations by evaluators and the teacher reactions to their evaluations at Jaye
varied considerably. Two of the evaluators (including the principal) provided detailed written
commentary, with evidence described and specific recommendations for improvement. In
contrast, the other evaluators provided very brief descriptions of performance, with only a
few sentences, little if any evidence reported and few recommendations for improvement.
Individual teacher evaluation scores on the 79 evaluations provided by the district
averaged between “proficient” and “area of strength” on the district scale. Although five
teachers received level one ratings in particular domains, there was no written description of
why the rating was given or how the teacher could improve on the element. Despite the
prompt on the evaluation form (and implied requirement of the system) to offer specific
evidence for the ratings, it was rare for evaluators to offer such evidence or to provide
recommendations to improve. It was also difficult to find negative feedback in either the
write-ups or from the interview transcripts. Evaluators delivered criticism in a positive
fashion (if critique was provided) or first pointed out positive aspects of performance and
characteristics of the teacher.
Written evaluations documented positive aspects of teacher performance. In some
cases, recommendations for improvement were provided. For example, one evaluator
commented that, “teacher uses goals suitable for most students.” This same evaluator had
three recommendations for the teacher, including the following: “When planning lectures,
provide as many opportunities to engage as many students as possible throughout the
lecture.” The written evaluations also allowed evaluators to document praise for how
teachers had taken on extra school responsibilities. For several of the teachers interviewed,
more feedback seemed to be provided during discussions with the evaluator than was
reflected in the written evaluations. However, other teachers reported receiving minimal
feedback in either written or verbal form.
Perceptions of the evaluation process. Principal Fredericks thought the
comprehensive standards and rubrics of the evaluation system helped to promote a common
and continuing dialog with teachers. Fredericks believed the system provided a framework
for teachers to think about their work and a process for them to interact, get help and talk
about their practice, and be recognized for their efforts. Most teachers also preferred the new
system to the prior one, which required an extensive written evaluation but did not have the
level of knowledge and skill elaboration of the current system. One teacher, however,
preferred the old system, where “… you could sit down and talk and you could read it and
pick it out and read it again if you need a little pat on the back.” Other teachers valued the
potential for objectivity of the new system’s detailed rubrics.
Jaye staff had mixed reactions about the impact of the evaluation process on their
instruction. The principal believed that the evaluation system led some teachers to change
their practice. For example, a special education teacher who had relied on lectures changed
his practice to get students more actively involved. After evaluation discussions, Fredericks
noted “… his room is full of colored pens and pencils and the kids have no books and the
kids are keeping these forms… And he loves it. ” Two teachers mentioned the evaluation
process improved their teaching through better planning and classroom management, keeping
students on task and increased use of reflection. Two other teachers were not as positive. One
commented that her evaluator (not the principal) had little or no teaching experience: “I was
evaluated by someone who didn’t teach school, who has never taught school. [He] went from
the world of work, business, into education, into administration.” This teacher reported a
better experience with a different evaluator the prior year. The other teacher consistently
received high ratings and was rarely offered feedback specific to the content he taught.
Teachers commented that the evaluation system required more paperwork and effort than the
prior system, but it was more burdensome for evaluators than for teachers. One teacher said
that, “I think what happens is [the administrators] get up against the time when all the
evaluations are due and things get really hectic.” Two teachers explained the system was
more work intensive than the prior system, but was worth the effort and more objective.
Fredericks expressed that evaluator training offered by the district could be improved.
The trainers took a minimalist approach focused on getting evaluations done efficiently
rather than well. As she stated, “Basically, the person was saying, ‘this is how you can get

them done the fastest. You don’t really have to do this. And you don’t really have to do that.
And you can just whip them out.” She suspected that evaluators varied considerably in how
accurately they evaluated teachers and how well they provided growth-directed feedback.
She suggested the district should have master evaluators help beginning administrators, to
“go in until they have a comfort zone of performing evaluations and the process.”
Investigating the way that local leaders make sense of a complex artifact such as a
new teacher evaluation highlights the selection of artifact affordances, from among the many
possible features of the artifact, and helps us to understand how leaders adapt new practices
to their existing contexts. The interaction of leaders’ will, skill and their perceptions of
organization structure organize our comments about sensemaking.
Most principals wanted to make this system work and tried hard to comply with the
system requirements for numbers of observations and write-ups. However, it was apparent
that the evaluation system was extremely time-consuming, absorbing as much as 25% of the
principal’s time. We saw principals address the time issue by complex scheduling and by
investing significant amounts of personal time. Evaluators satisficed the time requirements
through brief classroom visits, writing up the observation while observing the class, and in
stealing a few minutes before and after class for the pre- and post-observation meetings.
Despite this significant time investment, some teachers felt that an insufficient amount of
time was invested in the system to provide meaningful feedback on teaching practice. In
many schools, most evaluations were dated all on the same day at the end of the evaluation
cycle, suggesting that many evaluation forms were completed at the last minute.
The considerable time investment required to conduct observations and complete the
evaluations narrowed the range of cognitive and structural resources available to implement
the full range of artifact features. The artifact design relies on evaluators to collect multiple
kinds of evidence to document the different components of teaching practice as specified in
the rubrics. The elaborate system of rubrics and evidence requirements challenged evaluators
to move beyond classroom observation in order to develop fundamentally new evidentiary
bases. Our study suggests that although evaluators stretched their professional and personal
time to observe all teachers, the evaluations lacked evidence grounded in the rubrics. The
evaluation criteria included, for example, “reflecting on teaching” and “communicating with
families,” but no evidence was provided by evaluators for ratings in these domains. Simply
complying with the district policy to conduct observations of all faculty seemed challenging
enough. To take full advantage of the evaluation program, evaluators and teachers need more
time and training on how to collect, reflect upon, and present evidence to maximize the
potential of the evaluation system for promoting better teaching practice.
We found that the written evaluations lacked either formative or critical feedback.
The majority of written comments focused on scripting of classroom activities, classroom
management and generic comments pointing to the important role the teacher had played in
the school. While several of the principals used the evaluation process to suggest new
practices and to encourage staff collaboration, few examples of specific, evidence-based
suggestions grounded in the rubrics found their way into the written evaluations. The focus
on classroom management was reflected in the views of new teachers who expressed a more
positive view of the potential impact of the system on improving their teaching practice.

Veteran teachers, presumably more familiar with classroom management practices, were
more reserved in their praise.
The evidence from our case study schools suggest that evaluators lacked the skills to
provide valuable feedback, particularly with accomplished teachers. Evaluators instead used
evaluation as an opportunity to work with novice teachers and to build a positive school
culture rather than as an opportunity to push instructional practices to the highest levels.
However, we cannot discern from our study whether this lack of skill was a cause or an effect
of evaluator priorities. In other words, the perceived lack of skill in providing formative
feedback to accomplished teachers was qualified by the competing, and perhaps more
legitimate, goal of enlisting the support of veteran teachers to the new evaluation initiative.
Concerns about the politics of evaluation and maintenance of strong social relations among
faculty and evaluators may have led evaluators to provide nearly exclusively positive and
largely low level, narrow and specific feedback to teachers.
The lack of critical comments and the inconsistencies between the reported value of
feedback and the written instruments suggest the importance of attending to the political
context for evaluation. While the lack of “unsatisfactory” ratings in the case-study schools
and the narrative feedback might suggest a high quality of teaching across the schools, all
principals described instances of sub-standard teacher performance. Clearly, the evaluation
process was not fully represented by the written components alone. Performance appraisal
research suggests that negative feedback is difficult to convey and often avoided for fear of
depressing employee motivation (Ilgen & Davis, 2000), and the political nature of formal
appraisals may result in lenient evaluation ratings in order to motivate employee performance
(Longenecker, Sims & Gioia, 1987; Murphy & Cleveland, 1995). In such cases, evaluation
systems may send mixed messages about organizational goals for rating accuracy and
performance improvement through evaluations (Kozlowski, Chao & Morrison, 1999).
Written negative comments carry great weight in organizational cultures, and supervisors
interested in maintaining long-standing, collaborative relationships with employees are often
reluctant to use formal instruments to provide negative feedback.
The absence of critical feedback in most written evaluations might not mean the
complete absence of such feedback. Recall Principal Storm’s comment that the specificity of
the rubrics was valuable for helping to dismiss incompetent staff, yet these critical messages
were not reflected in the written evaluations. If teachers receive the most meaningful
feedback verbally, then the written instruments could be used to preserve the delicate
organizational culture of trust and collaboration between evaluator and teacher. At the same
time, neglecting to document specific instances of low performance blunts a central intention
of the evaluation program. Without critical feedback, the artifact becomes a tool to maintain
a positive sense of community rather than a tool to distinguish levels of practice, and to foster
improvement and reflection on teaching practice.
Structure here refers to the personal, professional and institutional traditions that
shape local practice. Our analysis showed the power of the self-perceived role of evaluators
as instructional leaders on the evaluation process. Self-imposed role definitions reflected the
skills of the evaluator, and seemed to enhance or constrain their will for selecting and
implementing certain features of the artifact. The roles chosen by evaluators had significant
effect on the affordances of the artifact selected for implementation. For example, Jaye’s
Principal Fredericks actively modeled her instructional leadership approach around the vision
of performance represented in the evaluation domains. At La Esperanza, Richards’ role as an
instructional coach was reflected in her team-building messages of encouragement and
inspiration on her written narrative evaluations. Richards’ belief that critical evaluation
feedback could be devastating to teachers shaped her role as an evaluator to encourage rather
than to criticize her teachers. She downplayed the summative, critical features of the artifact
in order to fit the artifact to her perceived role in the school.
Woods Principal John Storm perceived the evaluation artifact differently. His role as
an instructional leader involved communicating a consistent message about his six key
indicators of good teaching. While not inconsistent with the evaluation model, it was these
indicators – and not the evaluation system itself - that guided his observations. Storm relied
on his model to guide the Woods evaluation process and to give specific feedback to
struggling teachers. In this case Storm replaced designed features with his own conception of
good teaching, and used the new district initiative to flesh out his previously developed
evaluation practices. While full implementation of the artifact may require a redefinition the
self-perceived role of the evaluator, the expertise of the evaluator as an instructional leader
depends on the very role-perception in need of alteration. Implementing more of the artifact
features would require evaluators to “see” their instructional leadership roles differently to
allow for a more critical perspective on evaluation practice.
Conclusions and Implications
In this study of sensemaking and implementation of a knowledge and skills-based
teacher evaluation system, we found that the features of the artifact that potentially enhance
the opportunity to improve teacher quality were filtered through pre-existing perceptions,
knowledge, and structures. Consistent with the literature on sensemaking and
implementation, we found that local implementation of the evaluation system varied
substantially from school to school, and was shaped by the ways in which principals
understood their own role, their context, and the evaluation artifact. Principal sensemaking
seemed to be primarily a function of principal self-perception of their role as a leader and the
knowledge and skills they bring to that role; prior evaluation practices in the school and
district; and school context factors such as teacher morale and existing challenges facing the
school (e.g., student population risk factors, external accountability pressures).
We found that there was a strong desire of local leaders to use teacher evaluation
practices for two central purposes: one, to maintain a community of good will with teachers,
and two, to help novice teachers improve or remove those unable to perform at a basic level.
In each case, the affordances exploited by leaders seemed to extend the functions of the
previous evaluation system. Further, these uses seemed to inhibit the recognition and use of
other features intended to provide specific, critical, and formative feedback to veteran
A key question in the implementation of complex artifacts is whether features have
sufficient power to change the embedded organizational culture. From a compliance
perspective, the amount of time spent to implement the teacher evaluation framework should
be judged a huge success at Valle Verde. However, implementation of the full range of
artifact features seems hindered by time constraints and school cultures and professional
practices that reinforce the separation of instructional and supervisory practices. The gap
between supervision and instruction that constitutes the organizational culture of many
schools is difficult to cross (Rowan, 1990; Hazi 1994). Closing this gap takes time. A
condition for closing this gap might be to develop both common practices for teachers and
leaders to interact around instruction, and a common language to facilitate the conversations.
The district framework for teaching includes features to facilitate both processes. Since the
framework is already in place at Valle Verde, and since teachers and principals view it as a
useful process, there already is significant movement toward these ends. The framework is
being used widely across the district, and appears to be helping to develop the capacity for
teachers and evaluators to engage in regular conversations about instruction. District leaders
could push implementation further and capitalize on this newfound capacity in order to more
tightly couple instructional and supervision practices in the school culture. Over time, this
capacity may have the power to change instructional culture.
Thinking of implementation as a long-term process of reshaping prior knowledge,
skills, and beliefs will require district leaders to focus on the key “teachable moments”
currently emerging for district evaluators and teachers, such as the desire of evaluators to
receive district feedback on their own evaluation practice. We hypothesize that the increasing
experience with evaluation and feedback might make principals more likely to identify and
focus on the instructional improvement features of the evaluation system. Taking advantage
of the ways evaluators learn from their experience may change the features principals select
in the artifact, and therefore modify the implementation of specific features of the artifact to
enhance its instructional improvement outcomes. Specifically, our analysis suggests the
following five areas of focus for continued attention:
Providing a Clearer Conceptual Connection between the Teacher Evaluation Framework
and Enhanced Student Learning
A key intention in the district design was to use the evaluation artifact to improve
student learning. However, few principals and teachers viewed the evaluation process as
having a direct relationship to student achievement, accountability goals, or even as a
pathway to significantly improving teacher quality. To make this link explicit, evaluators
may need additional training in content-based pedagogy and evaluation feedback. Enhanced
skills alone may help evaluators recognize the opportunity for instructional improvement that
the evaluation artifact provides, and thereby encourage them to use evaluation as a means to
work with teachers at all skill levels to significantly improve instructional practice.
Tying Feedback to the Evaluation Standards
Training for evaluators could also focus on building understandings about how
evaluation rubrics enhance teaching practices and improve student learning. Although
teachers are asked to set goals for one or two specific elements in the domains on which they
are evaluated, written feedback is seldom specifically tied to the standards. Maintaining a
focus on the evaluation standards beyond the goal setting process could help to more directly
link goal-setting, evaluation feedback, and overall improvement in the teacher evaluation
system. Training in providing evidence-based feedback, such as evidence needed to
demonstrate content-specific pedagogy, could extend existing training and support
relationships in order to create shared understandings of evaluation as a tool to promote
instructional improvement. Teachers could more clearly see a connection between formative
recommendations and improvement on the rubrics in the evaluation system.
Coordinating the Structural Requirements of the Program
With three years of implementation, the routinization of the evaluation process
provides a foundation for further development. District leaders need to familiarize
themselves with the evaluation process, and better understand the various roles that goal
setting, observation, and verbal and written feedback play. In doing so, the district could
provide feedback on the existing evaluation process in local schools, and evaluators could
develop networks to share practices on how to provide effective and efficient evaluations.
Once district and school leaders realize how far they have come, their insights can be used to
build on these newly developed capacities.
Recognizing and Accommodating the Political Contexts of Evaluation
The politics of evaluation were evident in a variety of features of the evaluation
artifact. For example, district training for evaluators in time management suggests awareness
by the district of school-level reactions to the time-consuming nature of the evaluation
process. In addition, the politics of supervisor-teacher relations at the school level shaped the
nature of written evaluation feedback, which was almost uniformly positive, even when
teachers received relatively low scores on specific rubrics.
Recognition of the political nature of evaluation might help to untangle how issues of
training and skill development combine with existing political and cultural expectations for
the evaluation process. Political response is rational and appropriate if it facilitates
implementation of the evaluation system. Recognition of the political nature of
implementation could enable district and school leaders to view political response as a part of
the process on the way to full implementation of the evaluation artifact, and not the final
destination. Explicit attention to the political nature of evaluation and an examination of the
features of the evaluation artifact could enhance the ability to use evaluation to provide
constructive feedback in a dynamic political and cultural organizational context.
The Valle Verde Unified approach to implementing a new teacher evaluation system
relied on a low-stakes, developmental model that depended heavily on the ability of local
evaluators to extend their prior evaluation experience to meet the requirements of the new

system. Our study of the resulting implementation suggests that the district has developed
local capacity to use the framework for teaching to support richer teacher and leader
interaction around instruction. While much sensemaking research looks backward to
investigate the relation of the past to the present, our perspective suggests that a sensemaking
perspective can also point to areas for subsequent development. Future research is needed to
understand how leaders might choose and exploit the potentially transformative features of
evaluation system and integrate these features into new practices of teacher evaluation.
A previous version of this paper was presented at the 2003 Annual Meeting of the
American Educational Research Association, Chicago, Illinois, April 2003. The research
reported in this paper was supported in part by a grant from the U.S. Department of
Education, Office of Educational Research and Improvement, National institute on
Educational governance, Finance, Policy-Making and Management, to the Consortium for
Policy Research in Education (CPRE) and the Wisconsin Center for Education Research,
School of Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison (Grant No. OERI-R3086A60003).
The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the view of the
National Institute on Educational Governance, Finance, Policy-Making and Management,
office of Educational Research and Improvement, U.S. Department of Education, the
institutional partners of CPRE, or the Wisconsin Center for Education Research.
The authors would like to thank Gary Zehrbach, Bill Thornton, and Terry Fowler for their
contributions to data collection and analysis on the project.
The will, skill, and structure elements are adapted from Rowan (1996), who describes
teacher knowledge and skills (skill), teacher motivation (will), and the situation or context in
which teachers work (structure) as critical factors influencing teacher and student
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Appendix A
The school district is the second largest in the state and includes 85 schools,
approximately 60,000 students, 3,700 certified staff, and 270 administrators. Thirty-eight
percent of the student population is non-white, with Hispanic students making up the largest
part of the non-majority group. Although the district had recently revised aspects of its
teacher evaluation system, the district and teachers’ association agreed in 1997 that more
comprehensive evaluation reforms were needed.
The new teacher evaluation system includes all of the standards and many of the
suggested sources of evidence included in the Framework for Teaching (Danielson, 1996).
There are four domains of practice with 23 components and 68 elements elaborating
behavioral descriptions of the components. The domains are Planning and Preparation,
Classroom Environment, Instruction, and Professional Responsibilities. Each element
includes separate descriptions of teaching performance on a four-level rubric: unsatisfactory,
target for growth (level 1), proficient (level 2), and area of strength (level 3). Table 1
includes an example of one set of rubrics for one of the 68 elements.
Table 1
Example of Rubric for Domain 1:
Planning and Preparation; Component 1b: Demonstrating
Knowledge of Students
Target for
Growth/Level 1
Proficient/Level 2
Area of Strength/
Level 3
Knowledge of
Approaches to
Teacher is unfamiliar
with the different
approaches to learning
that students exhibit,
such as learning
styles, modalities, and
Teacher displays
understanding of the
different approaches
to learning that
students exhibit, and
includes a limited
variety in lesson
Teacher displays
solid understanding
of the different
approaches to
learning that
different students
exhibit and
occasionally uses
those approaches.
Teacher uses, where
knowledge of students’
varied approaches to
learning in
instructional planning,
as an integral part of
their instructional
planning repertoire.

Multiple sources of evidence are called for to assess performance relative to the
standards. Evidence may include a teacher self-assessment, a pre-observation data sheet
(lesson plan), classroom observations, pre- and post-observation conferences, other
observations of teaching practice (e.g., parent-teacher meetings or collegial discussions),
samples of teaching work and instructional artifacts, reflection sheets, three-week unit plan,
and logs of professional activities. Unlike the suggestions in the Framework for Teaching,
instructional portfolios are not required as part of the evaluation evidence.
Similar to the district’s prior system, teachers are evaluated annually and specific
procedures exist depending on where teachers are in three evaluation stages: probationary,
post-probationary major, and post-probationary minor. Probationary teachers are those who
are novice teachers or who taught previously in another district. Probationary teachers are
observed at least nine times over three periods of the year and are provided a written
evaluation at the end of each period. If they don’t advance after their first year, probationary
teachers undergo a second probationary year. If there performance is unsatisfactory, they
may be dismissed.
Teachers in post-probationary status are evaluated in a major evaluation based on two
of the performance domains, one selected by the teacher and the other by the evaluator.
Formal observations occur three times over the course of the year and a written evaluation is
provided toward the end of the year. After successful major evaluation, teachers move to a
two-year minor evaluation phase.
Teachers on the post-probationary minor cycle are evaluated on one domain and
receive one formal observation, resulting in one written evaluation at the end of the year.
The process is repeated during the next year, with one new evaluation domain selected. An
optional minor evaluation process is available to teachers who have at least five years
experience in the district and have been successfully evaluated under the major phase.
Teachers in the alternative minor process may choose from six professional growth options
(e.g., pursuit of National Board Certification, supervising a student teacher or engaging in an
action research project). These options must still be tied to an evaluation domain, but are less
structured than typical minor evaluations.
The written evaluations include a cover sheet with the teacher’s name and basic
demographic information (hire date, school, grade/subject, type of contract), whether the
teacher is on the probationary and post-probationary cycle, and when the evaluation and
observations occurred. Pursuant to state law, the form also indicates whether the complete
evaluation was satisfactory or unsatisfactory. The form ends with evaluator and teacher
Evaluators are to mark the appropriate performance level on the four-level rubric for
each element of each domain evaluated. Following the scores, the evaluators are required to
provide a narrative description of the evaluation. The narrative is to include a separate
description for any element receiving an unsatisfactory rating, with evidence cited from
observations, and recommendations. For domains with scores above unsatisfactory (level 1-
3), the form calls for “one complete narrative mentioning data for each, commendations, and
recommendations.” Any evaluation standard rated unsatisfactory results in an unsatisfactory
evaluation and the teacher undergoes an intervention process. Teachers in the intervention
process work with their administrator to establish an assistance plan and are evaluated on all
performance standards that are not being satisfactorily met. When all objectives of the
assistance plan are met, teachers may go back into the regular evaluation cycle.



Directions: Do not sign your name. Read each item carefully. Put a check in the number on the right
that describes what you believe to be true about your teacher. Please answer the questions on the
back of this page also.

1. Excellent 2. Strong 3. Average 4. Weak 5. Very Poor 1 2 3 4 5

• 1. • Shows interest in us • ••••
• 2. • Treats us courteously • ••••
• 3. • Is really interested in helping us • ••••
• 4. • Respects us • ••••
• 5. • Has a sense of humor • ••••
• 6. • Speaks clearly and distinctly • ••••
• 7. • Uses language that we can understand • ••••
• 8. • Tries to see our point of view • ••••
• 9. • Jokes with us • ••••
• 10. • Seems happy and interested • ••••
• 11. • Seems to like and enjoy teaching • ••••
• 12 • Keeps class under control without being too strict • ••••
• 13. • Treats everyone fairly • ••••
• 14. • Gives fair punishment • ••••
• 15. • Treats us as individuals • ••••
• 16. • Knows the subject being presented • ••••
• 17. • Tries new teaching methods • ••••
• 18. • Gives good fair assignments • ••••
• 19. • Presents a suitable appearance • ••••
• 20. • Leads good class discussions • ••••
• 21. • Explains topics clearly • ••••
• 22. • Answers questions thoroughly • ••••
• 23. • Praises good work • ••••
• 24. • Listens to our ideas • ••••
• 25. • Encourages us to work alone • ••••
• 26. • Permits us to express our ideas • ••••
• 27. • Gives fair examinations • ••••
• 28. • Grades fairly • ••••
• 29. • Has interesting classes • ••••
• 30. • Encourages differences of opinion • ••••
• 31. • Encourages us to be responsible • ••••
• 32. • Gives sufficient time to complete projects/assignments. • ••••

1. How could this class be improved?

2.What do you like best about this class?

3. What do you like least about this class?

Teacher Evaluation of CyberGuide

Directions to Teacher:
Complete this after at least one CyberGuide activity has been used and completed by at least one student.

• CyberGuide Title

Grade level of students using the CyberGuide

Location of school

(state, province, country) If California, please indicate county in which you teach.

In my situation, students use CyberGuides primarily

o in a classroom with one computer

in the classroom with two or more computers
in the computer lab
in the school library
at home

I use CyberGuides with

o few students (<25%)

many students (26-75%)
most students (76-100%)

The class in which I use CyberGuides is

o a regular, heterogeneous class

an advanced or GATE class
a reading improvement class
a bilingual class
a Sheltered English class
a Special Education class
home school--at home
The CyberGuide is assigned, it is completed by

o the whole class

a group of students (2-4) working together
by a few individuals, working alone

To what degree does the CyberGuide support the objectives of the unit within which the
CyberGuide is used?

o not at all
to a great extent
can't tell

To what degree do you need to assist your students in their completion of the CyberGuide?

o never
a few times

To what degree is the quality of the student work better as a result of the CyberGuide?

o not at all
to a great extent

Navigation The CyberGuide provides navigation pathways with easy access, hyper-links, and
clarity so that students know where they are and where they can go.

o not at all
to a great extent

Informational Content The CyberGuide provides links that offer information that is significant in
depth and richness.

o not at all
to a great extent

Sharing of learners' work The CyberGuide facilitates learners' sharing of their work. There is a
support for the development of a variety of student projects. There are templates or forms to use
in creating projects. Student work is displayed or accessible on the site.

o not at all
to a great extent

Stability and reliability The CyberGuide is stable and reliable. Comments on the links in the
teacher guide are helpful. The links are updated and current.

o not at all
to a great extent

Multiple Points of View When appropriate multiple points of view are presented in the links

o not at all
to a great extent

Objectives and Standards The objectives and standards listed in the Teacher Guide are
consistent with the task.

o not at all
to a great extent

Rubrics ("How You Will Be Graded") The rubrics, when provided are clear and informative so that
students know how their work will be assessed

o not at all
to a great extent

Online communication The CyberGuide indicated above directs students to use e-mail to get
information or to establish communication.
o yes

If yes, to what degree was this e-mail successful for your project

o not at all
to a great extent

The following statements apply to my students who have used CyberGuides. Check all that

o Self-motivated and highly capable

Average commitment to most assignments
Needs special support to complete assignments
Special Education support
Language development support
AVID support

Further comments about the following in these boxes:





Clive Beck
Ontario Institute for Studies in Education


In recent years, philosophers of education have been paying a great deal of attention to trends within philosophy
which may be loosely referred to as “postmodernist.” In this paper, I wish to examine some of these trends and note
some implications they have both for pedagogy in schools and for teaching and research in philosophy of education.

It may be presumptuous of me to talk on this vast topic. But I wish to assure you that I am not doing so just because,
as PES President for the year, I have a captive audience. I would have been this presumptuous even if my paper had
been refereed! But then, of course, it probably would not have been accepted. Today, then, you are seeing academic
freedom at work. I hope the results are better than they often are when academics are given freedom.

I should say at the outset that I am not an “expert” on postmodernism. However, postmodernist doctrines and
practices kept intruding into my life — especially as an attender of PES conferences and a reader of graduate student
theses and course papers — to the point where I could no longer ignore them. Also, from my little “site” in the
academic world — some might call it a hind-site but I prefer to see it as a fore-sight — I see enough problems with
postmodernism, and enough misplaced criticisms of it, that I am inclined to say “to heck with the experts” and just
wade in, a response which postmodernists officially at least must accept, given their avowed rejection of the concept
of an expert.

In discussing postmodernism I will, as a non-expert, focus especially on secondary sources, the literature which for
me is the most accessible and with which I have been able to become most familiar. I will also give a large amount of
attention to one writer, namely Richard Rorty, mainly because among self-proclaimed postmodernists he is one of the
more theoretical, which suits my purposes in this paper. Some might say that Rorty’s theoretical approach means that
he is less of a postmodernist; but to me it means that he is a more open postmodernist, willing to talk about his
methodological and substantive assumptions.

Philosophical postmodernism is a development of which one might say that, like many other things, it has done more
good than harm and it has done an awful lot of harm! As with most philosophical movements, it is perhaps best
viewed as a rich quarry in which we can go searching for gems of insight while not feeling obliged to take home all
the rubble. In this paper I will be concentrating mainly on the gems, looking at the positive side of postmodernism.
This should not be interpreted as indicating that I am a postmodernist; however, given the trenchant criticisms of
modernism developed by postmodernism, I would equally not wish to be seen as a modernist.


Postmodernism is not just a philosophical movement: it is found also, for example, in architecture, the graphic arts,
dance, music, literature, and literary theory.1 As a general cultural phenomenon, it has such features as the
challenging of convention, the mixing of styles, tolerance of ambiguity, emphasis on diversity, acceptance (indeed
celebration) of innovation and change, and stress on the constructedness of reality.

Philosophical postmodernism, in turn, does not represent a single point of view. There are progressive postmodernists
and conservative ones,2 postmodernists of “resistance” and postmodernists of “reaction,”3 strongly reform-minded
postmodernists and others who concentrate on pricking bubbles. There are bleeding hearts and loose cannons. There
is constant debate among so-called postmodernists about how a true postmodernist should approach life and inquiry
and hence what qualifies as postmodernism.

The names most often associated with postmodernism are those of Jean-Francois Lyotard, Jacques Derrida, Michel
Foucault, and Richard Rorty. Theoretical approaches most commonly seen as postmodernist are deconstruction(ism),
poststructuralism, and neopragmatism.4 However, a case could be made for adding other names, e.g., Nietzsche, the
later Wittgenstein, Winch, Heidegger, Gadamer, and Kuhn; and other theoretical approaches, e.g., perspectivalism,
postanalytic philosophy, and hermeneutics. Even the critical theory of Jurgen Habermas, with its affinity with
hermeneutics and its communicative ethics, has clear postmodern elements, despite Habermas’s insistence that he is
furthering the project of modernity rather than rejecting it. I mention all these names and movements not to impress
or confuse, but to show the great overlap between different schools of thought and the pervasiveness of the
postmodernist outlook. I feel that in discussing postmodernism we have often spent too much time searching for a
neat central core. What is needed rather is to expose ourselves to and respond to a whole family of related outlooks
and approaches.

Overlap can be found not only between contemporary theoretical approaches but also between these and ones of
earlier historical periods. This is the view of Lyotard who, according to John McGowan, holds that “postmodern and
modern cannot be distinguished from each other temporally…they exist simultaneously, referring to two different
responses to modernity.”5 Rorty takes a similar position, questioning whether the shifts associated with
postmodernism “are more than the latest moments of a historicization of philosophy which has been going on
continuously since Hegel.”6 Further, Rorty thinks that these changes were “pretty well complete in Dewey.”7 He does
not see Foucault, for example, as any more radical in the postmodern manner than Dewey. He says: “I do not see any
difference between Dewey and Foucault on narrowly philosophical grounds. The only difference I see between them
is the presence or lack of social hope which they display.”8

There is of course something odd about seeing Hegel, Nietzsche, or even Dewey as postmodernists, given that they
wrote within the modern era and in many ways expressed its spirit. Some writers prefer a more chronologically
correct definition of postmodernism. John McGowan, for example, sides with Frederic Jameson in expressing the
view that “postmodernism as a temporal term designates a (very recent) historical period that is to be identified by a
set of characteristics that operate across the whole historical terrain.”9 However, despite the awkwardness, I prefer to
interpret postmodernism as embracing many approaches and insights which were around before the last few decades
and even before the present century. Personally, I feel I have been something of a postmodernist most of my life,
even before my exposure to postmodernist writings (I can show you chapter and verse if you wish). And in terms of
the history of philosophy, I think the notion that these are entirely new developments exaggerates the extent to which
human thought and behavior change, and leaves us wondering how people in earlier centuries could have been so
dense as to be completely taken in by the ideas of Plato, Descartes, and Kant. Indeed, it is a good question whether
these gentlemen were completely taken in by them themselves: as we know, philosophers often get carried away, and
then feel compelled to defend what they have said.

For these various reasons, then, the view of postmodernism I am employing in this paper is a rather broad one. In
opting for breadth, however, I am not alone. Some general philosophers, such as Rorty (as we have seen) and Richard
Bernstein, take a similar tack, as do many educational theorists — for example, Stanley Aronowitz, Henry Giroux,
and William Doll.10


Accounts of postmodernism abound today in the literature of both general philosophy and educational theory.11
Accordingly, I will not here provide a general exposition of postmodernism but rather, after the brief statement of a
particular theme, will go straight to an integration of it (usually in a modified form) into my own proposed approach.
I hope, however, that such a treatment will, incidentally, help clarify the nature of postmodernism.

The understanding of postmodernism I will assume here is a rough composite of ideas from Rorty (especially) and
Lyotard, Derrida, and Foucault. It should be stressed, however, that many of these ideas have appeared in other
schools of thought, both historical and contemporary, e.g., Marxism, feminism, critical pedagogy. I have chosen to
focus on these particular writers because they provide a convenient point of departure; and also because discussing
them helps us come to terms with the dominant philosophical tradition, which we have some responsibility to try to
I have called what I am presenting here an “outlook,” but that term is rather too cognitive in its connotations. The
word “attitude” is sometimes seen as more appropriate for what postmodernists are talking about. The issues in
question also have a strong methodological component: they have to do with an “approach” to inquiry and life in
general. One might almost say that what we are concerned with here is a way of life, which includes cognitive,
affective, and methodological components.


Postmodernists have helped us see that reality is more complex than we had imagined. It does not exist objectively,
“out there,” simply to be mirrored by our thoughts. Rather, it is in part a human creation. We mold reality in
accordance with our needs, interests, prejudices, and cultural traditions.

But reality is not entirely a human construction, “made by us, not given to us,”12 as postmodernists have claimed.
Knowledge is the product of an interaction between our ideas about the world and our experience of the world. As
E.T. Gendlin says, “the assumption is overstated, that concepts and social forms entirely determine…experience….
[W]hat the forms work-in, talks back.”13 Of course, all experience is influenced by our concepts: we “see” things —
even physical things — through cultural lenses. But this influence is not all-controlling; again and again reality
surprises us (as modern science has shown) in ways that compel us to modify our ideas.14 We thought the world was
flat, for example, but were obliged eventually to change our minds.

This view may appear dangerously close to Kant’s notion that knowledge is a product of interaction between mental
structures and sense data. However, whereas Kant’s mental structures were innate and universal and his sense data
natural and pure, I see culture and experience as already deeply infected by each other. They are interdependent, and
differ only in degree of determination by human agency.

A corollary of this interactive view of reality is that there is no sharp fact-value distinction. All factual statements
reflect the values they serve, and all value beliefs are conditioned by factual assumptions. There is again a difference
of degree which enables us to talk of “facts” and “values.” But what we call facts are only somewhat less value-
determined: they are not independent of values. This ties in with Foucault’s postmodernist notion that knowledge and
power cannot be separated, since knowledge embodies the values of those who are powerful enough to create and
disseminate it.15 Foucault has perhaps an overly conspiratorial view of knowledge, but the link with people’s interests
which he identifies cannot be denied.

Change and Difference

Because reality is in part culture dependent, it changes over time, as cultures do, and varies from community to
community. Knowledge is neither eternal nor universal. Once again, however, we should not exaggerate this point, as
postmodernists have done. There are “enduring interests” (Dewey) and “tentative frameworks” (Charles Taylor)
which point to a degree of continuity; and there are some commonalities (again qualified) from culture to culture and
probably across the whole human race.

To deny continuity and commonality where it in fact exists, as postmodernists tend to do, is just as irrational and
unpragmatic as to see knowledge as eternal and universal. It betrays an absolutist attachment to such values as
innovation, originality, and diversity. Furthermore, it can have unfortunate practical consequences, since it leaves
people without an adequate basis for daily living. It is one thing to reject the idea of a fixed, universal foundation to
reality, quite another to claim that no useful guidelines can ever be identified.

Taking note of the postmodernists’ cautions, however, we should be careful with generalizations: they can be
deceptive. Behind a general formulation such as “all humans are rational” or “people pursue pleasure” there is
usually a great diversity of realities and interpretations. We should try to become more aware of this, and also more
often explicitly qualify claims with words such as “some,” “many,” “most,” “sometimes,” “often.” But even qualified
generalizations are of great value in everyday life.


Postmodernism is often seen by its proponents as bringing an end to metaphysics, ontology, epistemology, and so
forth, on the ground that these types of discourse assume a fixed, universal reality and method of inquiry. However,
in my view it is better to shift to a modified conception of these fields rather than do away with them completely.
Precisely because we live in a changing, fragmented, “postmodern” world, we need whatever stability we can find.
And inquiry into general intellectual, moral, and other patterns — limited and tentative though they may be — is a
legitimate form of “metaphysics.”

An irony of the postmodernist movement is that, despite itself, it is centrally concerned with what we can say of a
general nature about reality. I would even say that it has led to a massive (and salutary) revival of metaphysics.
Postmodernists believe they have put an end to metaphysics and have thrown the ladder away after reaching their
foundationless perch. But in fact their writings are full of general assumptions about culture, human nature, values,
inquiry. As Landon Beyer and Daniel Liston observe, postmodernist analyses are paradoxical, containing
“standpoints without footings” and “talking about nothing.”16 Not that postmodernists always deny that this is what
they do — Derrida happily admits that he “crosses out” his own claims; but to admit a fault is different from
overcoming it.

The Self

Postmodernism has rightly questioned the idea of a universal, unchanging, unified self or “subject” which has full
knowledge of and control over what it thinks, says, and does. It has shown that the self is strongly influenced by its
surrounding culture, changes with that culture, and is fragmented like that culture. To a degree, it is not we who
think, speak, and act but the culture which thinks, speaks, and acts through us. In many ways Rorty is correct when
he describes “the moral self” as “a network of beliefs, desires, and emotions with nothing behind it…constantly
reweaving itself…not by reference to general criteria…but in the hit-or-miss way in which cells readjust themselves
to meet the pressures of the environment.”17

It is an exaggeration, however, to maintain that because the self is limited, conditioned, and contingent in this way it
has no significance, identity, or capacities. Individuals may be no more important than cultures, but neither are they
less so. Individuals are just as unified and characterizable as communities, and they have considerable (though not
unlimited) capacity for self-knowledge, self-expression, and self-regulation. There is no basis for emphasizing culture
or community to the neglect of individuals.

And the same may be said for specific groups within a larger culture: ethnic groups, gender categories, socio-
economic classes, and so on. There is a tendency among postmodernists to emphasize these categories to the neglect
of individuals. But in fact two individuals of the same national background, ethnicity, gender, religion, or the like
may differ greatly. And two individuals who differ in all these respects may turn out to be “kindred spirits” who can
have a close friendship, even a good marriage, and agree on most major matters. Individuals are only in part
identifiable in terms of the various categories to which they belong.


Postmodernist insights require a major shift in our conception of inquiry. No longer should we see ourselves as
seeking to uncover a pre-existing reality; rather, we are involved in an interactive process of knowledge creation. We
are developing a “working understanding” of reality and life, one which suits our purposes. And because purposes
and context vary from individual to individual and from group to group, what we arrive at is in part autobiographical;
it reflects our “personal narrative,” our particular “site” in the world.

To some extent, then, we must question the notion of expertise. In particular fields, some people do know more than
others; but the difference, insofar as it exists, is usually one of degree. So-called “experts” are often heavily
dependent on “non-experts” for input if they are to arrive at sound insights; and since each individual or group’s
needs and circumstances are different, “expert knowledge” cannot be simply applied; it must be greatly modified for
a particular case. The interaction between expert and non-expert, teacher and taught, is often best seen as a dialogue
or “conversation” (to use Rorty’s term), in which there is mutual influence rather than simple transmission from one
to the other.

The knowledge arrived at, too, is more ambiguous and unstable than we had previously thought. It refers to
probabilities rather than certainties, average effects, better rather than the best; and it is constantly changing as each
individual or group gives a particular interpretation to it, reflecting distinctive needs and experiences. And as
postmodernists have pointed out, language is well adapted to this constant “play” of interpretation. Words are not tied
to fixed concepts or referents; they depend for their meaning on a whole system of words within which they are
embedded, a system which changes over time and varies from one speech community or language user to another.

Inquiry must also be approached “pragmatically.”18 We should not insist that reality, including human nature, take a
certain form but rather accept what emerges. If altruism, for example, has to be based in part on feelings of group
solidarity, then we must acknowledge that: there is no point clinging to a rationalistic view of moral motivation that
cannot work.

Once again, however, we should be careful not to exaggerate these points. Postmodernists have often attacked
notions of reason, means-end thinking, theory, teaching. But in fact there is a place for them, in a modified form. We
must employ reason as well as feelings, intuitions, direct social influence, and so forth. We must think in means-end
terms to some extent if we are to know what we want in life and how to achieve it. Theory, understood as a loose
interconnection of qualified generalizations, is crucial for daily living. Teaching, so long as it is largely dialogical, is
both possible and necessary. And so on. All of these can cause problems if they are understood too strictly and taken
too seriously; but without them we would quite literally be lost.

We must also qualify the notion of a “pragmatic” approach to inquiry. While there is no external foundation to
reality, no “traditional Kantian backup,” as Rorty says, there are internal continuities which serve as important
reference points. It is possible and necessary, then, to develop “theory” which explains particular phenomena in terms
of these continuities. Postmodernists often display an “easy pragmatism” which, while claiming to be open and
tolerant, is merely superficial, since it fails to develop and use theory of this kind; its doctrines thus become dogmatic
assertions, without explanation or justification.

Forms of Scholarship

One of the slogans of postmodernism is that “there is no center,” and in particular there is no central tradition of
scholarship (namely Eurocentric, middle- class, predominantly male) of which other traditions — Native American,
Afro-American, Islamic, feminist, working class, for example — are mere colonies. Insofar as we study traditional
Western scholarship, we should be wary of its white, middle-class, male bias; and we should (if we belong to one or
more other categories) approach it as equals, expecting to contribute as much as we learn. This is in line with the
view of knowledge and inquiry noted earlier.

With this approach I am in agreement, but as you might expect I have some provisos. To begin with, we should not
exaggerate the extent of the bias (great though it undoubtedly is) in traditional Western scholarship. There is much
we can learn from such scholarship (although also much we must reject). This is because the writers in question,
though white, middle- or upper-class, and male, were also human beings, struggling with basic issues of how humans
are to survive, flourish, and find meaning in life. The bias in favor of particular ethnic, class, and gender interests is
only part of the picture. Terms such as “Eurocentric” and “patriarchal” are bandied about too much, as though they
described everything that an individual or group does, and as if every error that is made is due to the bias in question.
As noted earlier, people of different races, genders, religions, or whatever may have a great deal in common. There is
enormous scope for people of different categories to learn from each other’s scholarship.

None of this means, however, that we should regard the Western scholarly tradition as the central one to which others
merely contribute or add footnotes. Rather, white, middle-class males should just contribute along with everyone
else, and any new, common tradition should be pluralistic scholarship, not simply a modification of the

A key point, in line with my earlier remarks about “the self,” is that in addition to anti-racist, feminist, anti-agist, etc.
scholarship we need individual scholarship: Jane Doe scholarship, José Sanchez scholarship, Shiu Chun Leung
scholarship, etc. We have not taken the personal quest of individuals seriously enough: every human being is
constantly questioning, observing, theorizing, trying to understand life and make the most of it in his or her own very
distinctive situation. The radical democracy of postmodernism leads in this direction, but it gets waylaid because of
its excessive preoccupation with cultures and speech communities. Every individual should be seen as the center of a
scholarship — her or his own — comparing notes on equal terms with other individuals, groups, and traditions.


There are many implications of the foregoing for educational practice, but space permits me only to outline a few of
the main ones. To begin with, students in schools from an early age should be helped to see how ideas and
institutions are tailored to suit people’s values and interests: how, for example, a picture book or novel expresses the
distinctive needs and background of the author; or how TV programming promotes life-styles which benefit
commercial enterprises; or how the health professions tend to favor males over females; or how the school
curriculum reflects the values of certain sectors of society. This need not involve use of technical language, or be
particularly confrontational: such study can be a rather straightforward and enjoyable aspect of the school day. But
unless we foster this kind of cultural-political understanding, we are supporting our students’ continued perception of
the world as value-neutral, unproblematic, and unchangeable.

Surprisingly, Rorty questions engaging in this kind of problem posing in schools. He maintains that “lower
education” (primary and secondary) “is mostly a matter of socialization, of trying to inculcate a sense of citizenship.”
It “should aim primarily at communicating enough of what is held to be true by the society to which the children
belong so that they can function as citizens of that society. Whether it is true or not is none of the educator’s business,
in his or her professional capacity.”19 However, to me this is an extraordinary and inexplicable betrayal of the main
thrust of postmodernism. How can a society succeed in constantly “breaking the crust of convention,” as Rorty
advocates,20 when all its school teachers and all its young people up to the age of eighteen are involved in single-
minded reinforcement of convention? And how will this affect the self-image and well-being of young people who,
as every parent knows, begin systematically to question our conventions from about the age of two? I agree that
schools should teach students about social conventions and institutions, probably more than they do at present; but
integral to that teaching should be fundamental evaluation and critique.

At the same time as we encourage the questioning of accepted “realities,” however, we must help students find
“foundations” for their lives, if of a less permanent kind. Lack of a sense of stability and direction is one of the major
problems of contemporary culture and is a factor in today’s reactionary trends in religion, politics, education, and
other spheres. If we do not acknowledge this need, our anti-foundationalist teaching may backfire and at any rate may
cause students (and parents) considerable distress. We should work with students (and parents, as far as possible) in a
dialogical manner, identifying outlooks which are an appropriate combination of old and new elements. Students
need to find enduring values (e.g., relational, aesthetic, occupational) and ideals (e.g., pluralistic, global, ecological)
which do not contradict their experience of reality but at the same time provide an adequate basis for everyday living.

One way of putting this point is to say, as I did in Part III, that “metaphysics” is important. Schools must encourage
and assist students to engage in general theorizing about reality and life. The postmodernist emphasis on concrete,
local concerns is important and should be applied in education: school studies are often too abstract and of little
apparent relevance. But learning should combine both the concrete and the general. The learning of isolated facts and
skills can be equally boring and meaningless. It is often through the drawing of broader connections between
phenomena and the exploration of their value implications that learning comes alive. And study of this more
“theoretical” kind is necessary if students are to build up a comprehensive worldview and way of life that will give
them the security, direction, and meaning they need.

Another set of implications for schooling has to do with the democratic and dialogical emphasis of postmodernism,
its questioning of the motives of authorities and its downplaying of the role of experts. We must think increasingly in
terms of “teachers and students learning together,” rather than the one telling the other how to live in a “top-down”
manner. This is necessary both so that the values and interests of students are taken into account, and so that the
wealth of their everyday experience is made available to fellow students and to the teacher.

Of course, the extent to which the teacher may be regarded as an expert varies from subject to subject. In science and
mathematics, for example, a teacher may well know considerably more than most of the students in the class, while
in values and family life this is less obviously the case; and with respect to a particular values topic, e.g., bullying in
the school yard, a student may well know more than the teacher. But even where the teacher does have greater
knowledge, we should question excessive use of a teacher dominated method. Lyotard has pointed out the extent to
which students today at the postsecondary level can learn from computerized data banks, which he calls “the
Encyclopedia of tomorrow;”21 and the same point could be made with respect to the elementary and secondary levels.
Increasingly, teachers must help students “learn how to learn,” using such technology. One great advantage of self-
directed inquiry is that through it students are more actively involved in determining what they learn and why, and
thus are able to give expression to their distinctive interests and needs.

However, while I support a democratic, dialogical approach in schools, I believe that Lyotard (like another education
critic, Ivan Illich, before him) underestimates the importance of the teacher in motivating and facilitating learning.
The activity of teachers in structuring school studies and making learning materials available at appropriate points
results in students learning a great many things they would not otherwise learn. It is not enough simply to give
students learning skills and set them loose: most young people need ongoing encouragement and help in order to
learn what they need for life in today’s world. Perhaps this is simply due to a shortcoming of contemporary culture: it
has made young people too dependent on adult help. Or perhaps it is the result of more basic features of human
nature. But whatever the reason, so long as students need external help in order to learn, we are hiding our heads in
the sand if we do not provide it. (We, on the other hand, also need help from our students in order to learn).

In democratizing education, then, we should not simply dismantle all structures and hope that something happens, but
rather try to create structures that give students the support they need and allow them to make a significant input and
have optimal control over their learning. While schooling should as far as possible be dialogical, it should not be a
mere pooling of ignorance. To be effective, dialogue requires strong input of many kinds: information, examples,
stories, feelings, ideas, theories, worldviews, and so on. The point about a democratic approach is not that structure
and content are unnecessary, but that students (and teachers) should have a major say in how their learning is
structured and what content is made available to them.


There are many implications of what we have been discussing for philosophy of education, but once again I must be
selective. To begin with, students of education, like school students, should be helped to see that knowledge is value
dependent, culture dependent, and changeable — that we are not searching for a fixed, universal philosophy of life
and education. At the same time, however, they should be helped to identify continuities and commonalities that give
some stability and direction to their lives and to the practice of teaching.

One way of achieving the twofold goal of combating foundationalism and yet helping students develop modest
“foundations” for life and education is to study various “forms of scholarship” — e.g., anti-racist, feminist,
individual, and so on — as advocated in Part III, above. In this way students will see that theory is necessarily
tailored to suit diverse group and individual needs. As I have argued, however, this does not involve denying
substantial overlap between different forms of scholarship. Indeed, the exploration of what different categories of
people have in common should be a major aspect of educational studies.

The philosophy of education classroom, like the school classroom, should also be strongly democratic and dialogical.
In this way the energies of students will be engaged, their values respected, and their insights made available to
fellow students and to professors. It is surprising how often professors of education advocate democracy for schools
and yet do not practice it with their own students. If we believe in a democratic approach to inquiry we should model
it ourselves, so that our students understand what we mean and are given the opportunity to develop a democratic
pedagogy which they can in turn employ in schools.

Adopting a genuinely democratic and dialogical approach involves a fundamental re-thinking of the nature of
philosophy — and of intellectual work in general — and of our role as professors. We should not view our research
into educational theory as something that can be carried on separately — in the mind or in the study — and then used
as a key to unlock the secrets of education and life. As Rorty says:

…the intellectual…is just a special case — just somebody who does with marks and noises what other people do
with their spouses and children, their fellow workers, the tools of their trade, the cash accounts of their
businesses, the possessions they accumulate in their homes, the music they listen to, the sports they play and
watch, or the trees they pass on their way to work.22

Philosophers are simply living life like everyone else, working on the same problems as everyone
else, but using a distinctive language (often more distinctive than need be). We should “compare
notes” with others, including our students, not impose our solutions on them.

In this respect, the postmodernist attitude is the same as the hermeneutic attitude, on Gadamer’s interpretation. As
Dieter Misgeld expounds Gadamer’s position:

Hermeneutics…is a mode of inquiry that refuses to legitimate any disposition on the side of those inquiring to
exempt themselves from what is topical in the inquiry…. [I]f inquiry is itself a situated activity, just as much as
what one studies, the conduct of life of those inquiring comes to be an issue as does the relation of inquiry to
their lives.23

This is not to downplay the importance of theory, as many postmodernists have done. Rather it is to
recognize that everyone is constantly theorizing about life — trying to make sense of it — including
the academically “least able” student in our class. Our task as professors is not to blind students with
our knowledge of the history of philosophy and our command of technical jargon but rather to help
them see that they are grappling with the same issues as we are — and have been all their lives —
and to enable them to get into conversation with philosophers, ancient and modern, and other
theorists, largely as equals.

However, while our educational theory will always be somewhat self-referential in this way, the broader our base of
experience the more others (including our students) will gain from our theory. We education professors must as much
as possible go out into society, homes, schools. As noted earlier, philosophy is not a theoretical key that unlocks
practice. Theory must be fundamentally rooted in practical experience if it is to be of value. The common professorial
disclaimer that we are “not equipped” to talk about practical matters appears humble but is in fact arrogant; and it
betrays a lack of understanding of theory. If we are not equipped to talk about practice, we are not equipped to talk
about theory. We must as far as possible address both theory and practice. That is the most effective way to
contribute to education, which is our responsibility. People who specialize mainly in theory or mainly in practice can
make a contribution, but normally they would contribute more even in their area of specialization if they did both (in
accordance with Buckminster Fuller’s principle of synergy). Far from doing a better job by specializing in theory, we
almost inevitably do a worse job.

Finally, just as we should encourage our students to dialogue with us and other theorists rather than “drinking it in,”
so we ourselves should be more critical — or dialogical — in relation to so-called “pure” philosophers. I feel that, in
general, philosophers of education over the past few decades have shown too much deference to pure philosophy. We
have tended to quote people such as Austin, Wittgenstein, Heidegger, Habermas, Foucault, Rorty, and so on rather
than “interrogating” them. As you can see from this paper, I believe in taking pure philosophers seriously; but they,
like us, make enormous errors. I feel that, in good postmodernist spirit, we who are in education should develop a
positive image of ourselves as sensitive, knowledgeable people, working away in our particular “site,” interacting
with other scholars and learning from them, but having as much to offer as to gain, and as in no way merely
“applying” the “findings” of pure philosophy.

In closing, I would like to pose a question: Am I here today engaging in genuine dialogue (and do I with my students
back home?) or am I preaching, imposing, controlling, and so forth, in the manner criticized by postmodernists and
by myself in this paper? That is something I want to reflect on more. But part of the answer, I think, lies in how
active you are in assessing what I have to say. Part of the key to avoiding authoritarianism and indoctrination in
classrooms — of school or university — is not to have teachers refrain from saying what they think, but rather to
have students feeling free — and acquiring the skills, emotions, and habits they need — to react strongly and
honestly to what teachers say. And the same is true here. I have said my piece as forcefully and clearly as I can. Now
it is up to you to assess equally forcefully what I have said from the vantage point of your own experience, culture,
ideas, interests, needs, values. I am sure my respondents will do that only too soon!


On this point see Linda Hutcheon, The Politics of Postmodernism (London: Routledge, 1989), 1.

See Stanley Aronowitz and Henry Giroux, Postmodern Education (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1991), 19, 59.

See Carol Nicholson, “Postmodernism, Feminism, and Education: The Need for Solidarity,” Educational Theory 40, no. 1 (1990): 43.

See Nicholson, 198.

John McGowan, Postmodernism and Its Critics (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1991), 184.
Richard Rorty, “The Dangers of Over-Philosophication — Reply to Arcilla and Nicholson,” Educational Theory 40, no. 1 (1990): 43.

Rorty, “The Dangers of Over-Philosophication,” 43.

Rorty, “The Dangers of Over-Philosophication,” 44.

McGowan, 181. My parentheses.

See Aronowitz and Giroux’s Postmodern Education and William Doll’s, A Post-Modern Perspective on Curriculum (New York: Teachers
College Press, 1993).

Apart from works cited above and below, I would like to mention especially Chris Weedon, Feminist Practice and Poststructuralist Theory
(Oxford: Blackwell, 1987).

Hutcheon, 2.

E.T. Gendlin, “Thinking Beyond Patterns: Body, Language, and Situations,” in The Presence of Feeling in Thoughts, ed. B. denOuden and M.
Moen (New York: Peter Lang, 1991), 29.

This process of interaction is discussed by Northrop Frye in terms of the tension between centripetal and centrifugal tendencies. See his The
Great Code (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1983), 52, 61-62, 217-18; and Words with Power (Penguin, 1990), 37-40

See for example Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality (New York: Random House/Vintage, 1990/1976), 11-13.

Landon E. Beyer and Daniel P. Liston, “Discourse or Moral Action? A Critique of Postmodernism,” Educational Theory 42, no. 4 (1992): 383-

Richard Rorty, “Postmodernist Bourgeois Liberalism,” in Hermeneutics and Praxis, ed. Robert Hollinger (Notre Dame, Indiana: University of
Notre Dame Press, 1985), 217.

For accounts of Rorty’s pragmatism, see for example, his Objectivity, Relativism, and Truth (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 63-
77; and Richard Bernstein’s Beyond Objectivity and Relativism (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1983), 198-207.

Rorty, “The Dangers of Over-Philosophication,” 41-42.

Rorty, “The Dangers of Over-Philosophication,” 44.

Jean-Francois Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition, trans. Geoff Bennington and Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press,
1984/1979), 51.

Richard Rorty, Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 37.

Dieter Misgeld, “On Gadamer’s Hermeneutics,” in Hermeneutics and Praxis, ed. Robert Hollinger, 162



Walter Feinberg
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
A memorable presidential address sets out an agenda that helps people explore new issues in new ways. This has certainly
been the effect of Clive’s paper on me and I want to use the occasion of the response not to pick apart this paragraph or to
applaud this insight, but to display how my own thought has been stimulated by his paper. Hence, I see this presentation as
more of an extended footnote to Clive than a critical response. In this footnote I want to point out a tension in the
implication of postmodernism as a cultural and a political movement, and I want to do so by highlighting a tension in two
of the general commitments that Clive alluded to. These commitments are first, the priority that is given to first person
accounts and second, the denial of the essential self. Let me illustrate my concern by describing a recent incident that
occurred at the University of Illinois.

A few weeks ago a woman doctoral student and a Fellow in the Program for the Study of Cultural Values and Ethics,
which I direct, was giving a paper before our Fellow’s seminar on the topic of La Malinche, a native woman who, when
she was perhaps fifteen or sixteen years old, was presented as a slave to Cortes. Malinche knew both Aztec and Mayan
languages and this knowledge enabled Cortes to take advantage of dissention within Montezuma’s Aztec empire and to
eventually gain Mexico as a Spanish Colony. Some say that if Cortes is the father of Mexico, Malinche, his concubine,
slave, translator, consort and informant is its mother.

Needless to say Malinche has undergone considerable reinterpretation since the conquest, depending upon whose light is
shining brightest in the rich collage which comprises the Mexican and the Mexican American national identity. Spaniards
and Natives, men and women, conservative and revolutionaries have1 all staked out a claim on La Malinche. She is savior
and traitor, whore and saint, oppressor and oppressed, all rolled into one and, it seems that debates about Malinche are
debates about the very heart and soul of Mexican identity. Here is a model for the kind of inquiry which Clive describes as
postmodern. Those who study her are, as he says, often “‘developing a working understanding’ of reality and life, one
which suits our purposes” and, as Clive notes, “what we arrive at is in part autobiographical, it reflects our ‘personal
narrative.’” This autobiographical character then raises questions, even suspicions, about the role of expert knowledge. The
expert gaze can, like the evil eye, bring the subject under the power of another, destroying its capacity for self definition
and control.

Paintings of Malinche show her to be dark, with broad features; and, depending on whether it is a Spanish or a native
depiction, she is respectively either small or large, dwelling in the background or the foreground, passive or active. The
student who related these events, Ann Storm, is tall, with red hair, light eyes, narrow features, and neither looks nor is
Mexican. When she ended her presentation about Malinche, she related some of the criticisms she had received, as an
Anglo woman, for undertaking to study this Mexican icon. She has been told that Mexican culture should not be studied by
Anglo women and that to do so is but another example of white feminists exercising hegemonic power over their Third
World sisters.

Anne’s experience illustrates the cautionary note sounded by Clive. To paraphrase him: even the whitest, wealthiest male
among our scholarly ancestors was struggling with basic issues of how humans are to survive, flourish, and find meaning
in life. And surely Anne, hardly a paradigm of male scholarship, is open to the richness of experience and interpretation
represented by Malinche. I believe that in exploring the question as to whether Anne, a white, Anglo woman, has a right to
do her dissertation on Malinche, we can begin to see some of the more general assumptions about human nature and
culture which are entailed by certain commitments of postmodernism and which Clive rightly signals as a basic concern in
his analysis of postmodernism.

I can think of three possible reasons that people might give for prohibiting a person from studying and writing about
another culture. One of them is obviously legitimate, but uninteresting. The other two are both interesting and

The legitimate reason is that if a person does not have the prerequisite background knowledge, she is likely to simply get it
wrong. What follows from this, however, is a word of caution about how to study another culture, not a prohibition against
such study. After all, one of the reasons that we study another culture is precisely to gain such knowledge. And the reason
we write about it is to communicate that knowledge to others. The general principles which Clive mentions are likely to be
found in two other possible reasons. One of these is political. The other is epistemological.

To begin with the political, there are some very concrete material benefits that are at stake in who gets the right to interpret
whom. After all, university positions are staked out on the basis of who is worth interpreting and who gets the right to
interpret. Yet if this were the whole story, then the right to interpret or to be interpreted would simply be a matter of power.
But if there is anything to the present objections being raised against third person narratives, it is that the right to interpret
is wrongly granted to the powerful and denied to the powerless. The claim is based — it would seem — on some
conception of right and wrong and not just on whether or not one has the power to interpret another.

Yet what is the basis of such a claim? Why should not the interpreter and interpreted just be a matter decided by inclination
and interest? Why should rights — not usually a concept associated with postmodernism — be an issues at all? Answers to
these questions often turn on very specific conditions which have to do both with the fragileness of a culture, and the status
of its people — whether they occupy the position of oppressed or oppressor. Franz Fanon suggests something important
when he proposed that the first job of the colonized is to get the colonizer out of their head, but just what is it that he is
getting at? Is it that the colonizer’s interpretation is simply and always false or is it something more?

We must recall that the demand that is being made — at least as Anne heard it — is not just that we all have a right to
interpret ourselves, but that others have an obligation to refrain from interpreting me. But why would someone believe that
they have an exclusive right to interpret themselves and why would they want to claim it? Exploring these questions may
bring us closer to a glimpse at the general truths that Clive rightly suspects lie behind some postmodern commitments.

Let’s begin with the assumption that, for whatever reason, some groups do have an exclusive claim on their own
interpretation, and ask: Why would they want to exercise this right? Is one’s culture something like one’s home, where
only members of the family have a legitimate right to dwell but where others must be invited in? After all, not all cultures
seem concerned about asserting their right to self interpretation. The English seem quite happy when Shakespeare plays in
Peoria or even in Nagoya, and the Irish do not as a rule complain when Joyce is studied in Moscow or even Urbana. Of
course, these are, one might argue, the best products of a given culture, whereas with Malinche we have a much more
ambiguous exemplar.

This is part of the problem, but only a part. Clearly, Benedict Arnold or Al Capone are not model exemplars of the
character of the United States, but I see nothing inappropriate about some Mexican or Scotch person offering an
interpretation of their impact. Indeed, some of the most astute interpretations of this country were performed by foreigners
— Crevecoeur, Toqueville and Myrdal come to mind.

The difference is that today the demand for exclusivity is made largely because the very status of a colonialized people
often means not just that they have incorporated the interpretation of the colonizer — as lazy, or stupid, or dirty — but that
they have accepted the role of interpreted to the colonizer’s interpreter. When this fear is justified, it means that the
oppressed stand as an object to their own history — enabling the other to expropriate its meaning. In other words, in this
demand for exclusivity of interpretation is what Clive speaks of as a general commitment to a specific conception of
culture, value and inquiry. Here the commitment involves a subtle complex of principles that essentially says that dominant
cultures have an obligation to provide dominated cultures with the space to inquire into their own history, and that when a
culture is fragile and when its fragility is the result of a colonialized past, priority must be given to its self interpretation.

The conception of rights developed here is not exactly like the right a home owner has to expel an unwanted guest. It it
rather the right that a victim of an assault has to be given the time and the space to heal. And the concept of respect that is
entailed is not the same as that which the phone solicitor exercises when she says thank you, good bye after the first rebuff.
Here respect requires an understanding of the healing process and the need for autonomy. It does not necessarily mean that
one must accept the vision of thick cultural boundaries and bounded interpretive boarders which are sometimes insinuated
into the understanding of this process.

Clive observes that terms such as “eurocentric” or “patriarchical” are bandied about too much, and if using these terms
does in fact lead one to overlook the masses of oppressed European peoples — both women and men — then he is
certainly right. If, on the other hand, their use is taken as a shorthand reminder of other voices and other experiences, then
it has an important place in the discourse. The difficulty with the claim that is made for exclusive interpretation is not that
it labels certain kinds of systematic distortions as paternalism or eurocentric. It is that it assumes that there is some real,
inside-the-group interpretation which can be accessed only by members of the group themselves and which must be
appropriated spontaneously and without interference from the outside. Yet this assumption rests upon a view of an
essential, internal, spontanious self which is both essentialist and romantic — two qualities which most postmodern
theorists wish to reject.

Moreover, self interpretations need not always be liberating interpretations. Consider tribal groups which view colonizers
as simply instruments of some larger force serving to punish them for transgressions against the spirit world. For self
interpretation to be liberating, the self that interprets must at least see the self that is being interpreted as part of a process
where liberation is a possible outcome. Yet this kind of interpretation is always relational and diachronic. Self is connected
to the interpretations of other and therefore inevitably ascribes to others motives, interests, pressures and world views, but
this requires understanding of the self-understanding of the oppressor. And it requires a vision of self over time in which
there is a reason for challenging, interrogating, altering, dismissing, reincorporating and transcending these self

In this process, interpretations and self understandings of the oppressed as well as of the oppressor undergo change in light
of a new flow of previously disrupted interpretations. Hence the possibility of a self interpretation on the part of the
oppressed which is not informed by the changing self interpretation of the oppressor is limited, although politically and
psychologically it may serve some useful functions. To assume more — to believe that self interpretation necessarily
reaches deeper or represents truer — is to accept both an essentialist’s and a romantic’s view of self, which goes against
most of the tenets of postmodernism.

Postmodernism’s rejection of the essential self does not fit well with the insistence that there are epistimic boundaries2 that
give priority to first person interpretations — whether the first person be singular or plural. The soundness of the
postmodern view that self is relational and should be understood as denying priority to first person interpretations — if
only for the reasons that not all relations have been actualized and that selfhood always contains evolutionary and
deevolutionary potential. Hence, the self is more than its past and present manifestations, and the interaction of first and
third person interpretations are essential to the development of both individual and collective selves. The problem with
colonialism is not that it rendered wrong interpretations, as if there were some essential, hidden self which blows a horn
and rings a bell when we don’t get the “right” interpretation. The problem is that it silences alternative interpretations and
therefore curtails the first and third person dialogue. And the problem with silenced dialogue is that it destroys the very
diversity that is required for the epistimic and ontological development of both oppressed and oppressor.

Hence, as Clive says: in addition to anti-racist, feminist, anti-agest scholarship we need individual scholarship — Jane Doe
scholarship, Jose Sanches scholarship, Shiu Chun Leung scholarship and, may I add, Anne Storm scholarship. And we also
need Jose Sanches interpreting Shiu Chun Leung, and Shiu Chun Leung interpreting Anne Storm, and Anne Storm
interpreting Jose Sanches. One does expect that any scholar operating in the postmodern world will be sensitive to
dimensions of racism, sexism, agesm, classism, and will be alert for new and unnamed forms of discrimination. One
expects too that scholars will seek to hear the voice of the other and seek to accept responsibility for the effects of the
gazing that we do. But in the long run, the solution to any malady brought on by gazing in the way we experts gaze is to
find ways to engage the object as subject, to see self as other, to help the healing process and reduce the need for oppressed
cultures to build fortresses to protect their identities.

So ends my footnote to Clives’ presidential address. Whether my own thoughts on postmodernism and interpretation are or
are not correct, I believe that others reading his thoughtful and reflective presentation will find other issues to ponder in his
rich analysis of post modern theory.


Maxine Greene
Teachers College, Columbia University

In a novel called Flaubert’s Parrot, Julian Barnes tells the story of a British physician obsessed with discovering the truth
about the nineteenth-century novelist, Gustave Flaubert. He travels back and forth to Rouen and the surrounding country
where Flaubert spent much of his life; he visits the hospital, the local museum, what is left of Flaubert’s homes and his
lovers’ homes. He reads everything from Flaubert’s letters and journals to contemporary British criticism. Although the
novelist died more than a century ago, the doctor, Geoffrey Braithwaite, realizes that “all that remains of him is paper.
Paper, ideas, phrases, metaphors, structured prose which turns into sound.”1 He studies everything that survives,
nonetheless, hoping to reach beyond the texts at least to the extent of identifying a stuffed parrot as the “real” one that
stood on the writer’s desk and served as model for Felicité’s parrot in “The Simple Heart.” He examines a statue of
Flaubert that is ostensibly a reliable semblance of the “real.” It turns out that there are three identical parrots left of fifty
that looked almost the same. There are three statues of Flaubert, each one a second impression, a replacement of the
original, each one lacking something — a thigh, a mustache, an arm. To make it harder, six North Africans are playing
boules around the statue in Rouen, suggesting a multiculturalism that enhances the uncertainty. The doctor devises a
number of chronologies of Flaubert’s life; each is from a different vantage point; each is, to some degree, “true.” The
doctor asks how we can ever seize the past. He remembers that, when he was a medical student, some pranksters at a dance
released into the hall a piglet smeared with grease. “It squirmed between legs, evaded capture, squealed a lot. People fell
over trying to grasp it, and were made to look ridiculous in the process. The past often seems to behave like that piglet.”2
And so, given what we see happening today, does what we used to call “objective reality.” It does occur to me, however,
that there was an actual pig.

I begin this way in part because the novel (like so many good novels) not only enables us to order the materials of our own
experience in accord with the “as/if” disclosed in the work. Lending Dr. Braithwaite’s quest our lives until his questioning
becomes our questioning, we are likely to rewrite some of our narratives as we begin to wonder about slippery pigs and
textual realities and communities of interpretation and multiple points of view. One of my problems with Clive Beck’s
beautifully and coherently drawn version of postmodernism is that he seems to want to integrate what he calls
“postmodernist doctrines and practices” into his life-story without altering that life-story in any significant way. It is not
accidental that he talks of those doctrines and practices “intruding” into his life. As we all know, no one can be more
courtly or courteous with intruders than Professor Beck. I can see him inviting some of them to his dining room table,
making them feel quite at home. Indeed, he may be doing precisely that at this Philosophy of Education Society meeting.
Why make Foucault, Baudrillard, Lyotard, and Derrida feel like outsiders? Let them join the remaining analysts,
existentialists, idealists, and pragmatists and feel included, accepted members (French accents despite) of the community.

This suggests some of the difficulties I have with the Presidential address, scholarly and authentic as it is. I cannot but
recall Nietzsche’s Zarathustra in the presence of the tightrope walker, viewing the human being as a rope over an abyss. “A
dangerous across,” he says, “a dangerous on-the-way, a dangerous looking-back, a dangerous shuddering and stopping.”3
He is speaking of those who are never finished, whose lives are always an “overture.” He is speaking of those who live to
know and who want to know, but who recognize (as those touched by the postmodern mood cannot but recognize) that
there is no net under the tightrope. There are no rational frameworks in which all conflicts can be resolved; nor are there
time-tested authorities to offer resting points.

Clive Beck is apparently troubled by the extremity of such claims and responds by recalling visible continuities,
commonalties, and startling glimpses of stable realities. He does not mention the erosion of faith in the so-called
“Enlightenment Project,” that linking of rationality with human promise and the conviction of ongoing progress in the
years to come. We are aware of modernist and pre-modernist challenges to Cartesianism and merely abstract formulations.
We need only think of Blake and the Romantics, Wordsworth, Emerson, Kant, as well as Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, William
James, and John Dewey. The full force of instrumental rationality (that distortion of classical notions of reason to the
wedding of science and technology) was felt with the discovery of the concentration camps in Germany and the atomic
bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The idea of perfectly rational men (yes, ordinarily men) deciding calmly and
systematically to destroy other human beings because of their race, religion, sexual preference, or nationality clearly served
to open the way to the rejection of master narratives like the myths of progress and reason’s claims to privileged insights
into what is true and valuable. The suspicion has become so widespread that it has even been applied to the work of Jurgen
Habermas because of his belief that consensus can still be achieved by means of disinterested communication among
groups of competent speakers. There are echoes, it is said, of the old reliance on the image of a patriarchal, always clear-
thinking figure permanently installed on the sixth or seventh stage of development, free of the chores and concrete
distractions of the private sphere. (I suspect that many of the doubts and the unanswerable questions are now being aroused
in those reading about the rapes of Bosnian women, sometimes by perfectly rational professional men. There was a nurse,
some of you recall, who described her violation by a doctor she had always looked up to, whom she called “a golden

Feminist theory, hermeneutics, new approaches to psychoanalysis, studies of texts and textuality, speech-act inquiries,
explorations of the “dialogic imagination,”4 a cultural pluralism that now has broken through the silences of the long
oppressed, long colonized, long subordinated people: these have led to an interest in situated knowing. Contingencies are
being recognized; so are the diversities in vantage points and perspectives. We can grant with Clive Beck the importance of
interactions between ideas and experiences of the world. We certainly can agree with him on the present fascination with
reality as a human construction. Once we allow, however, for the unprecedented multiplicity of constructions due to the
breaking of silences, traceable as well to the opening of different cultural realities due to media, travel, population
movements, we cannot forestall what Beck calls the loss of strict definitions. Nor can we do much better than strive for
some reciprocity among incommensurable ideas and points of view.

Disturbed as we all obviously are by the loss of reference points and the challenge this poses to democracy, Clive Beck
remarks that there is “no center” for postmodernists. He seems to connect this with the critique of what is called the
“canon” because of its exclusion of such a large part of the world’s populations and their literatures. Given the surging
interest in margins and borders, however, I would disagree. Reading Cornel West, Henry Gates, Jr., and Toni Morrison, I
have been helped to see dimensions of a center never noticed before, and largely because they are consciously looking
from the border.

Toni Morrison, for instance, points to efforts to erase an Africanist presence, and how that presence “informs in compelling
and inescapable ways the texture of American Literature.”5 Like others who have been excluded, she is not denying the
human quests of American writers nor the basic issues they have probed. She is simply making us see more, seeking the
kind of repleteness of interpretation that is only achieved when works are read from multiple perspectives. So it is with
Gayatri Chakrovorty Spivak, helping us come in contact with “decolonized space” and the importance of “as yet
unreadable alternative history”6 that crisscrosses so much of western history that it does not and cannot erode or destroy
what we think of as ours. Feeding new visions from the margins to the center, the formerly disqualified on the borders are
likely to enrich, complicate, and thicken what we construct (without warranty) as the center of all things.
Understanding all these as instances of knowing informed by value, I do not disagree with Clive Beck on the importance of
calling attention to the impossibility of neutral or neutralized cognition. Still, I do not agree with his brief mention of
Michel Foucault under that rubric. Foucault’s conception of power as dispersed through our discourses, our examination
systems, our ways of designing institutions seems to me to demand more attention, especially since he is disposed of here
with the statement that “he has perhaps an overly conspiratorial view of knowledge.” His interest actually is, Foucault
writes, in “detaching the power of truth from the forms of hegemony…with which it operates at the present time.”7 Like
John Dewey and Hannah Arendt, he calls for reflection on the rules that govern discourse at particular moments of time,
and on the assumptions that underlie it. Speaking of thought much as they do, he says that thought “is what allows one to
step back from this way of acting or reacting, to present it to oneself as an object of thought and question its meanings, its
conditions, and its goals. Thought is freedom in relation to what one does, the motion by which one detaches oneself from
it, establishes it as an object, and reflects upon it as a problem.”8

As I suggested, there are continuities; but I would still want to insist that Foucault, Derrida, Lyotard, yes, and Rorty (with
all their own claims to connections with Nietzsche, say, or Wittgenstein, or Heidegger, or Searles, or Lacan, or Freud, or
the pragmatists, or the neo-Marxists) are being read at a moment of history marked by distinctive shifts of sensibility on all
sides. Some associate them with the overcoming of Communist systems, with the overtaking of democratic commitments
by free-market ideals, with the changes in our economies, with the so-called “simulacra”9 created by the media and
surrounding us all. I think it must be said, in the face of the demographic changes taking place, that there is an important
effort within postmodernism to break with the category thinking Dr. Beck criticizes, in part by raising questions about
representation that have seldom been raised before.

It is not simply a question of whether discourse functions to represent some pre-existing, objective “reality,” whether (to
move towards deconstructionist thought for a moment) consideration of a play of signifiers must replace familiar notions of
signifiers referring to objectively existent instances of the signified. It is also a matter of recognizing that representation,
for many postmodernists, is ordinarily arbitrary and dependent upon false assumptions. This applies not only to the taking
for granted of the referential status of words, images, symbols, and the like. It also applies to any person’s being
representative somehow, of the Asian people, the South American, the Afro-Americans, the Native Americans, the female
gender, as if indeed there were “essences” to be embodied or exemplified.

This leads me to a last dimension of critique. It has to do with lack of attention (beyond mere mention) to the
postmodernist shifts in feminism and feminist theory and the important impacts these have meant for postmodernist
thinking about essentialism, perspectivism, difference, the self, and the whole matter of theory. Certainly, the idea of
situated knowing has been emphasized and developed in considerable detail in feminist writing.10 The challenges to
essentialism have connected with the complex problem of difference. The question of whether the self is obliterated by
being entangled in and, perhaps, created by discourse relates to larger questions about the possibility of autonomy for any
self in the traditional individualist sense.

Both women and men are increasingly talked about in contexts or in the midst of dialogues, or in complex meshworks of
relationship. At once, at a moment when the dissolution of epistemology seems to characterize so much of postmodernist
thinking, feminist scholars are discovering or rediscovering epistemology from their own situated points of view. Sandra
Harding, working as a feminist scholar in the domains of the sciences, speaks about the development of a feminist
empiricism that primarily challenges the incomplete manner in which scientific method has been utilized, even as it
complies with many of the traditional norms of science. Still rejecting the universalizing “ideal knower,” Harding also
draws attention to standpoint theory, which emphasizes the importance of grounding knowledge in experience.11 It also
attempts to overcome the distorted and limited orientations to social experience common to traditional science, so focused
on men’s experience from which so much of it derives.

Not only does this expand the scene against which theories of knowledge are tested and examined; it indicates that Rorty is
not the primary theorist among postmodernists, or even the one most interested in theory. Pastiche and the unexplained do
indeed characterize those thought of as skeptical postmodernists, who often posit an equivalence of pluralist views and see
theory as nothing more than a set of linguistic conventions. There are more affirmative postmodernists who still see truth
as relative to particular communities, but who go on to talk of theory in connection with the local, the daily, or the
narrative. As we have seen, there are feminist theorists who, for very good reasons, are reaching beyond the purely textual
in a modest return to the empirical world. I cannot but think again of the Bosnian women and of how difficult it is to affirm
that all is discourse or text. Similarly, in spite of the generally felt groundlessness where moralities are concerned, in spite
of recommendations that we rely upon “shared beliefs,”12 since there is no way of universalizing or objectifying values,
there appears here and there in postmodern literature a reaching out for principle, if only as perceived as a shared fiction, or
what Joseph Conrad calls a “necessary fiction,” a barrier against nothingness.13

Going back to Julian Barnes’ Dr. Braithwaite and his unfinished research into Flaubert’s life and art, I need to say that
there is — secreted in the text until the end — what is called a “pure story.” It is the story of the doctor’s wife’s attempted
suicide and of his having to turn off the life-support machine. “We were happy,” he writes, “we were unhappy; I miss her.”
And then he quotes Flaubert again: “Is it splendid, or stupid, to take life seriously?”14 Later, he wonders whether there is
any point to him, to his life. He does not want to negate himself in the face of those who seem more interesting. And then:

But life, in this respect, is a bit like reading. And as I said before: if all your responses to a book have already been
duplicated and expanded upon by a professional critic, then what point is there to your reading? Only that it’s yours.
Similarly, why live your life? Because it’s yours. But what if such an answer becomes less and less convincing?

Pondering risk-taking, he says that you cannot change humanity, you can only know it. “Pride makes us long for a
solution to things — a solution, a solution, a purpose, a final cause; but the better telescopes become, the more stars
appear. You cannot change humanity; you can only know it.”15

This, for me, is a postmodern ending, articulated by someone whose narrative I somehow achieve as
meaningful against my own lived life and through my reading, which is forever incomplete. I make this a
tale of a search for meaning while walking the tightrope, trying — in a world without benchmarks — to
keep moving, to keep asking, to keep trying to create an identity. Of course, as Clive Beck tells us, this has
to have implications for pedagogy. As he puts it in his fine third section dealing with pedagogy, there is the
need for a dialogical approach, as there is a need to look though different perspectives. Perhaps by means
of looking through diverse perspectives at the same books, the same environment, the same world, young
persons will constitute something in common among themselves. Their teachers can make the materials,
the ways of knowing available and accessible. They may then go on, teachers and learners, through and
beyond the overture, taking their lives seriously, resisting thoughtlessness, renewing a world.

Julian Barnes, Flaubert’s Parrot (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1985), 12.

Barnes, 14.

Friedrich Nietzsche, “Thus Spake Zarathustra: First Part,” in The Portable Nietzsche, ed. Walter Kaufmann (New York: The Viking Press, 1958),

See Mikhail Bakhtin, The Dialogic Imagination (Austin: The University of Texas Press, 1981).

Toni Morrison, Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1992), 46.

Gayatri Chakavorty Spivak, “Who Claims Alterity?”, in Remaking History, ed. Barbara Kruger and Phil Mariani (Seattle: Bay Press, 1989), 259.
Michel Foucault, “Truth and Power,” in Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews (New York: Pantheon Press, 1980), 132-33.

Foucault, “Polemics, Politics, and Problematizations: An Interview,” in The Foucault Reader, ed. Paul Rabinow (New York: Pantheon Books,
1984), 388.

See Jean Baudrillard, For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign (St. Louis: Telos Press, 1981).

See Seyla Benhabib, Situating the Self (New York: Routledge, 1992).

Sandra Harding, The Science Question in Feminism (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1989), 24-27.

Richard Rorty, “Solidarity or Objectivity?”, Objectivity, Relativism, and Truth (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 23.

Joseph Conrad, “Heart of Darkness,” in Great Short Works (New York: Harper and Row, 1967), 261.

Barnes, 163.

Barnes, 166.

Thinking Again: Education After Postmodernism

by Nigel Blake, Paul Smeyers, Richard Smith

The 'postmodern condition, ' in which instrumentalism usurps all other considerations, has produced a kind of
intellectual paralysis in the world of education. It is difficult to take issue with such shibboleths of our time as
'standards', 'effectiveness' or 'quality', or the transmission of a nation's 'heritage', yet many people sense that important
values are being lost as the education systems of the developed world increasingly devote themselves to
managerialism and 'performativity', the quest for efficiency and effectiveness that can be quantified. This book shows
how a sustained and telling critique of current educational policy and practice can be developed from the writings of
such postmodern thinkers as Lyotard, Derrida, Foucault, and Lacan. These thinkers show us new directions, making
what has become over-familiar in education seem strange, and they shake us out of established ways of thinking and
writing. The book reveals how very different certain aspects of education--for instance, literacy, moral education (in
the home as well as the school), curriculum policy and planning--look in the light of these ideas. The book makes
many of the central ideas of postmodern theory accessible by demonstrating their relevance to familiar aspects of the
practice of education.

Berth Danermark
After Postmodernism:
the Challenge for Critical Realism
: an introduction to critical realism.
Edited by José López & Garry Potter. The Athlone Press, London & New York, 2001. 0 485 00421 6 hardback £50.00 0
485 00617 0 paperback £17.99

In this review I first give a short presentation of After

Postmodernism and then discuss some issues raised by its
The editors, José López and Garry Potter, have done a
great job. They have collected twenty-three papers dealing
with various aspects of critical realism. The papers are
presented under nine headings, each with a short
introduction by the editors. It is not an easy task to review
such a book. It is a book full of nuances, well-written
chapters and covering so many different aspects of critical
realism that it would take more space than is available to
introduce and comment on the different parts of the book
on equal terms.
The volume begins with a general introduction, also
written by the editors. This is a very useful, I would say
necessary, part of the book. It gives the reader a snapshot
of critical realism. It is only some fifteen pages long but it
provides the reader with the basics of critical realism and
positivism/empiricism. For anyone who wishes to get a
grasp of critical realism ‘in five minutes’ I would
recommend this part of the book. At the end of the book
there are some, for the newcomer, very useful suggestions
for further reading.
The contributions cover a wide range of topics. There
are philosophical, theoretical and methodological papers.
However, it is a little unclear to me what the guiding
principles were behind the selection of papers. The editors
claim that the ‘books contributors provide a good
sampling of realism in action’. I would say yes and no.
Some papers are really good pieces of applied critical
realism, some cannot be characterized as ‘in action’ (I
assume the editors mean something specific by ‘in action’
but I am not sure we mean the same thing). This is a
question to which I will return.
It is not possible to do justice to all the twenty-three
contributors in this review. Some will be mentioned, some
not. This does not indicate any opinion by the reviewer
regarding the quality of the different papers. In general
they fit in very well. I say ‘in general’ because I relate
them to the theme and scope of the book. The title contains
two keywords: ‘after’ and ‘introduction’. This brings me
to some questions raised by the book. In the following I
will briefly discuss two such groups of questions.
An introduction or an illustration?
The first set of questions is related to the subtitle. Is this
book really an introduction? Introduction of what and for
whom, i.e. who were the readers López and Potter had in
mind when bringing these papers together in a volume? Is
this an introduction I would recommend to my students
who are curious about critical realism? I am not sure. In
combination with a more coherent and non-polemical
presentation of critical realism, this book is a very useful
one. But, taken on its own, it does not serve as an
introduction. The editors’ extremely useful presentation of
critical realism, and their introductions to the nine parts,
are an excellent aid for the reader to understand the
context and evaluate the conclusions and theses in the
different chapters—although there is a risk that the radical
mix of papers might be confusing for a beginner in critical
realism. I do not want to underestimate the experience and
the intellectual capacity of potential readers, but to grasp
some of the papers requires a good knowledge of critical
realism. Let me just give two examples. The first chapter
is a transcript of a debate between Rom Harré and Roy
Bhaskar, among others, from IACR’s second annual
conference at the University of Essex in 1998. They are
discussing the nature of causal mechanisms, more
precisely if structures are able to produce phenomena, a
thesis which Harré disputes and Bhaskar defends. Harré
agrees that structures have causal consequences but he
says that ‘[i]t is active powers that I deny social structure
possesses’ (p. 36). However, it is not easy to grasp the
theoretical and methodological implications of these
differences in social ontology by reading this chapter.
Another example is the last part of the book under the
heading ‘Dialectics’. It contains three very good papers by
Robert Fine, Bertell Ollman and Andrew Collier, dealing
with the concept abstraction among other things. These
papers require some basic knowledge in philosophy and
some familiarity with critical realism.
After empiricism?
The second type of question I would like to address is
related to the ‘after’ in the title. After what? What is
postmodernism and has that unspecified intellectual mode
of thinking really ‘gone out of fashion’ as the editors claim
(p. 4)? At the end of my article I will give an example
countering this thesis. This is not the place to go into depth
on this issue, but there is a need to modify the often
caricatured way in which it is discussed. I do not claim
that the editors caricature it, but that the question of
postmodernism’s contribution to our way of thinking
about the world and our knowledge about it is of the
utmost importance. López and Potter make a very important
postmodernism. They emphasise that it is a very ‘broad
church’ (just like critical realism). There is much in the
postmodern way of thinking that is in accordance with
critical realism. However, I do agree with López and
Potter that postmodernism is beginning to come to its
senses. We see nowadays less and less of the more
extreme forms of reasoning in postmodernism. We seldom
see statements like ‘cholera bacteria are a social
construct’, which is obviously difficult to defend in the
light of modern biology. Celebrating diversity and
complexity does not always lead to relativism. This is
developed in
chapter seven, ‘Sociology and
Epistemology’, written by Jean Bricmont. He writes that
postmodern ideas ‘contain a kernel of truth which can only
be seen when they are carefully formulated’ and that when
they are so formulated ‘they give no support to radical
relativism’ (p. 101). I think this is a very important and
constructive way of approaching postmodernism.
I have no problem agreeing with López and Potter that
postmodernism is in a ‘state of decline’, but I would add
that this is truer of its radical strands than of the more
sober postmodernism. However, more problematic is the
relationship between critical realism and modern
empiricism. What is state-of-the-art empiricism, and what
are the issues that critical realism offers a radically
different view on? And what are the implications of a
move from empiricism to critical realism? Scientists tend
to be ‘realist’, writes Bricmont (p. 101). From my own
experience in interdisciplinary research I think he is right.
But as Porpora says in chapter twenty, (‘Do realists run
regressions?’), ‘[p]ositivism is a philosophy for
sociologists who do not want to have to think about
philosophy’ (p. 263). I would add, ‘not only sociologists’.
This is the crucial point; many tend to think as realists but
act as empiricists when it comes to applied research. This
is a challenge for critical realism. If critical realism is to
make progress and become the important meta-theory we
hope it will be, we have constantly to have the epistemic
fallacy in mind. It is addressed in the general introduction
and in Porpora’s chapter. There are also some really good
chapters dealing with concrete social phenomenon like
smoking (David Ford), cyberspace (Pam Higham) and
computing (Sue Clegg). But the fallacy deserves much
more attention in an introductory book that also has the
aim of showing critical realism ‘in action’. Most of the
contributions discuss postmodernism but since this is a
meta-theory that is ‘out of fashion’, at least in its extreme
forms, one could let it rest in peace and face the normal
science of empiricism as Porpora suggests. In practical
research empiricism is many times a more vital competitor
with critical realism when it comes to important social
phenomena, for example inequality in contemporary
society, than is postmodernism. If we do not succeed in
demonstrating the usefulness of the critical realist meta-
theoretical orientation it will remain marginal. Showing
critical realism to be an alternative to empiricism
constitutes the bulk of Bhaskar’s writings up till the
beginning of the nineties. One critical realist who has
written a lot about this is Tony Lawson (see e.g. Lawson
1997); in his books he focuses on the problems of
empiricism and the strengths of critical realism. Another is
Andrew Sayer. It is extremely important that more critical
realists show how critical realism is an alternative to
empiricism in applied research.
Realism at work?
This brings me to my last set of questions triggered by the
book. Is this a volume that does justice to critical realism
at work? There are chapters on nature (Ted Benton),
physics (Jean Bricmont and Christopher Norris), social
structures (John Scott and José López), computing (Pam
Higham and Sue Clegg) and literary interpretation (Philip
Tew) to mention some of the themes included in the book.
These chapters are good illustrations of ‘critical realism in
action’. There are also some chapters of a more reflexive
kind, focusing on ontological and epistemological issues.
However, if the term ‘in action’ aims to indicate what
difference critical realism makes when used in applied
research, it is very important to be explicit about this. I
sometimes see reports where the author claims that (s)he is
a critical realist and devotes a chapter or two to the
presentation of critical realism. But at the end of the road
one could easily exclude these chapters because the
conclusions—and the route to the conclusions—look more
or less exactly the same as in a report written by a typical
modern empiricist. Hence the question in practical
research is: ‘What difference does critical realism make
when it comes to an empirical investigation?’ This
addresses the complex issue of bridging the gaps between
a philosophy of science, methodology and theory
addressed by, for example, Margaret Archer. I think this is
also what an introduction to critical realism should
include, especially if it claims to illustrate critical realism
‘in action’. There are hints of that, explicitly and implicitly
(mostly the latter), in the book, but one has to read
carefully to find them.
Also related to the question of critical realism in action
is whether we could expect critical realists to be present in
some areas of research and scholarship where it is not.
There are of course a number of areas where we would
like critical realism to be party to the discussion. But let
me just indicate one very important discussion in which I
have so far not seen any explicit critical realist stance. It is
the debate between Axel Honneth and Nancy Fraser
among others (see, for example, Fraser & Honneth 2002).
Not long ago there was a debate in New Left Review
between proponents of two different views of how to
understand inequality and the difference relating to, for
example, gender, ethnic groups, gays/lesbians and
heterosexuals. On the one hand, there were proponents of
a culturalist perspective influenced by Charles Taylor and
Axel Honneth. On the other hand, we find a perspective
rooted in political economy, with Nancy Fraser as the most
articulate proponent. Is injustice rooted in exploitation and
economic marginalisation or in culture and representation,
interpretation and communication? Here it is very clear
that an elaborated and sophisticated form of
postmodernism is very vital and has many supporters. (To
say that Axel Honneth’s theory of social recognition is a
sign of a mode of thinking which is in decline is not
accurate.) Is the answer Fraser’s theory of redistribution?
This debate addresses one of the most important questions
of our time—inequality between different groups in
society. I think critical realism has much to offer in this
debate and it is frustrating to note the absence (as far as I
know) of an elaborated third position formulated in critical
realist terms.
In this review I have not at all been able to do justice to
the different contributors. I find the book very useful, but
more as a collection of different comments on and
illustrations of critical realism than as an introduction. The
strength of the book is its diversity and the introductions,
especially the general introduction. It shows that critical
realism is a very vital mode of thinking and covers many
facets of reality. However, the book also brings to the fore
some important questions, as a good book should. In this
review I have indicated some. What is the state of
postmodernism? Is it premature to say that it is ‘out of
fashion’? What is the relation between ‘modern’
empiricism and critical realism when it comes to empirical
investigations? Are there important lacunae where critical
realism is conspicuous by its absence? We do not find the
answers in this book. But it is a strength of the book that it
raises such important questions.
Lawson, Tony. 1997. Economics and Reality. London:
Fraser, Nancy & Honneth, Axel. 2002. Redistribution or
Recognition? A Philosophical Exchange. London: