Educational Theory in Practice or 'Educational Praxis'

theme: Holistic education is involved with theory in practice or 'praxis'. A rational discourse of educational praxis depends on meaning of freedom as freedom for growth through learning or 'inner freedom' (as opposed to freedom to compete or 'outer freedom'.) Praxis is a function of the continual interplay between thought and action... between interpretation, understanding and application in 'one unified process' which involves a fundamental respect for for oneself and for others... for human nature... depends on development of  moral consciousness or 'rational conscience'.

Practice as the act of doing something is usually contrasted to abstract ideas or 'theory' from which general principles or 'rules' can be derived and subsequently applied to the problems of practice.  Theory is knowledge while practice is the application of that knowledge to solve problems. Theory and principles tend to be idealised. Praxis is action guided by moral consiousness or 'morality' as the concern to further human well being and the good life i.e. 'conscience'... Praxis is action which embodies certain qualities... commitment to  to human well being and the search for truth. It is the informed, committed action of people who are free and able to act for themselves. Praxis is creative: it is other-seeking and dialogical - essence of education as the practice for 'freedom' as 'freedom for growth or 'inner freedom' as opposed to freedom for competition or 'outer freedom' (so-called 'individualism'). Praxis is action or practice with conscience... Praxis can shape and change the world (mystics, scientists, philosophers, statesmen,  ...)

Separation of theory and practice for sake of argument and understanding... see Aristotle and his three-fold classification of disciplines as theoretical involving contemplation, productive... involving mechanical skills and creativity of production resulting  from an idea, guiding plan or design, image or pattern  ... arts and crafts and practical involving the application of theory and production to practical problems. Practical reasoning  begins with a question or situation...  The basis of the distinction lies in the purpose or 'telos'. Greek phronesis for practical wisdom...  involves moving between the particular and the general... requires an understanding of other people. It requires that a person make a wise and prudent practical judgement about how to act in a particular situation.


The concept of 'education' is problematical and complex. Discussion about 'education' is problematical because it involves speculation about the reality of human nature...

Educational policies are formulated in the context of a cultural worldview inherent in the prevailing cultural belief systems and valuei.e. 'paradigm'.. The cultural perception of 'reality' is based on the assumptions underlying the cultural worldview. The function of educational institutions is the reproduction of the values inherent in the belief systems. The 'enculturated' individual internalizes the values and belief systems of the culture and perceives reality from the cultural perspective. The cultural paradigm or worldview is the perception of reality as it is perceived by the enculturated individuals in the context of their own culture. Cultural beliefs are derived from scientific 'beliefs' and the cultural belief systems are derived from the culture's prevailing 'scientific' paradigm or perception of 'reality'. The cultural paradigm is the product of 'scientific' activity in the cultural context. The prevailing scientific activity uses technology and resources which are available.

 The cultural assumptions about reality form the basis of the culture's belief systems or 'myths'. Further scientific activity modifies the perception of reality. Modifications in the perception of reality modify the cultural paradigm and the cultural myths. The new cultural perceptions of reality provide the framework for new belief systems and new cultural values.

Cultural value systems provide the framework for the formulation of educational policies of the culture. Educational 'institutions' formulate policies which are consistent with the cultural value system. In the traditional system of American education, the basic assumptions of the reductionist scientific paradigm form the basis for educational policy. According to reductionism, 'scientific' observation and inquiry excludes the observer's subjective participation. The reductionist perception of 'reality' depends on the observer's objective detachment and rejects the individual's 'inner reality' as a source of knowledge. Consistent with the reductionist worldview, educational 'policies' are formulated on the basis of the learner's detachment from the learning process... emphasis is placed on the 'objective' aspects of learning - test scores, grades, diplomas, credentials, indicators of the learner's 'performance'. These methods are the legacy of the 'traditional' curriculum conceived for the purposes of training individuals for the factory.

The notion of detachment is derived from the reductionist demand for scientific objectivity which gave rise to the notion of individuality and individual freedom as 'freedom for competition' or 'outer freedom'. The price for this so-called 'freedom' is alienation from nature and the loss of the natural wholistic perspective.

Mass education was a product of the industrial revolution. Educational curricula and teaching methodologies were designed for the masses. Knowledge areas were fragmented and distributed into separate 'skills' and 'subjects', making up a 'curriculum' of academic 'requirements.' The fragmented approach of 'traditional' education emphasized punctuality and obedience. It required students to perform meaningless tasks without questioning. It required them to learn by rote memorization. Schools have become institutions of compulsory 'education'. They continue to promote the values of the belief systems of American culture..  in the tradition of forced learning, the function of the schools is to foster the illusions of 'democracy', 'equal opportunity' and the 'pursuit of happiness'.

 The belief systems of the American culture represent a unique form of 'nationalism' based on the ideals of the 'founding fathers'... Combination of American ideals with the values derived from Protestantism, reductionism and capitalism has produced the characteristic myths of American culture. The notion of self-responsibility, though upheld by the founding fathers, has been replaced by the notion of responsibility to the 'society'. The aims of education are formulated on the basis on the ideals of American nationalism and the values of American culture. Educational institutions promote the cultural myths by reproducing the cultural values. According to the Fall - Redemption myth of orthodox Christianity, the individual is born into the world tainted with sin and is naturally 'evil'. The individual's suffering in this life is perceived as a natural consequence of original sin.

The 'inner life' is explained away as a natural consequence of the evil inherent in human nature. Each individual is 'responsible' for restraining and controlling his own evil impulses and those of other people as well. An individual who is unable to restrain the evil part of his nature must be 'punished.' Not able to trust human nature, the individual cannot trust his own nature. He cannot trust his own 'humanity' or the humanity of others. In the educational system, the individual is not trusted to develop a personal sense of moral responsibility and is expected to rely on external authorities, strict codes of civil law and codes of 'ethics'. Education is considered necessary for the teaching of morals as well as knowledge.

In American culture the characteristic mistrust of human nature forms the basis of the moralistic attitude towards human problems.

 'Scientific' knowledge of human nature was provided by the mechanistic explanations of behavioral psychology and sociology. As the 'objective' science of the psyche or 'mind', behavioral psychology emphasizes conditioned learning, learning 'outcomes' and student 'performance' on tests. Sociology as the objective study of society emphasizes the controlling nature of 'social factors', social environments and social institutions on the development of the individual. Assumptions of both the social 'sciences' and Protestantism have been combined with the traditional ideals of 'democracy' to justify the economic theories of capitalism. In the interest of promoting capitalism, emphasis has been placed on the necessity of controlling human nature and the scientific validity for doing so. According to the worldview of capitalism, the human being is lazy and needs to be disciplined to do work. Individuals must be encouraged to compete with one another in order to weed out those who are lazy and undisciplined. 'Individualism' is promoted to encourage competition. Individuals are expected to demonstrate their efforts and productivity with tangible results. Hard work is rewarded with material gain, economic 'wealth', and 'professional' status. Acquisition of wealth and status is equated with 'success'. Pursuit of success is identified with the individual's inalienable right to the pursuit of 'happiness.' The individual who subscribes to the myths of American culture is rewarded by the American 'society'.

 The values of American culture have become the values of 'consumerism'. In fostering the traditional values of American nationalism, Protestantism, reductionism, capitalism, and materialism, the schools are reproducing the myths of American consumerism. In keeping with 'tradition', the schools teach the values of hierarchy, success, moralism and control. With authoritarian teaching methods, they teach the 'hidden curriculum'. In the cultural context of 'school', the individual is required to conform to the forced imposition of cultural myths and value systems. School authorities make demands on the learner to meet 'expectations'. Instead of fostering self-responsibility, they cultivate the individual's sense of dependence on 'role models' and authorities. Instead of fostering the development of moral responsibility, they cultivate unrealistic ambitions for 'professional' status in the consumer culture. Instead of fostering the individual's sense of integrity and health, they cultivate 'competitive spirit' and stressful living. By cultivating conformity to cultural values, they impose thought and behavior patterns which inhibit the individual's natural capacity for learning, for growth, for independence and for happiness. Instead of trusting the individual's human potential for intellectual and moral development, they impose academic requirements and ethical codes. Instead of fostering the individual's critical consciousness, they cultivate mindlessness. In forcing the individual's 'adaptation' and enculturation, they obscure the real challenges of living and deny the real joys of learning. Their demands for meaningless and passive learning inhibit the individual's capacity for creative and critical thinking.

With the function of reproducing the cultural values, the educational system neglects to prepare the individual for life in a complex world. It neglects to foster the individual's natural intellectual and moral development into a responsible social human being. It neglects to foster the individual's natural capacities for adaptation to changing social conditions. Incapacitated individuals are the product of an anomalous social situation. 'Educational crisis' is the manifestation of an anomalous human situation. In American culture, social problems are not understood in terms of defects in the cultural institutions. In keeping with the Protestant moralistic ethic social reforms are not perceived in terms of institutional changes but in terms of individual lack of moral responsibility and the need to punish or 'help' the individual to initiate the necessary changes. Social problems are discussed in terms of 'scenarios' and attempts are made to resolve them through the implementation of 'discipline' and enforcement of the 'law'.

Theories of capitalism and consumerism ignore the individual's instinctive striving for self-realization and preventing the natural development of moral responsibility. They misinterpret the life of contemplation and meditation. They do not trust the individual's inner freedom. They do not encourage the individual's self-expression. They devalue natural human needs including the growth needs or 'metaneeds'. They denigrate the intuitive and emotional aspects of intellectual development.

 The emphasis on American 'products' results in declining academic standards on all levels of the educational system. The issue of declining standards in education is discussed within the narrow context of the practical aspects of education, particularly those concerned with 'innovation' in curriculum design. Emphasis is placed on the issue of 'traditional' versus 'nontraditional' or 'innovative' education. In the name of 'innovation', faculty power politics supersedes consideration for quality education and student needs. Unecessary changes are made with enormous waste of time and financial resources. Educational policies focusing on curriculum content and innovative teaching 'methods' are incompatible with the new 'demands' of a changed social and political environment.

 Institutionalized education with its emphasis on conditioning and behavioral outcomes is no longer relevant in the times of mass communications and the 'global village'. The educational 'crisis' reflects a general cultural, political and moral crisis. The individual is dehumanized in a culture of capitalism and consumerism. By focusing on the reproduction of values of a consumer society, the schools do not educate for the individual's human development. They do not prepare the learner to meet the challenges of a global community.

Traditional policies formulated on the basis of values of the  worldview of reductionism are being replaced by new policies formulated on the basis of the wholistic scientific paradigm. Wholistic pedagogies are compatible with a global worldview. Emphasis is placed on the learner and the learning process. Truly innovative pedagogy liberate both learner and teacher. They liberate the teacher from the oppression of the curriculum and the institution. They liberate the learner from the oppression of the teacher. Implementation of liberating pedagogies is providing opportunities for humanization in education. Humanization of education requires a reexamination of the basic assumptions and values of the cultural beliefs. Human survival depends on a paradigmatic shift towards the humanization of human education. The shift is taking place in the dominant scientific worldview. Reductionist 'science' is being replaced by 'wholistic science'. The reductionist worldview is being replaced by the wholistic worldview.

Wholistic science validates the subjective participation of the observer in the scientific process of inquiry. Wholistic science gives rise to new cultural belief systems and values. Reproduced in the culture's educational policies, the changes are manifest in several characteristic trends in education. There is a trend away from fragmentation of knowledge and towards integration of knowledge areas. There is a trend away from the authoritarianism of 'science' and 'experts' and a trend towards the inner authority of the concience. There is a trend away from the value of the need to control and a trend towards the value of the need to trust 'humanity' and the human spirit. There is trend away from the reductionist worldview and a trend towards the global worldview. There is a trend away from the individual's cultural alienation and a trend towards the individual's cultural integration. In the discussion and debate about 'education', there is a trend away from the 'individualistic' perspective and a trend towards the cultivation of the wholistic perspective. There is a trend away from competitiveness in learning and a trend towards cooperation and integration in the learning process. There is a trend towards libratory wholistic education. The learner becomes free to develop self-discipline, engage in self-directed learning of mature growth or  'self-actualisation'. A theoretical framework for education practice becomes possible on the basis of findings in brain research which provide evidence for holistic learning or 'brain-based learning'. The new theory in practice or 'praxis' for effective education is education for personality integration or 'holistic education'.


 Robert Maynard Hutchins (editor-in-chief) Great Books collection... The Great Conversation: The Substance of a Liberal Education


Aristotle (1976) The Nicomachean Ethics. Trans. J. A. K. Thomson, London: Penguin.

Bernstein, R. J. (1983) Beyond Objectivism and Relativism: Science, hermeneutics and praxis, Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

Carr, W. and Kemmis, S. (1986) Becoming Critical. Education, knowledge and action research, Lewes: Falmer.  'praxis' in education.

Freire, P. (1972) Pedagogy of the Oppressed, London: Penguin.

Freire P.and I. Shor (1987) A Pedagogy for Liberation. Dialogues on transforming education, London: Macmillan.

Gadamer, H-G. (1979) Truth and Method, London: Sheed and Ward.

Gadotti, M. (1996) Pedagogy of Praxis. A dialectical philosophy of education, New York: SUNY Press. This book draws upon a variety of sources to develop 'an education for the future'.

Grundy, S. (1987) Curriculum: Product or praxis, Lewes: Falmer.

Habermas, J. (1973) Theory and Practice, trans. J. Viertel, Boston, MA.: Beacon Press/ Cambridge: Polity Press.

Lobkowicz (1967) Theory and Practice. History of a concept from Aristotle to Marx, Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press.

Taylor, P. (1993) The Texts of Paulo Freire, Buckingham: Open University Press.

Usher, R., Bryant, I. and Johnston, R. (1997) Adult Education and the Postmodern Challenge, London: Routledge.