We are like sailors who on the open sea must reconstruct their ship but are never able to start afresh from the bottom. Where a beam is taken away a new one must at once be put there, and for this the rest of the ship is used as support. In this way, by using the old beams and driftwood the ship can be shaped entirely anew, but only by gradual reconstructionI love the practice of Zig Engelmann's Direct Instruction but am not happy with his philosophical underpinnings as expressed in sections of Could John Stuart Mill Have Saved Our Schools? Engelmann and Carnine just seem to take extracts from a variety of philosophers and throw them together in a grab bag: some James, JS Mill, Peirce, Plato, Skinner, etc. In other places serious thinkers such as Dewey and Piaget are dismissed without a full consideration of their contribution.
- Otto Neurath
Nevertheless, the practice of Direct Instruction is very impressive, for disadvantaged learners, and I have to embrace it.
Since I like to think of myself as a philosophical person this creates a dilemma. I think of Direct Instruction as excellent in practice but insufficiently theorised.
It has led me to study philosophy again. I have some general background knowledge in the works of Karl Marx, Seymour Papert, the evolution debate between Stephen J Gould and Richard Dawkins, Douglas Hofstadter, Daniel Dennett, Marvin Minsky, Alan Kay and Noel Pearson. These thinkers have seriously influenced my thinking.
But they haven't yet provided me with the comprehensive thinking tools I need to evaluate Direct Instruction.
So, I've began a review of the history of the philosophy of science. Since Engelmann has at times described his method as "Logico-Empirical" (p. 125 of the JS Mill book mentioned above) then I needed to understand why logical empiricism as well as logical positivism had been decisively rejected by modern philosophers. A reasonable introduction (but it's only an overview with good references) to this question is provided by Peter Godfrey-Smith in Theory and Reality.
Arising from this study I've now discovered a seriously profound contemporary philosopher, Hilary Putnam, who forces me to think in new ways, who challenges my ideas in ways which I can't ignore. What this means is developing a toolkit of philosophical ideas which inform my world outlook and current practice in trying to help indigenous kids, who are behind in their learning, to learn more effectively.
Perhaps I'll write a few blogs outlining some of these new thoughts in the near future. Thinking aloud and having a conversation or debate on these issues does help.