«Facilitating Higher-Order Thinking: Synthesizing Pedagogical Frameworks for the Development of Complex and Coherent Conceptual Systems Michael A. ...»
Practical wisdom thus requires constant vigilance with regard to the dynamic maintenance of consistent relationships within our conceptual frames. Condon (2008) provides a cogent description of the pedagogical complexity faced by educators who intend to participate in learning and teaching for the development of complex cognitive schemata, since, To learn and to teach the complex processes by which knowledge workers in multiple disciplines define, abstract and situate, and analyze or propose solutions to problems requires that we consider how we learn and teach both the intellectual and affective dimensions of thought, practice, and articulation. These dimensions cannot be apprehended through a resort to prescriptions for practice. They are less akin to skills than to (re)frames through which we see, which bound our sense, our imaginations, our making of meaning, and our ability to articulate productively. Rather than conceiving of the range of conditions that might constitute needs for students and faculty as an itemized list, I am inclined to see those conditions as separate but related constellations of ways of thinking, learning, making sense and meaning; ways of naming, framing, and refraining problems; and ways of recognizing, honoring, and expressing mutual contingency.
In particular, the dynamic systems approach to analyzing thinking allows for unique perspectives on the notions of inference, justification and cogency. This generalized and abstracted view of cognition supports coherentists in deflating the importance of epistemic truth, and it enables the substitution of new constructs, which can symbolize cogency and signify clear, broad and deep thinking. One example that I have found to be useful for pedagogical purposes has been provided by Rawls (1999), who described the idea of wide dynamic reflective equilibrium (WDRE) as a model of conceptual coherency. WDRE is the theoretical process of continually balancing a broad range of observations and conceptions in the process of forming and reforming the beliefs and the policies according to which we regulate our behaviour.
Taking this process to the limit, one seeks the conception, or plurality of conceptions, that would survive the rational consideration of all feasible conceptions and all reasonable arguments for them. We cannot, of course, actually do this, but we can... characterize the structures of the predominant conceptions familiar to us from the philosophical tradition, and... work out further the refinements of those that strike us as most promising. (Rawls, 1999, p. 289) The ideal of "widest" reflective equilibrium represents the most inclusive of possible sets of coherent ideas, a broadly based, and consistent, framework of observations, definitions and propositions which are justified by each other and by an absence of falsifying evidence. According to this theory, any belief that is contradicted by any confirmed observation, must be modified or discarded so that consistency is maintained, and all convictions that depend upon that belief for their justification, must also be altered or abandoned. This process of disequilibration, accommodation and reequilibration, described variously by Piaget (1971), Schon (1991), Dewey (1933), and Mezirow (1987) is consistent with sociocultural learning theory, and it is facilitated by co-operative and progressive discourses amongst those who intend to maintain conceptual coherency (a useful objective for those who intend to attain cogent intellectual commitments, or to apply considerations of justice and morality in social relationships).
Philosophical Considerations Considering the Pedagogical Value of Contemporary Ideas in Epistemology Developments in philosophy during the last century have filtered through our educational systems to the point where they present serious difficulties to educators who intend to justify their teachings in terms of epistemic truth. On the other hand, many educational theorists and practitioners have recognized the importance of weak scepticism (the understanding that our knowledge beliefs, opinions, inferences and conclusions are at best uncertain) in facilitating metacognitive processes and cognitive development. In particular, we need to develop intellectual commitments to considerations of the reliability and the relevance of evidence, and to the development of coherent arguments (rather than to the regurgitation of historical presumptions). This approach enables us to provide frameworks for progressive educational discourses and for the development of newly created individual (or shared) understandings.
Contemporary philosophers have argued against the utility of epistemic foundationalism, which rests on the assumption that true assertions can be justified by fundamental (true, but unproveable) ideas. Coherentist forms of epistemology, which do not require fundamental truths as the bases for justification of our beliefs, allow for a different view of knowledge. The latter theoretical framework provides a perspective which allows for justification to occur through complex networks of inter-related ideas that are, in turn, supported by available evidence. This section describes how educators have exploited recent developments in philosophical theory to describe possibilities for understanding the idea of knowledge as being distinct from the notion of epistemic truth;
emancipation from the oxymoron of true belief allows for deep and coherent sets of complex ideas without reliance on the outmoded idea of an absolute and fixed metaphysical reality.
The notion of epistemic truth, which is based on unshakeable (fundamental, or foundational) assumptions about the world is under attack. Pragmatism, a twentiethcentury development in philosophy, holds that philosophical theorists (after a couple of millennia of debating about it) have failed to create a coherent understanding of this concept; pragmatists hold that coherentism (justification via systems of networks of consistent ideas, supported by available evidence) is a more utile philosophical perspective than one that relies on foundational truth, van Goor, Heyting and Vreeke (2004) argue against justification in terms of foundational principles, because contemporary critics hold that no such foundation may be considered irrefutable. These authors have argued that most contemporary philosophers of language reject classic foundationalism, along with the notion that language can accurately represent reality.
"Consequently, analytic philosophers now concentrate on describing rules for the correct use of concepts within conventional language games [Wittgenstein's term for the social contexts which give meaning to our utterances]. The conceptual clarification this kind of linguistic analysis promises is not accurate representation of external reality, but only correct usage, as compared to the specific language game in question" (van Goor, Heyting and Vreeke, 2004, pp. 176-177). Rather than establishing foundations, philosophy can fulfil its normative role through "contextual justification," which consists of suiting reasons to contexts.
To remain within the bounds of cogency, we must avoid dogmatic attachments to epistemically privileged assertions, or to any universal procedures for ratifying truth or standards of rationality. Given the failure of foundational epistemology, Child, Williams and Birch (1995) emphasize that epistemic justification relies on ethics (that is, the moral values which are reflected in the general aims and specific intentions of particular discourses and discussants).
Meaning-context theory stresses the local nature and relevance of any justification; this raises the problem of distinguishing multiple contexts and selecting one as an approach to a particular meaning, a process that obscures possible alternatives (creating blind spots), van Goor., Heyting, and Vreeke, (2004) note that one role of philosophy of education is to highlight this problem; assigning priorities to particular meanings in each situation. In particular, cultural hegemonies (authoritative presumptions) should be subject to discursive examination and assessment.
As a consequence, any position one might take is put into perspective from the very beginning... philosophy of education consists in bringing to the surface any meanings one inclines to take for granted - a process that creates space for diversity, for 'the other'... [T]he relevance of philosophy of education consists in resisting the hegemony of the personal horizon. When persons open themselves to 'the other' in an existential sense, they will be able to avoid having their judgments determined by their preliminary personal position, (van Goor, Heyting and Vreeke, 2004,
From the point of view of discourse-context theory, the primary task of philosophy of education is "making explicit and calling into question those conventions that people are inclined to take for granted and that result in exclusionary practices. This makes it possible to challenge the constraints of discourse-contexts, push them and shift them" (van Goor, Heyting and Vreeke, 2004, p. 188).
In a similar vein, Siegel (2006) argued that what counts as knowledge, what counts as evidence, and what counts as a warrant for evidence, vary according to community standards. He concluded that we need to adopt fair-minded locally neutral criteria for assessing local epistemic standards (since global perspectives are, in practice, unavailable), and that education in epistemology is required if we are to understand these issues.
On this philosophically pragmatic interpretation of academic understanding, the job of postsecondary educators is to learn, and to teach, the (discipline-specific) distinctions that characterize better and worse evidence, and better and worse interpretations. A post-modern philosophy of education de-emphasizes the authority of instructors, and places responsibility for discourse construction upon learners who seek initiation into their instructors' knowledge frameworks. Wenger (1998) stresses the importance of conversations at the boundaries of "communities of practice," where people whose backgrounds differ negotiate common terms and common understandings.
Primary emphasis is placed on inclusion and integration, rather than truth.
"[E]mphasizing the embedded nature of knowledge draws attention to the interactive dimensions of justifications" (van Goor, Heyting and Vreeke, 2004, p. 190, original emphasis).
Without reliance on epistemic truth to anchor our ideas, coherentists can substitute a different ideal to symbolize lucidity and cogency. John Rawls, the accomplished social philosopher, has provided a description of coherentist epistemology, which can serve to signify clear, broad and deep thinking. Rawls (1999) has described the idea of dynamic reflective equilibrium as a model of conceptual coherency. Narrow reflective equilibrium refers to situations in which the premises and the arguments in support of one's beliefs and one's actions are sound according to the rules and the principles, which govern the local settings in which the actions occur. For example., in a corporate environment, accepted norms might prescribe that executives engage covertly in illegal accounting practices in order to maximize the company's performance, and that they subsequently ought to protect themselves from liability by covering up their participation in such practices and denying their endorsement of covert illegal policies.