Constructivism, Criticalism; Postmodernism

Journal 5A

This culminating reading ties together a lot of what you’ve been considering thus far. It would be best to refer back to your earier journals entries when thinking through your responses to this topic.

In this paper, I have taken EvG’s Radical Cvsm as a primary epistemological referent and added valuing referents drawn from the Critical Theory of Jurgen Habermas which focus our attention on the educational role of language, especially the quality of classroom communicative relationships. The following focus questions will help you to read and reflect on this article.

1. An emancipatory ethic is intended to support communicative relationships by enabling people to remove ‘systematic distortions’ that prevent them from dealing with others as ‘ends in themselves’. What are the main sources of systematic distortion which shape (restrain) the culture of the school science classroom that are considered here (and in Topic 4)?

The one main sources of systematic distortion is the ideological agency of language which can be used as a medium of communicative relationship. However, according to Taylor (1998), the communication can be distorted systematically as a consequence of using language as instrumental and strategic interest. Taylor provides an example when communicative relationships between people govern by instrumental or strategic interest, such as institution, as language become tools to maintain the relationship rather than challenge. Therefore, language can be seen as “distorting systematically the social reality of people’s live”.

The other main sources which influence the distortion in science classroom are teachers’ roles and views which are shaped by the hegemony of modernism. According to Polkinghorne (1992), the modernism tends to produce the knowledge and control human behaviour. Therefore, the modernist view influences teacher to be the controller, the dominated-power, and the trainer (Taylor, 1998; Taylor & Williams, 1992). Moreover, technical interests commonly shape the teacher-students relationship which focus on control and manage the learning environment in order to achieve the learning goal (Taylor & Williams, 1992). Students become the passive learners who don’t have power to determine their learning and make sense of their learning experiences. As a result, the science learning experience become reproducing the knowledge rather that stimulate inquiry. Moreover, according to Taylor (1996), the myth of hard control also influenced teachers to be a controllers, since they role as curriculum deliver. Curriculum which used to served the certain the interest of certain power seems to ignore the science relationship with the broader social values, beliefs, and practices of different cultures (Cobern & Taylor, 1998 ). In my experience, implementation of the standardize assessment caused the curriculum as the powerful source of knowledge, as the list of content which will be assessed students’ knowledge. As the result, rather than focus on engaging students through their own sense of science in their daily lives. Teachers prefer to focus on training the students to pass the examinations.

Moreover, according to Aikenhead (2000), students’ learning should recognize the border crossing of culture experiences between science culture and the students’ own culture which becomes distortion. In this stage, teachers become the mediator of this breaking-border rather than the controller. This enculturation process in the classroom will engage students into science culture, and help students to understand the role of science in their own culture.

2. What are the moral values associated with an emancipatory ethic? And why does RC’s referent of ‘viability’ seem to be inadequate? (the distinction between useful/good and morally right is important here)

According to Habermas, emancipatory ethic proposes the highest moral form of human endeavor which is rational communicative action to construct “a coherent society which prevail truth, intellectual freedom, and social justice. Taylor points out the communicative relationships need to be valued in order to achieve those goals. This communicative relationship will create “achieving mutual and reciprocal understanding”. Moreover, Habermas argues the important of language to achieve this goal. However, Taylor refers to the problems of using language which has “ideological dimension” which can serve as a medium of power.

Moreover, the opposite values of communicative relationship in science classroom is teleological principle of the “justifying the means”. Taylor provides example, when the primary goal of institution is efficiency, the communicative relationship will be valued as tool to achieve the privileged goal, so that the people “are at risk of not being valued as ends in themselves”. Therefore, teleological-utilitarian ethic which promotes the “good” (based on the theory of value) and the “right” (based on theory of morality) can’t help individual’s moral rights. In addition, in science classroom, this teleological ethic shape the objectivist epistemology which lead to the “free-standing” of scientific laws and theory as the mirror of Nature which represent in the content of curriculum. As a result, curriculum should be delivered efficiently, rather than educative relationship based on communicative action. Finally, in the science classroom, teacher becomes controllers, students should agree, and the learning process becomes knowledge and social reproduction.

In addition, different from the modernism view, the emancipatory ethic related to postmodernism epistemology of practice which seeks of the understanding, reconstructed, but no less critical and response. According to Taylor (1998), the emancipatory ethic destructs the systematic distortion and maintains the “mutual and reciprocal” understanding. Moreover, teachers need to move forward to integrate the moral accountability within their relationship with students. The ethics of emancipatory within educative relationships is important to respect on human dignity and equal freedom to learn. Moreover, this emancipatory ethic could be shaped by establishing the communicative classroom environment and critical discourse opportunities. As a result, science learning experiences becomes the process of self reflective of students’ “lifeword values and beliefs”. Therefore, emancipatory ethic brings the important moral value in education.

In addition, related to radical constructivism, Ernst (2000) provides two principles of radical constructivism within the concept of viability. First, knowledge is subjective based on the construction in individual mind through individual experience with the world. Therefore, it emphasizes the active process to build the knowledge. Second, the function of cognitive is adaptive, viability, and serves the experiential world, not discover the truth of reality. Therefore, radical constructivism’s is inadequate with the myths of modern science because it promotes the notion of viability which is concerned on the utility of knowledge for achieving the value goal. In addition, constructivism’s view of the social environment as the “collection of individual goal-oriented subjectivities which doesn’t serve teachers’ as “agents of politically driven or students’ competing for grades’. As a result, science classroom will be served certain power of people which could marginalize the existences of valuing the human being.

3. A paradox occurs when a teacher attempts (naively) to change the classroom culture by imposing an emancipatory ethic on students. How can an ethic of care help to avoid this problem?

Since emancipatory ethics promotes students engagement through critical discourse which involves (1) teacher-students negotiating to control the learning experiences (planning, assessment, etc), (2) students’ opportunity to express a critical voice and equality to learn. This critical discourse can be “two-edged sword”, although the constructivist teachers enable to enhace students’ learning, it will affect negatively for students who comfort with the objectivist epistemology. Students will resistance with the changes and prefer to be passive learners. Moreover, students, who used to have perceptions of the “normal” teaching and learning situation which teacher as controller and students as the receivers, could behave uncontrollable. Therefore, the struggle is to find out the value base for transforming in emancipatory sense which becomes as the central paradox of critical theory.

In addition, Taylor points out the ethic of care as “a means of inoculating communicative relations from the myth of rationalism”. The rationalism myth shapes the classroom beyond the objectivism where the myth cold reason and hard control takes the place. The feminist scholars argue that the myth of rationalism provides the narrow framework which serve the logic and control of the expert and ignore the others’ needs and emotions. The ethic of care in education context concerns on the relationship between a teacher and students which helps to avoid the hegemony of the technical interests which teacher as curriculum deliver and students as the acceptors. According to Sumsions (2000), caring is fundamental ethic to work with students which helps them to grow and achieve their potential. Through the ethic of care, teacher becomes “emphatic, honest, interdependent and trustful relationship with student”. Teachers can create the caring in the classroom by developing the students’ sense of belonging through students’ interaction, collaboration, and active participation (Rice, 2001). Moreover, Taylor points out that rather than force students to accept and imply transformative learning suddenly by establishing the teaching and learning roles, it is better for transformative teacher to adopt caring approach. According to Rice (2001), teachers’ level of care influences by their life experiences, however, teachers can practice their ethics of care through respecting and getting know the students. Moreover, the major changes of “educative relationships, legitimate well-recognized, accepted ways of knowing and being are the students’ need to be handle with care and sensitivity. In addition, Taylor proposes the three ethical principles within the context of epistemology transformation which teacher and students can monitor their classroom based on the communicative relationships:

1. Maintaining empathic, caring, and trusting and placing emotionally equal to reason

2. Applying the dialogical discourse to achieve understanding through self-disclosure of one’s goal interests, valued beliefs, and standards of judgment

3. Utilizing the meta-discourse by examining critically and visible the normative rules of social reality in the classroom

By utilizing the classroom under these three ethical principles, teacher-students’ relationship becomes collaboration process. Students feel free to express their voice emotionally and critically. As a result, students will view science learning experiences as “contented” process, meaningful, and engaging.

4. In the paper I argue that science teachers should develop an enhanced sense of moral accountability by embracing an emancipatory ethic and an ethic of care as guiding referents. From a pragmatic perspective, teachers need to achieve a balance between the competing interests of a range of stakeholders. What is your opinion on this issue, particularly in relation to your own moral accountability as a teacher? Is it desirable to embrace these ethical values? Is it feasible? If it is desirable but not readily achievable, what are the first steps that can be taken? Are other ethical referents worth pursuing?

Since I become a teacher, I believe that this profession has a great moral responsibility for the society and human being. Becoming a teacher means educating people to be the holistic individuals who will play their roles in the society. The “good” holistic individual, the great people and leaders will be shaped through education. Therefore, education plays important roles to build the community. However, the fact is education seems becoming the meaningless process which only list of content of knowledge which have to be taught to the students simply to pass the examination. As a result, the great goal of education process to generate the great people is failed. In addition, the way teachers handle the students will have the great impacts to the students, they could repeat and replicate the ways teachers behave. For example, teachers who give the bad or meaningless learning experiences could be repeated by students later, even they are not becoming teachers, but the way they teach others could be replication of their learning experiences. In addition, teachers’ moral, values, and ethics will influence students’ perceptions on the other people or the world which influence them to behave. Therefore, I believe that the ethics of care is important,

Moreover, the students are human beings, who need to be interacting with caring, trust, and empathy. According to Rossiter (1999) , “the student is always more important than the subject…[and] caring is not regarded as a pedagogical technique or strategy, but as the fundamental relation within which education occurs”. Moreover, the moral values are important to engage the students, not only within the relationships between teacher and students and also stimulate them to be the transformative learners. When students feel secure and comfortable to deal with the teachers, they will engage with the learning process. As a result, the transformative teacher could have capability to empower the students within the transformative learning process. Therefore, since I read the book of empathic intelligence and find out the influences of these approaches in the classroom and relate this concept with the ethics of care by Taylor, I am more confident that it helps me to empower my students to be transformative learner.

In addition, I have to be aware my students’ readiness on the transformative learning, constructivism approach which allow open and critical discourses. I realize, it is not easy to transform from passive learners to active learners as well as it is not easy for the teachers to shift their paradigms from controllers into negotiators. I think the “smooth” transitions need to be applied in the classroom. It also important to engage the students through collaborate planning of learning experience and listen to their silent voices. As a result, they will feel comfortable on the “new” learning experiences, because it also parts of their decisions. Moreover, using the individual experiential world as a starting point to engage and empower my students will be powerful. They will find the learning process is useful for their daily lives. Therefore, I need to help my students to be aware of the border crossing between science culture and their own culture as well as help them to cross the border.

Furthermore, within my own context teaching and as part of the national education goal, the religion and culture values in the classroom are part of “hidden” curriculum. According to Lake, Jones, and Dagli (2004), integrating the ethic of care into the curriculum needs to consider to engaging the students. Therefore, the other ethical referent which needs to be considering for me is ethical religion and culture. Even though, sometimes, it constrain the critical discourse in some ways, but it will be powerful to engage the students, since it is common that the religion and culture is a part of family education which is recognize as informal education system in my country. The ethical values in religion also recognize the care and empathy of others, therefore, it will be not contradict with the emancipatory ethic and the ethic of care.


Aikenhead, G.S. (2000). Renegotiating the culture of school science. In R. Millar, J. Leach, & J. Osborne, Improving science education: The contribution of research (pp. 245-264). UK: Open University Press.

Ernest, P. (1995). The one and the many. In L. P. Steffe & J. Gale (eds.), Constructivism in education (pp.459-486). Hillsdale, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Lake, V., Jones, I., & Dagli, U. (2004). Handle with care: Integrating caring content in mathematics and science methods. Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 19(1), 5-17.

Rice, C.J. (2001). Teacher’s level of care. Education, 122(1), 102-105.

Rossiter, M. (1999). Caring and the graduate student: a phenomenological study. Journal of Adult Development, 6(4), 205-216.

Sumsion, J. (2000) “Caring and empowerment: A teacher educator’s reflection on an ethical dilemma”. Teaching In Higher Education, 5( 2), 167-179.

Taylor, P. & Williams, M.C. (1992). Discourses towards balanced rationality in the high school mathematics classroom: Ideas from Habermas’ critical theory. Paper presented at the “Sociological & Antropological Prespectives Working Subgroup of the ICME-7, 17-23 August 1992, Quebec. Retrieved from http://www.

Taylor, P.C. (1996). Mythmaking and mythbreaking in the mathematics classroom. Educational Studies in Mathematics, 31(1,2), 151-173.

Taylor, P.C. (1998). Constructivism: Value added. In B.J. Fraser & K.G. Tobin (Eds.) (1998). The international handbook of science education (pp. 1111-1123). Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publisher.

Taylor, P.C. & Cobern, W.W. (1998). Towards a critical science education

One thought on “Constructivism, Criticalism; Postmodernism”
%d bloggers like this: