All theory is grey, according to Mephistopheles in Goethe's Faust , but the golden tree of life is green. This sentiment would be echoed by the many teachers who see education as an essentially practical activity, so they do not always warm to what they regard as theoretical matters. Yet the topics covered in Theory and Research in Education , though on the surface located mainly in the philosophy of education, include testing, racism, faith schools and the challenge of choice, none of which is remote from the experiences of most teachers and children.
The difficult position occupied by theory in education has been compounded by political philistinism. Nobody wins votes by proposing that the training of teachers should be more theoretical. Kenneth Clarke, in the early 1990s, was typical of ministers saying they wanted trainee teachers to be in classrooms, not sitting in universities listening to lectures on the history of education. It was a gross caricature, as trainees already spent a great deal of time in classrooms, and such seminars were at or near the point of extinction.
Theory and Research in Education is in a position to rescue this desperate situation. It is an example of a journal that makes a decent start and then accelerates from it. In an early issue, Kenneth Strike of Syracuse University skilfully challenges the notion that communities are ipso facto a good thing. He contrasts the position of "Amish", a farming, Bible-reading member of the Amish community, and "Philosopher", an ambitious assistant professor at a research university, exploring who is the more autonomous. It is not a simple matter to resolve, and he slides smoothly into a discussion about religious or sectarian institutions, though on the matter of public finance for such places he remains on the fence.
Vigorous debate has been fomented on issues raised by earlier authors.
Michael Hand of the University of London, argues the well-trodden thesis that faith schools are indoctrinatory. In later issues, Harvey Siegel of the University of Miami and then Douglas Groothuis of Denver Seminary respond. Siegel quotes 19th-century physics teaching and our knowledge of its incorrectness. Groothuis believes that the position taken by Hand, that no religious proposition is known to be true, is too strict and should not be accepted as an argument for abolishing faith schools.
I like the occasional clustering of articles around a theme. A symposium on the book How Not to Be a Hypocrite: School Choice for the Morally Perplexed Parent by Adam Swift consists of an article by the author and a critique by Sally Power of the University of London. It launches a provocative debate about paying for private education. Another cluster of six articles addresses school accountability and the proliferation of testing, exploring aspects such as the extent to which tests might focus more on metacognition and reasoning, and less on competency and performance, in order to find out better what is in children's minds.
All of this illustrates the rich variety of subject matter in what I think will be a journal of growing importance. It is a tall order, but if the journal can reintroduce rational debate into the making of policy and the execution of practice in education, it will have achieved a great deal.
Ted Wragg is emeritus professor of education, Exeter University.
Theory and Research in Education
Editor - Mitja Sardoc, Harry Brighouse, Randall Curren and Janez Justin
Publisher - Sage
Price - Triannual; Institutions £210.00; Individuals £39.00
ISSN - 1477 8785