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Examination Question Comments: Foundations of Educational Administration

Edward G. Rozycki, Ed. D.



Empiricism and Rationalism:

The Distinction and Implications for Education.

Comments by EGR

There are those that see children as empty vessels that need to be filled with experiences that in turn will lead to the successful attainment of knowledge. The concept of pushing knowledge into students comes to mind. These individuals are looking at education using an empiricist's point of view.

OK, so far.

Empiricists tend to support the idea that all children can learn if they are provided the appropriate opportunities.

Not exclusively empiricist. Rationalist, also. The opportunity issue confuses the distinction.

No Child Left Behind and All Children Can Learn are slogans that develop as a result of this frame of reference. Empiricists strive for a prioritized curriculum and a finite list of standards. They insist upon all students learning the "basics" first as the basics represent the most important aspects of desired knowledge.

Again, not exclusively empiricist. The distinction between empiricist and rationalist is in how they explain the source of knowledge. Empiricists hold that it comes exclusively through the senses.

If children fail to do well on standardized tests, then the schools need to find better ways to pour knowledge into students.

Or, to get them to acquire it through experience. (Consequently, not distinctive.)

Educators attempting to pull knowledge out of students are viewed as rationalists. Their belief is that knowledge is innate and needs to be drawn out of a child via reasoning, thinking, and experience.

Some knowledge is innate for Rationalists.

An IQ test would be defined by a rationalist as a means to measure one's innate ability to obtain knowledge.

If knowledge is already innate, why does it need to be obtained? And from where? What a rationalist might do is a. either believe IQ tests deal only with the ability to obtain empirical knowledge, or that IQ tests measure one's reflective -- innate knowledge recovering -- ability. Again this does not clearly cut the distinction between Rationalism and Empiricism.

A teacher that refers to a child's abilities would be representing a rationalist's point of view

Not necessarily. It would depend how they explain the notion of ability.

This would be particularly true if the teacher saw innate ability as a limiting factor to learning.

This is plausible, but very difficult to explain.

Tracking, ability grouping, gifted education, and specialized instruction based on a child's needs/abilities tend to result due to a rationalists frame of reference.

Again, Rationalism and Empiricism differ primarily in how they see knowledge as being acquired.

Students are sorted based on innate abilities. Educational philosophies and mission statements would contain phrases such as "students will be provided opportunities to achieve their fullest potential." Rationalists strive to assist students in finding appropriate niches based on a rationalist's focus on a child's innate abilities.

This seems to be working. Empiricists have difficulty explaining how to understand what potential, ability and the like are. What you really need here is the Empiricist theory that higher order knowledge is merely the simple association of ideas (impressions) received through the senses. See

Confirmation Theory: Radical Empiricist Version

Since abilities, potential, etc. are explained using if-then statements, e.g. "If Condition A happens then subject will behave in manner X" and the "if-then" is neither perceived through the senses, not is it a simple association of ideas, then Empiricists cannot explain potential, ability, and the like. (Kant critiques Empiricism and then suggests that the connection expressed by if-then, is a basic category of the understanding, i.e. innate.) Hoever, professed empiricists continue to use the language of ability. Thus their theory is defective.

Schools are faced with conflicting interests as both groups are represented in educational leadership today. Additionally, there are many, maybe most, who use a combination of philosophies when considering educational matters.

I think you have taken a complex approach to distinguishing between Empiricism and Rationalism. It's risky.

Your answer might squeak by; but, it is not secure.

Why not go the route between deductive and inductive thinking? Or between directed instruction vs. reflective instruction? Or between simple behavioral elicitation and reinforcement vs. complex argument, contrast and comparison?