Theses Doctoral

Is Inquiry Learning Unjust? An Ethical Defense of Deweyan Instructional Design

Tanchuk, Nicolas Jordan

A long tradition of progressive pedagogy, running from Jean-Jacques Rousseau and through the work of John Dewey, argues that it is ethically and politically important for students to learn to co-direct the process of inquiry. In a series of recent articles, a group of cognitive scientists (hereafter called ‘DI theorists’) has argued that due to the nature of human cognitive architecture, student-led instructional designs are likely to be less effective than fully teacher-led instructional designs and to exacerbate achievement gaps. Were DI theorists correct, contrary to the intentions of many educators, a great deal of progressive pedagogy would be likely to have negative effects on educational justice. In this dissertation, I argue that the framing of the debate in cognitive science misconstrues the ethical and political value of treating students as cooperative designers of educative experiences.

To defend this controversial claim, I advance a Deweyan approach to ethics and justice in instructional design against two recent philosophical challenges. The first challenge, which I call ‘Dewey’s grounding problem’, asserts that Dewey’s appeal to the single ethical and political value of learning is unjustified against dissent and oppressive of reasonable pluralism. The second challenge, which I call ‘Dewey’s problem of elitism’, argues that his call to promote the common good of learning in ethics and politics will sometimes permit or require elitism, aristocracy, or tyranny. Based on the Deweyan ethos I defend, I trace four principles of just instructional design to reassess the claims of DI theorists. I argue that integrating DI theorists’ insights about efficacy and equality as means to create a student co-led community of inquiry confirms many educators’ intuitions: that student-led designs are important parts of developing the skills of inquiry, are well placed as culminating tasks, and are best phased in on a developmental pathway towards greater student independence.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Philosophy and Education
Thesis Advisors
Hansen, David
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
June 3, 2019