Science or Not Science – That’s Not the Question!

Review of
Making the Visible Invisible: Willful Ignorance of Poverty and Social Inequalities in the Research-Policy Nexus. Available from: [accessed Jan 19, 2017].
“… The first paradigm shift was the replacement of moral philosophy as the primary discipline on which educational practice was based: The new belief was that education could be studied scientifically. Its chief proponents were psychologists whose views were shaped by positivist aspirations, which in turn shaped the zeitgeist within which educational ideas were debated. In the early decades of the 20th century, the ascendance of behaviorist psychological models, along with the emergence of social science approaches to the study of education, also influenced policymaking. The Protestant republicanism that shaped the expansion of the common school was being transformed by the incorporation of nascent scientific methods for achieving efficient education reform. The new tools of the science of education also shaped practices within schools. …

In our account we highlight positivism and the emphasis on measurement; the use of the White, middle-class male student as the implicit norm against which all other students were assessed and ranked; human capital theory; and culture-of-poverty arguments.”


Dear authors,
I acclaim your concern about one-sided research which closes its eyes before poverty and social discrimination. I beg you to rethink your attack on the scientific approach to education: moral philosophy is not, never has been, and cannot be a replacement for scientific research into education. A rejection of science would impede the cause for which you and I are fighting. Your thesis, I am afraid, diverts the public’s attention away from the real cause for the neglect of poverty and class in many educational research projects and in educational policy-making. The neglect of poverty and other social factors is not caused by science and measurement. The real cause is the money-sickness of people, which has corrupted many politicians and scientists.
Yes, the “positivist” and “behaviorist” movement in psychological and social science research went wrong and this is linked to the problems which you describe. Behaviorists preach a false dogma: They are right in demanding that, to be recognized as serious science, we must demonstrate the truth of any psychological theory through visible, objective data. But they are  wrong by postulating that human dispositions do not exist and that they cannot be studied scientifically. Because of their ignorance, they rule that human competencies must be measured by using external, social standards but not by using people’s own standards. Thus they measure only how well people are molded into the expectations of the ruling class. But they do not measure how well people cope with tasks that they themselves are confronted with or want to cope with. This externalist dogma has precluded the development of real measures of competence. Studies show that achievement tests mainly tap social anxiety, not competence. These tests are actually mostly easy. They are made difficult through an overload of confusing text, and through extremely short timing. It has been shown that achievement tests favor self-confident middle and upper class students who dare to do guesswork, but scare lower class and immigrant students who take these tests serious. But this development is not the fault of science. Classical Test psychology (and modern, too) is no science. It lacks one of the core features of a real science: It cannot be falsified.
I have worked more than 40 years to resolve the unfortunate dilemma between objective, quantitative, behaviorist (but invalid) research on one side and valid (but subjective, ideologically biased) research on the other side. In order to make progress I had to move from pre-scietific, inductive (“dust bowl”) empiricism to real, hypothesis-testing experimental science. In the field of moral education, I have shown that some relevant propositions found in the literature can be shown to be clearly wrong, and some to be clearly right. (See my book “How To Teach Morality“, Logos, Berlin). On the base of this knowledge, I have developed a new tests which actually measures objectively moral competence using the participants’ own standards for morality. I also created an effective method of moral education — after two and half thousand years of failed attempts in moral philosophy and behaviorist psychology. We can prove that only a few hours of intervention are needed to considerably foster participants’ ability to solve problems and conflicts by deliberation and discussion instead of using violence and deceit. We found that such interventions also have a strong positive side-effect on academic learning. Our findings have been successfully replicated in many studies. My method of moral education is being applied successfully in many countries, even in China.
It is very sad that our findings and methods of moral education are ignored by both sides, by behaviorists and anti-behaviorists. Both deny, for different reasons, the fact that internal dispositions can be objectively and validly measured. This is very sad because through insisting on out-dated dogmas we miss a chance to strengthen the people’s’ moral-democratic competence and their ability to fight for their own cause. We “liberal” intellectuals tend to overestimate our ability to do this in behalf of them. We can pile up reason over reason, publication over publication. But people will only understand us and listen to us when we do a better job understanding their condition and improving their education.
Science cannot prescribe the aims of education, neither can moral philosophy. Only the people can do this as a whole. But education can be studied scientifically and this is needed to optimize the conditions and methods of education.
Best regards
(Please excuse my bad English. It’s not my first language.)