This critical examination of the three doctrines behind postmodern critiques of disciplinary knowledge leads to reaffirming the social realist position regarding the nature of disciplinary knowledge and its role in education and schooling. Disciplinary knowledge cannot be reduced to mere perspective, standpoint, ideology or power relation. Albeit socially constructed, this knowledge has an ‘objective’ conceptual structure with properties and powers of its own. As a human achievement, disciplinary knowledge has demonstrated tremendous explanatory, technological, creative and innovative powers. An essential purpose of schooling as an institution, as Young (2013) rightfully argues, is to pass on this knowledge from one generation to the next. This purpose or function is vital for enabling the next generations to create new knowledge built on existing knowledge (see Chapter 7).
However, unlike social realists, I do not treat disciplinary knowledge as an end in itself bat as an indispensable powerful recourse/vehicle for the cultivation of human powers - which is vital for self-formation and human flourishing (see Chapter 4). I also regard knowledge as a means to some larger purposes of education - social, cultural and educational (see Chapter 3). In this regard, what should be taught in school should not be confined to disciplinary knowledge alone. There are, as noted previously, other kinds of knowledge and ways of knowing - technological, practical, experiential, aesthetic, etc. - which could contribute to the broader purposes of education and thus need to be considered as potential forms of curriculum content. I thus reject the doctrine of disciplinar-ity which can be traced back to Comte’s organisation of knowledge in the 19th century.
Informed by social realists and other scholars, I take issue with postmodern doctrines concerning the nature of knowledge. If knowledge cannot be reduced to a mere social and political construction, and if different kinds of knowledge have different epistemological status and powers, then we must identify knowledges that are more ‘truthful’ and have more ‘powers’ in the light of the purposes of education. Furthermore, we must address questions of how knowledges are selected and organised into curriculum content and how content is taught in classroom in view of educational aims. In other words, we must go beyond the epistemological issues focused on in this chapter to engage teleological issues (having to do with conceptions of what schools are for) and practical issues (having to do with curriculum planning and classroom teaching), as far as knowledge questions are concerned - which is the focus of Chapter 3.
- 1 It is worth noting that in the United States the school systems once acknowledged the practical and productive types of knowledge (pertaining to technological application, plumbing, auto-mechanics, etc.). However, in the 1940s and 1950s, the creation of comprehensive high schools with their pre-university bias served to delegitimate these knowledge types in the curriculum (see Trow, 1961).
- 2 The key figures of the postmodern vanguard, Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, Jean-François Lyotard and Richard Rorty, were or were very close to being Marxists during the 1960s and 1970s. According to Hicks (2004), ‘postmodernism is a symptom of the far Left’s crisis of faith. Postmodernism is a result of using sceptical epistemology to justify the personal leap of faith necessary to continue believing in socialism’ (p. 181).
- 3 It is important to note that when malevolently employed, scientific knowledge can lead to catastrophic disasters and human destruction. Gas chambers in Nazi concentration camps and atomic bombs dropped in Hiroshima and Nagasaki arc two notorious examples.