Thursday, June 5, 2008

Historical Functionalism

This is the fourth post where I will briefly review the works of comparative education scholars and place them along an epistemological spectrum. For this post, I’m looking at historical functionalism.

Kandel, I.L. 1956. Problems of Comparative Education. International Review of Education 2, no. 1: 1-15.

A review and discussion of Issac Kandel’s Problems of Comparative Education provides an opportunity to illustrate the historical functionalism theoretical approach in comparative education. Kandel provides advice to the student of comparative education throughout the piece and states that “it is by analysis that he can acquire a clearer understanding of the problems of education. An educational system not only has its roots embedded in a traditional cultural pattern which is constantly being modified by influences that are at one time spiritual, at another political, and at still another socio-economic, but it also reflects the hopes of a nation for the future.”
[1] Further examples of both ideographic and nomothetic thought are found in the following statements by Kandel, “it is questionable whether the subject can be successfully studied without a firsthand observation of several school systems and this often requires not only the means to travel but knowledge of foreign languages. Observation and visitation are essential, for one is likely to be misled by the information found in educational literature if there is no opportunity to check it”[2] and “another set of difficulties await the student of comparative education because of the complete absence of standardized terminology and statistical reports.”[3] Kandel allows for both nomothetic and ideographic approaches to comparative education as a means of answering questions.

Thurber, C.H. ca. 1900. The Principles of School Organization: A Comparative Study Chiefly Based on the Systems of the United States, England, Germany and France. PhD diss, Clark University.

In Thurber’s work we see the first historical functionalism epistemological framework in comparative education. In his dissertation, Thurber writes that “education, as a system, is a development, a product of the evolution of society, and that if the form we have seems not quite to fit our highest conceptions, the way to better is not by bartering what we have for what some one else has, not by building a lean-to against our present structure. Further study might well be given to the basal problem for each country: how has the existing condition-system or lack of it- been developed out of the co-operations and antagonisms of universal principles and national peculiarities?”
[4] This statement above is perhaps the first statement of historical functionalism in comparative education.

[1] Kandel, I.L. Problems of Comparative Education. (International Review of Education 2, no. 1, 1956), 5.
[2] Ibid, 6.
[3] Ibid, 10.
[4] Thurber, C.H. The Principles of School Organization: A Comparative Study Chiefly Based on the Systems of the United States, England, Germany and France. ( PhD diss. Clark University, ca. 1900), 6.

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