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Essay: The Controversial Identity of Educational Sciences: A Multi-Referential Approach

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  • Published: 1 February 2018*
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The identity of educational sciences is still controversial. It seems that the plurality of the sciences of education proves henceforth that it is a subject of agreement. So, it is convenient to adopt a multi referential approach (Ardoiano 1980).

However, it is vital to mention that our objective targets research training, a general training without a specific professional purpose or training at an education profession. In the latter case, we are dealing with "a university discipline in a field of social practices "(Charlot 1995), which significantly shapes the relation to knowledge.

In Geneva, as in Canada, Portugal, Brazil, the United States, in all countries that entrust teacher training to units or faculties of sciences of education, the emplacement of sociology in the professional training is recognized as vital in the sciences of education.

These disciplines were not perceived and organized in the same way as in all universities and research units. In this context, we retain two major differences. On one hand, in some sciences of education units, the contributing disciplines are organized in disciplinary departments: history of education, sociology of education, economy of education,

However, one of the major issues of a didactic sociology in training courses in the teaching profession, is the following question:  What to do when you found yourself obliged to choose between ‘readability’ (appears as disciplinary input) and efficiency (immersing in complex objects) .

1. The sociology of education

a) The macro level

From a sociological perspective, ”class” has almost always seen as primarily social class, not class as in classroom. This guides us to realize the distinctive characteristic of the sociology of education, more specifically, its level of analysis at the macro- societal scale. The sociology of education has been sociology of educational systems, of the interaction between economy, culture and society (to steal the subtitle of a classic text in the area: Halsey et al., 1997).  The main exception to this was the venture into interactionism in the early and mid 1970s, but there still the interaction was seen as widely conditioned by macro social forces and its outcomes were believed to replicate on the small scale structured inequalities on the wider scale. Thus, the ”sociology of education” is actually code for a macro perspective on educational issues .

b) The micro level

Meanwhile researchers shifted their attention to the type of theory employed to explain these structured inequality of chances. At first, the focus was on material deprivation (inadequate housing, poor nutrition, lack of resources, and the inability to give priority to education). Later, the focus shifted to the differences in culture precisely in the use of language, parental attitudes towards education and the different aspirations of the social classes. In the 1970s, interactionist theory took hold and classroom processes between individual teachers and pupils ‘rooted in social class, gender and ethnic stereotyping .

c) The meso level

What is missing here is an understanding of teaching and learning in their social contexts, of the figure situated in their particular ground. The missing level of analysis is the meso level: that is to say the social interaction by small groups that exists in the classroom, in the curriculum- planning team or in a hundred other task-based teams within the educational system.

So, what kinds of questions might such a sociological approach to teaching and learning address the meso level? They might include, for example:

‘ The social dynamics of the classroom: how classes develop their own character which has important impact on the teaching and learning process?

‘ The social dynamics of non-classroom-based learning such as e-learning, action learning methods and community-based learning.

‘ The social dynamics of the staff group: what processes go on among staff teams which lead to recurrent practices and regular sets of attitudes and meanings related to the teaching and learning process?

At this level, it seems crucial to study the different types of linkages that shape students ‘ school links and family ‘ school links and even student ‘ family links.

2. Educating the educators

There was still skepticism of the value of sociology for the practitioners within education and the training of educators. Before the 1960s, there was no proof that sociology was a revolutionary subject, especially when structural functionalism dominated. But by the 1960s, sociology had become an undeniably conventional discipline, a behavioral science with solid epistemological basics and methods of validation in the quest of reality that could contribute to the understanding of the world that educators had to practice in. Fortunately, this fact coincided with a 'revolution' in the philosophy of education and since then education has never been viewed as a single discipline, but a domain to which several other disciplines such as history, philosophy, psychology and now sociology could contribute to.

Though there was some initial opposition to the implementation of sociology into the teaching of education, but later the subject became a vital part of teacher training programs. In fact, many justifications legitimated the introduction of sociology in the training of educators. Firstly, it has recently been recognized that education does not take place in a social vacuum, so it was required for educators to begin having a wider perception of their role in society. Secondly, there was the argument that sociology has as much chance as any other discipline of educating the student teachers. As a result, sociology had to be warranted in terms of training to contribute to the enhancement of the technical skills of teaching. Then it had to be done in terms of immediate utility and relevance.

Moreover, before the expansion of the sociology of education in the 1950s and l 960s, the term 'educational sociology' was used to refer to the use of sociology to clarify practical and procedural methods of teaching. This often took a normative approach that characterized the way sociology influenced education. Educationalists are normally concerned with the practical activity of educating, and sociological evidence is drawn on only if useful in improving practice .

It seems crucial that stakeholders and trainers should implement sociology of education in training novice teachers as well as the experienced ones to help them shape an overall view about macro, micro and Mesosystems which have a great impact on education.

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