Comparing Modernist and Postmodern Educational Theory

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Author: 
Dennis McCallum
  Modernist Theory Postmodernist Theory
Knowledge Educators ideally should be authoritative transmitters of unbiased knowledge Educators are biased facilitators and co-"constructors" of knowledge.
Culture Culture is something students should learn about, but can also be a barrier to learning. Students from diverse cultures must be trained in a shared language, or medium of communication, before teachers can transmit knowledge to them. The modernist goal of unifying society results in domination and exploitation, because unity is always based on dominant culture. All cultures are not only of equal value, but also constitute equally important realities. Minority students must be "empowered" to fight against Eurocentric enculturation.
Values Traditional modernists believe that educators are legitimate authorities on values, and therefore they should train students in universal values. More liberal modernists argue that education should be "values-neutral." Teachers help students with "values clarification"--deciding what values each individual student will hold. Values can, and should be separated from facts. The most important values are rationality and progress. Education should help students construct diverse and personally useful values in the context of their cultures. Values are considered useful for a given culture, not true or right in any universal sense. Since teachers cannot avoid teaching their own values, it's okay for teachers to openly promote their values and social agendas in the classroom. Important values to teach include striving for diversity, tolerance, freedom, creativity, emotions and intuition.
Human Nature Modernists generally believe in a stable, inherent self that can be objectively known. In addition, since humans are thought to have a stable essential nature, IQ tests, and other similar "objective tests", can be used to discover students' innate intelligence. By giving them mastery over subject matter, teachers enhance students' self-esteem. Education helps individuals discover their identities. Individuals and society progress by learning and applying objective knowledge. Students have no "true self" or innate essence. Rather, selves are social constructs. Postmodern educators believe self-esteem is a pre-condition for learning. They view education as a type of therapy. Education helps individuals construct their identities rather than discover them. Individuals and society progress when people are empowered to attain their own chosen goals.