Journal of Secondary Alternate Education

Journal of Secondary Alternate Education: Homepage Reviews of and Comments About the Journal Volume 9, Number 1, Winter 2012 Volume 9, Number 2, April 2012 Volume 9, Number 3, May 2012 Volume 9, Number 4, June 2012 Volume 9, Number 5, July 2012 Volume 9, Number 6, August 2012 Volume 9, Number 7, September 2012 Volume 9, Number 8, October 2012 Volume 9, Number 9, November 2012 Volume 9, Number 10, December 2012 Volume 10, Number 1, January 2013 Volume 10, Number 2, February 2013 Volume 10, Number 3, March 2013 Volume 10, Number 4, April 2013 Volume 10, Number 5, May 2013 Volume 10, Number 6, June 2013 Volume 10, Number 7, July 2013 Volume 10, Number 8, August 2013 Volume 10, Number 9.0, September 2013 Volume 10, Number 9.1, September 2013 Volume 10, Number 10, October 2013 Volume 10, Number 11, November 2013 Volume 10, Number 12, December 2013 Volume 11, Number 1, January 2014 Volume 11, Number 2, February 2014 Volume 12, Number 1, December 2015 Volume 13, Number 1, January 2016 Volume 13, Number 2, February 2016 Volume 13, Number 3, March 2016 Volume 13, Number 4, April 2016 Volume 13, Number 5, May 2016 Volume 13, Number 6, June 2016 Volume 13, Number 7, July 2016 Volume 13, Number 8, August 2016 Volume 13, Number 9, September 2016 Volume 13, Number 10, October 2016 Volume 13, Number 11, November 2016 Volume 13, Number 12, December 2016 Volume 14, Number 1, January 2017 Volume 14, Number 2, February 2017 Volume 14, Number 3, March 2017 Volume 14, Number 4, April 2017

Column: Lukiv's "Place" for Educators to Think About Teaching 

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That's When I Gag (published previously by Students on the Net [Singapore, 2000])

Dan Lukiv

Theory Versus Law

Over the last 35 years I've attended over one hundred Quesnel School District's professional development days and heard many speakers advertise education-based theories. I've used some ideas from therein that have seemed useful for my students, but I've never put enormous faith in theories. They are theories by definition because they haven't been or can't seem to be proven. On the other hand, there is The Law of Gravity: you can prove that. Jump off a cliff. It's more than a theory. But the Theory of Evolution remains a theory because it remains unproven.1 It's simply not a law. Einstein's Theory of Special Relativity (I studied it in Physics 210 at the University of British Columbia in 1973) works great in math on paper; however, who can prove it with flesh and blood? It's not a law, except on Star Trek.

John Dewey, a firm advocate of evolution, seems humorous to me with regard to his irrevocable Darwin-stand, and yet he seems of serious worth when I consider his yen for the scientific method: "Dewey...[used] discovery procedures [to] mirror the scientific method...[as] a crucial component" (Egan, 1997, p. 19). I certainly value that method of learning facts, even for presenting theories. But I don't appreciate zealots using rhetoric to "force" theories to look like laws.

A few Things I Value

I also value Jean-Jacques Rousseau's child-centred stand of "focus[ing] attention...on the nature of the developing child, concentrating less on what ought to be learned and more on what children at different ages are capable of learning and on how learning might proceed most effectively" (Egan, 1997, p. 15). Perhaps he and Dewey would have shaken hands, if they could have met across time, over Dewey's "systematic attempts to base a course of study upon the actual unfolding of the psychology of child nature" (Dewey, quoted in Egan, 1997, p. 28).

In addition, I value Plato's passion for rigorous learning, especially given the drive of some students for learning logically, deeply, and critically, and in view of the extensive yet often narrow learning needed for university-bound students who want to do well on ministry-ordained government tests. Likely, these students will do well with "Plato-influenced teachers...who...[use] rigorous exams" (Egan, 1997, p. 23).

I understand the value of at least some of what Plato, Dewey, and Rousseau present to education, just as I understand the value of good learning researchbased on the fact-generating scientific method as a tool for educators to choose good methods of instruction for their students: "We need to give teachers time to reflect on their practice, to engage in substantive dialogue with others (including the researchers) about what they are accomplishing and why, and to assist teachers in carefully studying new research [and possibly new theories] and innovations to determine whether they validate their practice, require them to rethink their practice, or both" (Wolfe, 1998, p. 64).

Good Research and Theories in Their Place

I like that. Good research can teach us, given certain students' circumstances, what instructional methods are better than what others. Some research may even lead to useful theories on educational methods. Just don't use rhetoric to try to convince me that Theory A = Law A. That's when I gag.


Egan, K. (1997). Three old ideas and a new one. The educated mind (pp. 9-32). Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Gould, S. J., Luria, S. E. and Singer, S. (1981). A view of life. Menlo Park, CA: Benjamin/Cummings.

Wolfe, P. (1998, November). Revisiting effective teaching. Educational Leadership, 61-64.


1. Sometimes we find ourselves misled by comments such as "evolution is a fact" (Gould, Luria, & Singer, 1981, p. 574), which implies a law has replaced the theory.

2. In Chapter Six: A Plethora of Variables (in The Master Teacher: A Collection []), I describe what many would term poor research.

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