Rethinking Formalisms in Formal Education

WCER Working Paper No. 2005-11

Mitchell J. Nathan

December 2005, 16 pp.

ABSTRACT: In this paper, I explore two beliefs about learning and teaching that I argue are prevalent among educators. The first is the belief that subject matter expertise is sufficient for success in teaching. The second belief is that to learn a specific content area, one needs to begin with an understanding of the formal structure and abstract principles that underlie the conceptual framework of the content area before one can effectively apply that knowledge. Together, these beliefs exert pressures on formal education that may not be for the betterment of learning and teaching for all students. The foundations of these beliefs are discussed, as are implications for classroom instruction, curriculum design, and education policy.

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keywords: Teacher Knowledge; Expert Blind Spot; Cognitive Development; Mathematics and Science Instruction; Pedagogical Content Knowledge