Why Theory Matters in Education

In many educational communities, existing practice exerts strong influence on the practices deemed acceptable, so attempts to define new goals are met with strong resistance. In this situation, many educators adopt a stance that Paulo Friere, the Brazilian educational philosopher, suggested resembled Aristotle’s concept of doxa, which is practice supported by opinion alone. Friere (1974) concluded that such an approach to education can result in the educators becoming “beaucratized into high-sounding, repetitious, mechanical explanations” (151) for what occurs in their classrooms. Friere argued, rather, that educators should engage in practice that resembles Aristotle’s concept of logos which is practice that is informed by a coherent theory. Frameworks facilitate educators’ work of replacing doxa with logos, and thus becoming more active designers of coherent curriculum and instruction.

There is evidence that an educator’s epistemology (his or her beliefs about how knowledge is created) does influence how he or she approaches curriculum and instruction, and thus what he or she understands the purpose of education to be and how to best achieve the purposes of education (Nist and Holschuh 2005). Despite this, many educators prefer to claim a theory-free approach to their practice. While an educator may articulate no theory, every instructional strategy embodies a theory of human learning. While an educator’s personal epistemology and the epistemology of the colleagues and leaders in the school will influence the curriculum and instruction decisions the educator makes, too much attention to theory can be an obstacle to educators’ delivery of instruction. That aspect of curriculum and instruction does not support the conclusion, however, that theoretical foundations of the work are not important and that educators can proceed from doxa and be as effective in designing sufficient curriculum and instruction as educators who proceed from logos. The opposite conclusion seems more reasonable; as the paradigm shifts, it will be increasingly important for educators to pay attention the theoretical foundations of their work so that their curriculum and instruction is aligned with current knowledge and the theory upon which it is based.


Freire, Paulo. 1974. Education for Critical Consciousness. New York: Continuum Publishing Company.

Nist, Sherrie and, Jodi Holschuh. 2005. “Practical Applications of the Research on Epistemological Beliefs.” Journal of College Reading and Learning 35(2): 84-92.