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Handbook of Educational Theories for Theoretical Frameworks

reviewed by J. Wesley Null - December 21, 2014

coverTitle: Handbook of Educational Theories for Theoretical Frameworks
Author(s): Beverly J. Irby, Genevieve Brown & Shirley Jackson (Editor)
Publisher: Information Age Publishing, Charlotte
ISBN: 1617358657, Pages: 1164, Year: 2013
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This is a massive publication. At nearly 1200 pages, The Handbook of Educational Theories is indeed a reference book; it includes contributions from 152 authors and 17 editors from 10 countries. The editors do not share how long it took to produce the book, but it must have taken years, if not a decade, to come to fruition. I suspect that this is a text that no one will ever read in its entirety.

This book was clearly not intended as a work to be read from cover to cover. The book’s editors—Beverly J. Irby of Sam Houston State University, Genevieve Brown of Sam Houston State University, Rafael Lara-Alecio of Texas A&M University-College Station, and Shirley Jackson of Sam Houston State University—indicate that the goal with the book was to offer a “comprehensive, consolidated collection of some of the most influential and most frequently quoted and consulted educational theories” (p. xvii). Moreover, their aim was to “provide theories that can inform research perspectives” (p. xvii). They have researchers within the social sciences in mind as their primary audience: social scientists who are working within schools and colleges of education, as well as counselors who are both in practice as well as those who educate counselors within universities.  

The authors in this book are very well-known scholars in a host of education-related fields; contributors hail from both public and private universities, including the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the University of Virginia, and the Yale University School of Medicine. International institutions include the University of Stirling in Scotland, the University of Victoria in British Columbia, and the University of Queensland in Australia.  

The range of authors and scope of institutions mirror the overwhelmingly expansive scope of the text. The ambitiousness of this effort is both its strength and its undoing. The editors sought to hold the text together by focusing on theory, but a clear understanding of what they mean by theory is not offered in the book’s short preface. At only two pages, the preface, while indicating the audience and general goal of the text, fails to provide an in-depth discussion of what the editors sought to achieve with such a massive undertaking. I certainly appreciate the crucial role that sound theory provides (and should provide) throughout the various fields within education, but, taken as a whole, this text presents multiple conceptions of theory without attempting to help readers understand what holds all of these theories together.

The book includes thirteen sections, each of which contains between five and fifteen chapters, for a total of 101 chapters in the book. Section topics cover a wide array of subject areas, including philosophical education, learning theory, instructional theory, curriculum theory, literacy and language acquisition theory, counseling theory, moral development theory, classroom management theory, assessment theory, organizational theory, leadership and management theory, social justice theory, and teaching and education delivery theory. The quality of the chapters varies considerably. Some are quite good and extensive. In particular, Gert J. J. Biesta’s chapter entitled “On the Idea of Educational Theory” provides a thoughtful and insightful discussion of the different ways in which the field of education (including teacher education) has been conceived during the last 100-150 years. In the counseling area, Richard E. Watts demonstrates his considerable knowledge of Alfred Adler in his overview of Adlerian counseling, with a particular emphasis on the relationship between theory and practice in Adler’s views. Other chapters, some of which are just three or four pages long, are at the other extreme from these two, providing the text with a rather uneven set of contributions.  

Just about any faculty member within a school/college of education will find at least a few chapters within this book that are of interest and that relate to their particular field of interest. In that respect, the text serves a broad audience in a way that is beneficial. At the same time, however, the work does not necessarily offer even the most prominent or the most recently developed viewpoints within these thirteen categories—just those that the authors who were selected chose to write about. Perhaps this weakness is due to the absence of an overarching theme or perspective that could have guided the authors. Yes, “theory” can serve as a word to link together many different fields, but the word remains hollow without a more robust discussion. For many of these section titles, I wonder if the term “theory” even needed to be included in the title. For example, what is the difference between Moral Development Theory and Moral Development or between Classroom Management Theory and Classroom Management? The chapters within these two sections, which I only use as examples, do not help readers with answers to these questions.

Despite these weaknesses in the overall project, there are chapters within this volume that make a worthwhile contribution to their chosen field. For this reason, I do recommend that libraries purchase the text and make it available as a reference book. At the same time, however, it is not a text that I see individual scholars purchasing for their personal libraries.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: December 21, 2014
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 17793, Date Accessed: 5/26/2022 7:33:40 PM

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About the Author
  • J. Wesley Null
    Baylor University
    E-mail Author
    WESLEY NULL serves as Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education at Baylor University. He completed his Ph.D. degree at the University of Texas at Austin, where he studied curriculum theory and history of education. Prior to beginning his role as Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education, Dr. Null served as Associate Dean of Baylor's Honors College, Acting Director of the University's Honors Program, and director of Baylor's Ph.D. in Curriculum & Teaching Program. Null has authored numerous books in the fields of curriculum theory and educational history, including Curriculum: From Theory to Practice (Rowman and Littlefield, 2011), Peerless Educator: The Life and Work of Isaac Leon Kandel (Peter Lang, 2007), and A Disciplined Progressive Educator: The Life and Career of William Chandler Bagley (Peter Lang, 2004). He is also co-editor, with Diane Ravitch, of Forgotten Heroes of American Education: The Great Tradition of Teaching Teachers (Information Age Publishing, 2006). Null has co-edited several other books as well, including American Educational Thought: Essays from 1640 to 1940 (Information Age Publishing, 2010) and The Pursuit of Curriculum: Schooling and the Public Interest (Information Age Publishing, 2006). Null served as editor of the American Educational History Journal from 2006-2011 and also served as president of the American Association for Teaching and Curriculum from 2010-2011. In his current role as Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education, Null collaborates with senior administration and faculty to coordinate and provide a common vision for undergraduate education at Baylor.
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