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  • Response to Estelle R. Jorgensen, “Four Philosophical Models of the Relationship Between Theory and Practice”
  • W. Ann Stokes

Estelle Jorgensen has written a most interesting paper contrasting four different concepts of the relationship between theory and practice, and pointing out the advantages and disadvantages of each. Each approach introduces insights that the others have missed, but is not sufficient in itself to explain all the relationships between theory and practice. In response to the concept of "dichotomy," I am also sympathetic to the attempt to distinguish practice and theory because it identifies two important constituents of experience, and it provides a fruitful way of investigating the relationship between the two concepts. However, I believe that a concept of dichotomy may put the two categoriees in too distant a relationship with each other. This distance may prevent us from recognizing the "interconnections and cross-fertilizations" that are often possible between them.

The idea of "polarity" opens up the possibility of focusing on the ground [End Page 102] between the two concepts. It also provides a framework for allowing "practice to bubble up into theory," and "theory to bubble up into practice." Given that a theory may bring about a range of different practices and that practices may be based upon a range of differing theories, one needs to be able to move easily between the two worlds. Imagination, intuition, and rational thinking all contribute to our understanding of the relationship between the two concepts. In this situation of polarity one should not expect to find "a theory perfectly translated into a particular practice, or a practice drawing entirely and fully on one particular theory."

I am also sympathetic to the view that "theory without practice is mentalism," and that "practice without theory is activism or instrumentalism bare of guiding principles," but like Jorgensen I find the concept of fusion the least helpful of the four concepts. Given the fact that very rarely (if ever) is theory perfectly exemplified in practice, or practice based solely upon one specific theory, the concept of fusion in many instances is too absolute. I am open to the suggestion that moral principles as well as aesthetic ones should guide the practice of music education despite the difficulties that a multiplicity of perspectives opens up. I also agree that democratic ideals can offer us one way of guiding the decisions made in the classroom and can offer a rallying point for persons coming from different ethnic, religious, political, and cultural backgrounds.

The dialectical approach opens up a way to negotiate among differences of opinion and beliefs that influence practice. It assumes that there is no one perfect perspective on the relationship between theory and practice. The dialectical approach provides (1)a framework to investigate the theories and practices of which practitioners are aware, (2)opportunities to examine how practitioners adjudicate them, and (3)explanations of how and why they decide to act "in their particular lived situations." In contrast to the ontological approach, I like Jorgensen's epistemological approach to the investigation of theory and practice. It offers another perspective in addition to the influence that ontological theories can have in guiding music education practice.

My view of the ideal relationship between theory and practice is one that acknowledges the differences between the two concepts, but allows for a variety of relationships between the two. It is one that recognizes that theory should influence practice and that practice should influence theory in an ongoing and continuous reciprocal exchange. It entails being sensitive to a variety of theories and particular practices, and being skilled at being able to pick which particular theory or theories best explains the practice observed.

In addition to the concepts of dichotomy, polarity, fusion, and dialectic, another possible concept of the relationship between theory and practice might be based upon Michael Lewis, Margaret Sullivan, and Linda Michalson's view [End Page 103] of the "cognitive-emotional fugue."1 This perspective has the advantage of being very flexible. The authors describe emotion and cognition as being neither separate nor independent processes. "Rather both are elements of a continuous, inseparable stream of behavior like the parts of a fugue in which the theme is often lost...


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pp. 102-104
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