Department of Educational Psychology


Date of this Version



Published in Educational Psychology Review 2:4 (1990), pp. 335–364. Copyright © 1990 Plenum Publishing Corporation. Used by permission.


Abstract Those who believe education should involve more than learning facts often stress either (a) development or (b) thinking skills. A focus on development as a goal of education typically entails a conception of knowledge as organismic, holistic, and internally generated. In contrast, thinking skills programs commonly assume a mechanistic, reductionist perspective in which good thinking consists of some finite number of directly teachable skills. A conception of rationality as a goal of education is proposed that incorporates the complementary strengths and avoids the limitations of the developmental and thinking skills approaches. Rationality is defined as the self-reflective, intentional, and appropriate coordination and use of genuine reasons in generating and justifying beliefs and behavior. Philosophically, rationality is a justifiable goal of education, not only because it is a means to worthwhile ends but because it is an important end in itself and because it can be promoted via non-indoctrinative means. A psychological account of progressive rationality is provided that postulates continuing multiple interactions of (a) domain-specific developmental stages, (b) the learning of specific thinking skills, and (c) content-specific knowledge. Suggestions are made for fostering rationality at various educational levels. Finally, it is argued that the proposed conception of rationality as a goal of education complements and clarifies a variety of other educational goals.