Toward a theory of pedagogical reduction: selection, simplification, and generalization in an age of critical education

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In this article, David Lewin examines the processes of educational representation, simplification, and selection, proposing the term "pedagogical reduction" in order to clarify the role these processes play within pedagogy. Although this term is virtually unknown among Anglo‐American educational theorists, it reflects a substantial theoretical basis in the related German concept didaktishe Reduktion. Drawing on sources from the hermeneutic tradition, Lewin argues that education is fundamentally an interpretive exercise because selection and simplification require the interpretive judgment of educators, and that the hermeneutic constraints applied to education entail forms of reduction. He then examines pedagogical reduction within the curriculum areas of history, science, and philosophy in order to illustrate the generative and generalizing nature of pedagogical reduction, which takes students from particulars (objects, exercises, or events) to general or universal principles. Lewin discusses Comenius's 1658 textbook Orbis Sensualium Pictus in order both to illustrate pedagogical reduction as a historical form and to draw attention to a key historical moment in the development of educational representation and reduction. He then turns to an examination of skepticism of pedagogical reduction from progressive and critical pedagogies. The argument culminates in the suggestion that educational theory is too often presented with a false dilemma: either accept the need for a contrived educational experience disconnected from the experiences and concerns of life, or react against this flattened educational aspiration by seeking something authentic and progressive that meaninglessly conflates education and life. Understanding the proper place of reduction in education, Lewin concludes, is vital in mediating this dichotomy.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)495-512
Number of pages18
JournalEducational Theory
Issue number4-5
Publication statusPublished - 2 Apr 2019


  • educational representation
  • pedagogy


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