Splitter on Dispositions in Education

In this article, Laurance Splitter argues that the debate in education over dispositions boils down to a choice between focusing on measurable behavior versus “life of the mind” (p. 206).  He feels that we must discuss dispositions in education, because “descriptions of our desires, beliefs, attitudes, values, and—ultimately—our inclinations and dispositions may be all that we have by way of providing a coherent explanation of why we do what we (freely choose to) do” (p. 207). In other words (I think!), if we fail to consider dispositions, we fail to consider agency and intentionality.  Habits are not the same as dispositions, Laurance says, because “habitual behavior is typically conditioned and unintended, and not accompanied by the kinds of beliefs and desires that signify dispositional behavior” p. (217).  Again, there is intentionality and agency– a thoughtfulness — to our beliefs, desires, and dispositions, though not always to our habits.

In the latter part of his article, he emphasizes the importance of language and dialogue. Since I wrote about conversation, my “ears” perked up as I read his thoughts about dialogue.  He loses me a little in this statement (it was preceded by a philosophical discussion of anomalous monism or nonreductive physicalism, which I still don’t fully comprehend):

The central place of dispositions as the triggers of our intentional and relatively stable behavior is preserved by and represented in the language we use to describe or refer to (1) the relevant behavior, (2) the mental/emotional elements that trigger the behavior, and (3) the underlying conditionals in which the triggers —along with appropriate background conditions—function as antecedent and the behavior functions as consequent. Becoming familiar with these linguistic descriptors is one step that students (including teacher candidates) can make toward asserting control over their intentional behavior. (p. 224)

I like the implication that language is powerful (I taught high school English for 10 years, remember? :)), but I am not convinced about language preserving dispositions.  However, I like his extension to dialogue in these two quotations:

In practice, teachers need to invite students to participate in ongoing, conceptually rich,and deeply reflective conversations (that is, dialogue) about all these elements and their interconnections….  [C]lassrooms should be reconstructed as inquiring communities in which dialogue among and between students is seen as a public, collaborative form of thinking… (225).

Embedding our dispositions within the sociolinguistic framework of dialogue supports a relational and integrated view of character formation that offers a timely alternative to the ‘‘disconnectedness’’ that pervades so much of our lives. (226)

What are the implications for a theory of learning, or for understanding dispositions and becoming? I think this last quotation should tell me something more, but I’m not sure how we “embed our dispositions within the sociolinguistic framework of dialogue” in the actual process of teaching.  Yes, dialogue is critical to learning and instruction.  But what does he mean by this sentence?

I do like his recognition of the importance of agency in education, and the connection he makes between intentionality and dispositions, as opposed to habits (unintentional).


Splitter, L. J. (2010). Dispositions in education: Nonentities worth talking about. Educational Theory, 60(2): 203-230. doi:10.1111/j.1741-5446.2010.00354.x. http://doi.wiley.com/10.1111/j.1741-5446.2010.00354.x.


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