Why Theory Matters

Why Theory Matters

Many people outside of academia find theory uninteresting. Theory often seems unnecessarily dense and abstract, far removed from our everyday lives. But, in fact, all of us operate from theory. Whenever we ask “how” or “why” about anything, we are engaged in theorizing; theory can be conceptualized as the learned cultural maps we follow to navigate and make sense of our lives and new things we encounter. Everything we do in the world (our actions) is guided by a worldview (our theory).

If you are a teacher, you might believe that theory is irrelevant to your practice, but let’s consider a common scenario: Several students regularly come to school without a lunch. Your response will depend on where you see the problem located and what you see as your role in the problem (that is, how you theorize, or make sense of, what’s going on). If you theorize that the problem is about individual families, that the students lack a lunch because their families don’t have the resources to attend to their children’s needs, you might direct the students to the free and reduced lunch program (perhaps assuming the family does not know about such programs). If you theorize that the problem is structural, you might see the students’ lack of lunch as representative of issues that go beyond the family and advocate at the governmental level. In fact, we can take free and reduced lunch programs for granted today because people became involved and worked

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