Scandinavian Working Papers in Economics

Working Paper Series,
Research Institute of Industrial Economics

No 1432: The View of Knowledge: An Institutional Theory of Differences in Educational Quality

Magnus Henrekson () and Johan Wennström ()
Additional contact information
Magnus Henrekson: Research Institute of Industrial Economics (IFN), Postal: Research Institute of Industrial Economics, Box 55665, SE-102 15 Stockholm, Sweden
Johan Wennström: Research Institute of Industrial Economics (IFN), Postal: Research Institute of Industrial Economics, Box 55665, SE-102 15 Stockholm, Sweden

Abstract: This essay argues that the most crucial institution of any school system is the embraced view of knowledge—from which virtually all other aspects of a school are derived: the content of its curricula, its pedagogical practices, and the incentives that motivate its members. To make this case, we outline the two main conflicting views of knowledge, the classical view and the postmodern social constructivist view. According to the classical view, the purpose of schooling is to give students objective knowledge and skills that they cannot acquire in any way other than through hierarchical instruction in well-defined disciplines. The postmodern social constructivist view rejects the existence of objective knowledge. This rejection translates to a preference for student-directed pedagogy, the mixing of instructional fields, and an emphasis on developing general critical thinking skills rather than on acquiring domain-specific knowledge. Using the history of education in Sweden as an example, our analysis suggests that the recent decline in educational quality in the Western democracies can be remedied by a paradigm shift in the governing view of knowledge toward the classical view.

Keywords: Communal knowledge; Institutions; Postmodernism; Social constructivism; Thought style; Views of knowledge

JEL-codes: H42; H44; H75; I22; I28; L88

Language: English

22 pages, First version: June 22, 2022. Revised: August 31, 2022.

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