Examples as method? My attempts to understand assessment and fairness (in the spirit of the later wittgenstein)

Journal of Philosophy of Education 43 (3):371-389 (2009)
Abstract
What is 'fairness' in the context of educational assessment? I apply this question to a number of contemporary educational assessment practices and policies. My approach to philosophy of education owes much to Wittgenstein. A commentary set apart from the main body of the paper focuses on my style of philosophising. Wittgenstein teaches us to examine in depth the fine-grained complexities of social phenomena and to refrain from imposing abstract theory on a recalcitrant reality. I write philosophy of education for policy makers and teachers. Scrutiny of examples plays a vital role in communicating with such an audience. Starting points include 'accommodations' for disabled students, allegedly gender-biased tests, and the recruitment procedures of 'elitist' music conservatoires. A key intuition that fairness is associated with test validity turns out to be seriously flawed. Problems centre on the idea of a 'construct', and the supposed divide between an underlying construct and its behavioural manifestations. Equality of opportunity notions underlie some accusations of unfairness but there are alternative approaches to a just society. Both the judgments about fairness, and the proposed remedies are open to serious philosophical criticisms. There are widespread conceptual difficulties, together with inconsistent and contestable value judgments.
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References found in this work BETA
Thomas Nagel (2003). 1 Rawls and Liberalism. In Samuel Richard Freeman (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Rawls. Cambridge University Press. 62.
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