Personal Epistemology in Elementary Classrooms: A Conceptual Comparison of Germany and the United States and a Guide for Future Cross-Cultural Research

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Abstract

Our understanding of the cross-cultural aspects of personal epistemology is limited. In particular, cross-cultural comparisons of elementary school teachers’ and students’ personal epistemology have received very little theoretical or empirical attention. The current chapter aims to examine German and U.S. elementary schools in terms of their philosophical and practical similarities and differences in personal epistemology. Both theoretical and empirical work will be reviewed to support a more holistic model of personal epistemology, the Educational Model of Personal Epistemology (Haerle, 2006). In light of this model, we discuss our expectations for differences and similarities in the epistemic climate of elementary classrooms in the U.S. and Germany. Drawing from this discussion, we suggest that researchers should approach cross-cultural research in personal epistemology from a more holistic standpoint, employ a diversity of methods, and obtain a solid understanding of the educational context under study. Regarding educational implications, we propose a possible fusion of the educational philosophies held in the U.S. and Germany concerning the implementation of teacher training and classroom education. Finally, we recommend that fostering evaluativistic thinking (i.e., a way of knowing that focuses on the evaluation and decision-making among differing viewpoints) should be a main goal for education starting at the elementary level to ensure students’ future roles as productive citizens in Western societies and stress the role of the teacher in this endeavor.