Kuhn, the Structure of Scientific Revolutions and School Counselors

It never occurred to me that when I entered my doctoral program that I’d be reading a book called The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn. Written in 1962, Kuhn’s book on the structure of scientific revolutions is incredibly dense. It talks about paradigms, the route to normal science, the nature of normal science, and the crisis of emergence of scientific theories. I thought, “What has this got to do with social sciences?” Then I began to read it.

Kuhn was in the final stage of working at the center for advanced studies at the Hebrew Sciences 1958 – 1959 (by the way, that’s a great year) developing this book, when he was struck by the disagreements between social sciences about what constituted as legitimate scientific problems and questions. And it seemed to him that practitioners of the natural sciences had a firmer and more permanent answer to resolving problems within the community than social sciences did. Attempting to discover what that was about led him to recognize the role of scientific research and what Kuhn called “paradigm” (p. x). Kuhn defined paradigms as, “universally recognized scientific achievements that for a time provide model problems and solutions to a community of practitioners” (p. x).

Kuhn postulated that if science was a constellation of facts, theories, and methods collected in current texts, then scientists are those who strove to contribute one or another element to that particular constellation (p.1). And as the constellation would emerge, historical documents became the way to chronicle those periodic contributions and any obstacles that got in the way of the contributions. In addition, history also kept track of any descriptions or explanations of errors, myths, or superstitions that inhibited the direction of research technique or body of knowledge.

Kuhn referred to scientific revolutions as “extraordinary episodes, in which that shift of professional commitments occurs. Scientific revolutions were the tradition-shattering complements to the tradition-bound activity.” School counseling has been a tradition-bound activity, except that not all of the traditions have not been good for our profession.

As I read Kuhn I realized its amazing alignment with what we did when Judy Bowers and I spent two years writing the ASCA National Model between 2000 and 2002. In reviewing all of the notes from the first summit, it was evident that what we were about to do was to hopefully create, as Kuhn would say, a tradition-shattering text.

Kuhn talks about other scientific revolutions – Copernicus, Newton, Einstein (no intimidation) – but each of their scientific revolutions within the natural sciences came at the risk of and necessity of rejection by their community of what was considered time-honored scientific theory. And, it came in favor of other ways of doing business that potentially would be incompatible with the community’s time-honored way and traditions.

With each of these scientific revolutions, a shift occurred in the standards by which the profession determined what would indeed count as an actual problem or what would count as an actual admissible problem or legitimate problem to solve (p. 6). All of these revolutions came with controversy, one of Kuhn’s defining characteristics of scientific revolution.

One of the challenges of any new theory is that it will, it does, and it should, evoke a response or reaction from others in the field who have a special competence in the area of the new theory. The change is presented as a new way of doing business. It challenges the presumed rules that governed the prior practice of what people had considered as normal science. It also contributes to necessary reflection upon the previous scientific work. That is why when you have a new theory, it’s not easily assimilated into the culture or the work. Rather, it requires reconstructing the prior theory and evaluating prior theory in light of the new theory. It is seldom done quickly by a single person, or overnight, because it is rarely viewed as an isolated event.

According to Kuhn, in normal science research is based on the achievements and the acknowledgements of the foundation laid by previous achievements. He discusses Newton’s Principia and Franklin’s electricity as works that defined, for a time, the answers or means to resolve legitimate problems and methods for practitioners. The reason they became legitimate was because they shared two essential characteristics. The first was: “Their achievement was sufficiently unprecedented to attract an enduring group of adherents away from competing modes of scientific activity.” Secondly and simultaneously, “it was sufficiently open-ended to leave all sorts of problems for the redefined group of practitioners to resolve” (p. 10).

And so it was for the ASCA National Model. The ASCA governing board decided to create a national model to quell the voice of competing models and to create one agreed upon model for the profession: “one vision, one voice.” They attracted an elite, hand-picked group of school counseling leaders (an enduring group of adherents) to look forward (away from competing modes) and to agree upon this new model. At the same time, of course, once the draft was presented and implemented, it had its own set of problems that would require continual refinement and continual attempts by the practitioners, in this case, school counselors and school counselor educators, to resolve. Kuhn’s two characteristics consistent with paradigms were present: they attracted support and generated new problems.

The ASCA Model became a paradigm shift for the profession of school counseling. Creating a “paradigm shift” is a sign of maturity, according to Kuhn, in the development of any given scientific field. The same was true for ASCA as the professional organization deemed itself ready to manage the continual challenge, for many years.

Kuhn suggested that, “to be accepted as a paradigm or new model, a theory must seem better than its competitors, but it need not, and in fact, never does, explain all the facts with which it can be confronted” (p. 17). There were many contributors (perhaps competitors in Kuhn’s eyes) at the time: Gysbers & Henderson, Myrick, Johnson & Johnson, Ed Trust, and various local models and states frameworks. The idea behind the ASCA model was that it incorporated all of these ideas: the delivery system of Gysbers and Henderson, Myrick’s developmental guidance approach, Johnson & Johnson’s results-based guidance model, and the social justice approach of the Ed Trust. Creating the new theory and paradigm would, it was hoped, solve some of the practitioner’s problems in the community of school counseling, and at the same time, of course, bring up new problems to resolve.

According to Kuhn, “when in the development of a natural science, an individual or group first produces a synthesis able to attract most of the next generation’s practitioners, the older schools gradually disappear” (p. 18). The ASCA model attracted most of the next generation of school counselors, and is indeed used in most counselor education programs nationwide.

Kuhn says, “Because scientists are reasonable men, one or another argument will ultimately persuade many of them. But there is no single argument that can or should persuade them all. Rather than a single group conversion, what occurs is an increasing shift in the distribution of professional allegiances.” His suggestion is that there is no one argument that can be made about any paradigm, like the model, that can persuade everyone to agree with it. But as Kuhn predicted, over time, the profession did notice an allegiance, or a shifting of paradigms and the distribution of professional allegiances has moved in that direction.

It does, however, convince everyone to shift or agree. As Max Planck sadly remarked in his scientific autobiography of his career, “new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.”

There are, of course, those who do not agree with the ASCA model and will forever argue against it. However, ultimately, over time, the national model will outlive those opponents, in the same way that cell phones, computers, blogging, or tweeting will outlive their opponents.

Ultimately, those who oppose, who see what has now become the new order of things as not aligning with their paradigm, will eventually die or retire, and the new generation that grows up within this world will be familiar with this new technology in the profession. Everything that they do, see, write about, and every act that they make will be in reference to, or made through the lens of having at some point become familiar with the ASCA National Model. The same can be said for the new focus on the use of data in the profession. For these new professionals, data and accountability will not be an add-on. In much same way my mother can’t add an iPhone into her life, while my two year-old grandson can turn one on and is quite comfortable using it, it will be natural for them.

Many of those in school counseling who saw the new model as an unwelcome addition to their normal way of doing business, preferred to stay with a former model they were more comfortable with or believed would serve them better. When they retire and leave the profession, the new school counselors who enter through the lens of the national model will see their world only through this new lens. They will not know or understand the former models as anything but historical in reference. And as they begin to have problems within the new paradigm of the ASCA model, they will also seek to resolve these problems by proposing a shift in what will be the accepted paradigm. Then, if necessary, they will create a new paradigm of their own.

The pictures below are from my actual text, underlined and highlighted as I read and reread in my course in 2001 and represent Kuhn’s predictable process that must occur at the start of a new theory.

Embracing at the Early Stage

The man who embraces a new paradigm at an early stage must often do so in defiance of the evidence provided by problem-solving. He must, that is, have faith that the new paradigm will succeed with the many large problems that confront it, knowing only that the older paradigm has failed with a few. A decision of that kind can only be made on faith.

I remember asking myself if I really had the faith when I took on the task of co-authoring the ASCA Model in 2001. I wasn’t sure if I did have the faith. There were those that did not agree with creating a new model. I knew, however, from my experience, that the older models were failing because they each were missing something belonging to another model. Further, there was no agreement on a national level regarding how school counselors would utilize the ASCA National Standards. I knew that when we synthesized all of the models into our program in my district, school counselors gained legitimacy. It was evident they needed it all: structure, guidelines, standards, a social justice lens, accountability, and a requirement to measure outcomes. Judy Bowers reported similar success in her district when she combined strategies from the same models.

Status is Gained

Paradigms gain their status because they are more successful than their competitors in solving a few problems that the group of practitioners has come to recognize as acute.

This is exactly what occurred. The acute problem of too many models and challenges implementing the ASCA National Standards were resolved by inserting them into a framework called the ASCA National Model.

First You Must Gain First Supporters

But if a paradigm is ever to triumph it must gain some first supporters, men who will develop it to the point where hardheaded arguments can be produced and multiplied.

Most certainly there were those who were suspect of ASCA’s motives and the motives of those who participated in its creation. Nonetheless, as Kuhn says, if those who were drafting the model were competent, and if the early groups implementing the model and seeking to improve the model were competent counselors in the field, then it could be counted on that they would also adopt it and seek to improve it. These would become the early supporters.

Professional Allegiances Shift

Because scientists are reasonable men, one or another argument will ultimately persuade many of them. But there is no single argument that can or should persuade them all. Rather than a single group conversion, what occurs is an increasing shift in the distribution of professional allegiances.

As time went on more would explore the new models possibilities, and show what it would be like to contribute to and belong to a community that was guided by the ASCA national model. As the profession evolved, and as time moved forward, if the paradigm of the ASCA model was designed to win its fight of creating “one vision, one voice” for the profession, then over time, the number and strengths of arguments against the ASCA model would decrease and the number and strength of supporters and arguments for utilizing the ASCA model will increase. Over time, Kuhn would say, more social scientists (I would say, more counselors, administrators, legislators and counselor educators) would be converted and the exploration of the benefits and challenges of the ASCA model, the new paradigm, would go on.

Opponents Eventually Die

And Max Planck, surveying his own career in his scientific autobiography, sadly remarked that “a new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.”

Gradually, the number of different types of experiments, instruments, articles, and books, as Kuhn suggests, based upon the paradigm multiplied. Currently one must only look at the ASCA conference program, any journal article in the profession to see that the ASCA model has been referenced thousands of times and is the center of most presentations at the ASCA conference and state school counseling conferences. As Kuhn would say, still more men convinced of the new view’s fruitfulness have adopted the new mode of practicing the normal science until at last only a few older holdouts will remain.

Ipso facto Ceased to be a Scientist

At the start a new candidate for paradigm may have few supporters, and on occasions the supporter’s motives may be suspect. Nevertheless, if they are competent, they will improve it, explore its possibilities, and show what it would be like to belong to the community guided by it. And as that goes on, if the paradigm is one destined to win its fight, the number and strength of the persuasive arguments in its favor will increase. More scientists will then be converted, and the exploration of the new paradigm will go on. Gradually, the number of experiments, instruments, articles, and books based upon the paradigm will multiply. Still more men, convinced of the new view’s fruitfulness, will adopt the new mode of practicing normal science, until at last only a few elderly hold-outs remain. And even they, we cannot say, are wrong. Though the historian can always find men – Priestley, for instance – who were unreasonable to resist for as long as they did, he will not find a point at which resistance becomes illogical or unscientific. At most he may wish to say that the men who continues to resist after his whole profession has been converted has ipso facto ceased to be a scientist.

Although it’s only 10 years into the national model, there continue to be many supporters of the model and fewer elders who disagree with it in an outspoken way. But as Kuhn says, we cannot say they are wrong, because there is no wrong. There are only other ways of viewing the resolution of the challenge that constituted the need for the paradigm shift. In fact, those who continue to address and resolve the problems that drove the development of the new paradigm/model, continue to be present and their efforts are to resolve those. So indeed, they can not be wrong.

Kuhn’s refers to the priestly men as those who resisted longer than the rest, longer than some imagined necessary. The historian will find those who resisted in ways that appeared to others as unreasonable. But, history will not find their resistance illogical or unscientific. At most, Kuhn teaches, history may say that those who continued to resisted the new paradigm may have ceased being experts in the field. The entire profession had moved to adopt the ASCA National Model. ASCA has aligned their ethics, professional competencies, accreditations, professional development, and professional award system to the ASCA Model. Kuhn suggests that history may reflect that those who continued to resist long after the professional adoption, ipso facto ceased to be scientists.

“The transition from a paradigm shift that is in crisis to a new one from which a new tradition of normal science can emerge is far from a cumulative process. It is a process of reconstructing some of the most elementary generalizations, methods, and applications. During the transitioning period, there is a large, but not complete overlap between the problem that can be solved by the old paradigm and the new. But there is typically a difference in the mode of the solution. When the transition is complete the profession will change its view of the field, its methods, and its goals” (p. 84 – 85).

Adopting a new paradigm is similar to “handling the same bundle of data as before, but placing them in a new system of relations with one another by giving them a different framework” (Kuhn, p. 97). Essentially this is what the ASCA model did, by creating a new system and giving the profession a new framework. For some in the field the shift was easily assimilated; for others it created problems and continues to be a more rigorous task.

As a coauthor of the original ASCA Model, I remain committed to promoting the forward movement of the new paradigm while simultaneously seeking to find ways to further explain or articulate a current paradigm to those for whom the details are not clearly understood. The Use of Data in School Counseling textbook was written to provide the support and explanation necessary for those that struggle to implement the ASCA National Model. The text articulates both simple and complex components of the use of data in the profession. It is slightly different in its framework and application, and it has a large but not complete overlap of problems it attempts to solve.

Essentially, the text details how to use data to support designing, implementing, evaluating and improving school counseling programs, while aligning with the ASCA National Model. The mode of the solution proposed in the text is slightly different in its method, but not different in its goal in terms of improving school counseling for students, programs and the profession. If it is successful, the text will both attract supporters and generate new problems to solve in the next edition. I look forward to that opportunity.