An aspect of the system of education that keeps it from getting better

I promised that I would follow up with some detail a comment I made regarding my distrust and my distaste for most educational research, this in response to a conversation about the teaching of reading, an area of education so badly mishandled over the years as to infect most all other aspects of the educational process.  I have watched as various theories about what constitutes good reading instruction have been proven to be almost without a doubt correct to be corrected soon after efficacy is proven to be ineffective and this without much concern for the damage done by the implementations of bad stuff based on supposedly good research.  Bad experience with reading is extremely problematic, first because reading is almost the sole focus of early grades instruction and, secondly because reading is a key skill that needs to be mastered if one is to succeed in a school system in which written material is used to convey the bulk of the information that students are expected to know.

Reading well is critically important beyond school.  I say this without a doubt.  Caring to read, being willing to read and willing, too, to constantly improve as a reader so that one can grow into reading increasingly sophisticated materials, all are important to being a well-informed human being and to learning of how others think so that one might him or herself think about things from several perspectives and not just one egocentric perspective.  This is certainly an ability one must possess to deal with life in an information rich society where it is often difficult to understand where truths lie and where deception is a common practice amongst many with the ability to be heard and influence.

What is terribly troublesome with the research is that is can be and has been used to prove correct that which is absolutely wrong and to prove wrong that which make very good sense that cannot be proven right by methods accepted as being properly scientificby those practitioners of educational research, at least by some who hold considerable sway in the field, not only as researchers but as trainers for other researchers.  This is not to say that there does not exist good research but the good research often has the same cache, more often less, than that that offers real proof of what is best for students.  Quantitative methods hold great status in the field of educational research; reports on observations and interactions with students, good narratives, the qualitative research is suspect because it is considered to be tainted with subjectivity, which it is and has to be because it reports on human minds at work and makes important the product of those minds which are of a human perspective.

I have just completed a book in which I spend a good portion of it explaining the problems caused by the dehumanization that ultimately occurs when human activity is reduced to numeric values, variables controlled to insure objectivity to the point that they are meaningless values because they have been scrubbed of what makes human existence human, the inclination of human beings to use their individual minds to make their sense of the world, to make subjective choices about what to see and how to understand the meaning of what they experience.  However, for the sake of building the least refutable case, the most objective case, educational research, a significant portion of it, objectifies humans and does so unashamedly by focusing almost exclusively on overt behaviors and hardly at all on how individuals go about thinking their way to the understandings they accept to be adequate, correct, sensible, meaningful; decent enough conceptualizations of what is and what it means.

I am unhappy with the whole of educational research because those who are practitioners, though they may hold to different approaches, some more sensible and humane than others, do not do enough to speak to the problematic reality that is created their colleagues who practice what is pseudoscience.  Hardly is there ever sufficient outcry to put down harmful practices are given the imprimatur of legitimacy awarded bad ideas in the name of proper collegial respect. That respect and the willingness to allow them to have their effect while wedo what we do that may be different and more sensible, more humane, harms people and the harm is too often for life.

There does exist a subfield of education that is called critical pedagogy.  It is a subfield with status on the fringes yet it provides a proper critique of education, its purposes and its processes, that, in its best instantiations, offers the kind of discounting of the educational research regimes and their products needed to clean the slate so that new approaches, humane approaches to education can be developed.  The problem here is that the critique and the alternatives created are not testableby the kinds of testsmade acceptable by educational research as it exists.

Educational research serves to support methodologies that are tried and true only within the context a terribly flawed but well accepted paradigm.  And that is why I have and will continue to criticize the field for it is dangerous to the development of human beings and the humane human society.

By lafered

Retired professor of education concerned with thoughtfulness

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