The things we say

In The Schools We Need and Why We Don’t Have Them, E.D. Hirsch offered a guide to terms often used by educators, along with interpretations of what they mean.

In modern bureaucratic states, battles between competing systems of thought take place in language. In the pleasant-sounding (or important-sounding or scientific-sounding) phrases that we encounter in faculty rooms, university classes, workshop flyers, and administrative memos, we can feel the tug of ideologies, designed by various parties for various purposes. My experience of professional training in education has often had more to do with getting acclimated to the professional jargon that was in vogue than it did with mastering any precise technical or theoretical skills. Culture warriors from the left and right attack one another’s ideologies with new phrases or they try to subvert the meanings of old phrases. These are not mere skirmishes in some larger game. As the deconstructionists taught ad nauseum, they oft times are the game.

Reading this guide is one helpful way of becoming more thoughtful about what armies we might be joining when we say all those things we say.

It may lead you to consider whether there are some things you simply don’t want to say anymore.

Here’s one example:

Research has shown. “A phrase used to preface and shore up educational claims. Often it is used selectively, even when the preponderant or most reliable research shows no such thing, as in the statement ‘Research has shown that children learn best with hands-on methods.’ Educational research varies enormously in quality and reliability. Some research is insecure because its sample sizes tend to be small and a large number of significant variables (social, historical, cultural, and personal) cannot be controlled. If an article describes a ‘successful’ strategy, such as building a pioneer village out of Popsicle sticks instead of reading about pioneers, the success may not be fully documented, and the idea that the method will work for all students and classrooms is simply assumed. There are strong ethical limits on the degree to which research variables can or should be controlled when the subjects of research are children. Many findings of educational research are highly contradictory. Greatest confidence can be placed in refereed journals in mainstream disciplines. (A refereed journal is one whose articles have been checked by respected scientists, or referees, in a particular specialty.) Next in reliability is research that appears in the most prestigious refereed educational journals. Very little confidence can be placed in research published in less prestigious journals and in nonrefereed publications. The most reliable type of research in education (as in medicine) tends to be ‘epidemiological research,’ that is, studies of definitely observable effects exhibited by large populations of subjects over considerable periods of time. The sample size and the duration of such large-scale studies help to cancel out the misleading influences of uncontrolled variables. An additional degree of confidence can be placed in educational research if it is consistent with well-accepted findings in neighboring fields like psychology and sociology. Educational research that conflicts with such mainstream findings is to be greeted with special skepticism. The moral: Print brings no reliable authority to an educational claim. When in doubt, ask for specific references and check them. Many claims evaporate under such scrutiny.”

Posted by Michael L Umphrey on 01/26 at 09:01 AM
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