Magazine article Techniques

Is Science the Proper Metaphor for Educational Research?

Magazine article Techniques

Is Science the Proper Metaphor for Educational Research?

Article excerpt

In a special edition of the Journal of Industrial Teacher Education, research from the previous four decades of industrial technology teacher education was reviewed. What was most notable, some have suggested, was the paucity of the results. Rupert Evans, for example, wrote that after four decades of research, little had been proven substantive with regard to educational practice. Essentially, we know that everything causes everything else, that the timing and interaction of everything is critical to the attainment of the everything else, and further, that the confidence and certainty with which we can make educational and political decisions about education is largely unfounded.

In Borderlands of Science: Where Sense Meets Nonsense, Michael Shermer asserted that there are three types of science: science, the borderlands of science (wherein most social science research resides), and nonscience or outright quackery. On a good day, a few bits of educational research might be considered science. The great mass of educational research, however, belongs in that borderlands region. This is a bitter pill to swallow, particularly for a believer in the efficacy of the scientific method for educational research.

In pursuit of his thesis, Shermer asks 10 questions that help define what good science is, and perhaps more importantly, what it is not. Essentially, Shermer repeats what any good educational research textbook would say: Science requires skepticism, reliability and validity, good instruments, a clear methodology, repeatability and rigorous control. Additionally, it requires juried reviews of that research. Unfortunately, educational research seldom meets all of the criteria for good science; indeed, I would suggest that some of these criteria are impossible to meet in educational research.

Shermer stakes out skepticism as a critical element of educational research, but our field doesn't foster skeptics. Education develops passionate professionals who will believe in a child's potential despite all evidence to the contrary.

Reliability and validity are largely ignored in teacher-developed instruments, and with regard to most tests and measures, few can demonstrate reliability and validity to the degree needed to qualify as precise instruments. These give casual readers and users the impression of legitimacy. In our political world, face validity alone is probably enough for an instrument to be embraced. …

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