Conducting Educational Research: A Comparative View

By R. Murray Thomas | Go to book overview

secondary school teacher whose mode of leading class discussions is reminiscent of Plato's dialogues may be referred to as "the Socrates of the tenth grade."

Not only do authors use individual words and phrases symbolically, but they sometimes speak in parables, describing an event or telling a tale whose meaning is not to be accepted literally but, rather, viewed symbolically as a representation of similar conditions at a different time or place. One of the best known parables in modern-day educational literature is Harold Benjamin small book entitled The Sabertooth Curriculum ( 1939), which ostensibly describes educational practices in prehistoric times but actually is a parody intended to convey Benjamin's observations of how curriculum change operates in modern times. Jonathan Swift Gulliver's Travels ( 1726) is one of the best known parables from the past that holds implications for educational practice. Jean Jacques Rousseau's Emile ( 1773), although cast as a novel, is a broad ranging treatise on child rearing and education.

We can thus suggest that when researchers hunt for a communication's symbols and seek to interpret them, they can be led by such questions as: Is the entire document symbolic--a fable, parable, or analog, so that its literal meaning is not the one intended by the writer? Or does the document offer two meanings, one literal and the other symbolic? Is most of the meaning of the document intended to be direct and literal, but within the work there are symbolic meanings found in proverbs, aphorisms, or allusions? How can a researcher recognize symbolic contents?

The investigator can seek answers for these queries through the use of such tools as dictionaries that trace word etymology, collections of proverbs, and literary and professional-education works from the time the document was written. In societies that have depended more on oral rather than written history and literature, clues to symbolic meanings may be sought through interviewing elderly members of the society. Essays, letters, or diaries that the original author produced may address themselves to matters of writing style, including how symbols are employed. If the document under consideration is a translation of a work originally produced in another language, then bilingual dictionaries can prove useful.


CONCLUSION

The varieties of interpretation described in this chapter are no more than a sample of the diverse sorts of analysis authors can apply to the contents of communications. It should be apparent that the types reviewed are not entirely separate but, rather, are intertwined. For instance, the tasks of verifying the authorship of a document and of interpreting a writer's use of symbols are both related to understanding something of the author's motives and the social and intellectual climate of the author's time and place.

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