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Educational Research in Practice, 3

Educational Research in Practice: Making Sense of Methodology is a collection of papers edited by Joanna Swann and John Pratt.

This post finishes discussion of chapter 2.

p 28
If, for example, a team of teachers wishes to improve its teaching of literacy, it is insufficient for the teachers merely to learn more about literacy. At some stage they will have to implement change and evaluate the outcomes.
Evaluate the outcomes? How and why?

Wouldn't it make more sense for students to evaluate their own outcomes and then choose the educational help and methods they find most useful? Why should the teacher be the one deciding what goes on and evaluating what is good? Teachers should be helpers not directors.

Many outcomes shouldn't be evaluated at all. For example, it is immoral to whip children for low test scores. Suppose a school ends whippings. And finds that over the next 2 years, average test scores decrease. So what? Should they start whipping kids again? If something is immoral, stop doing it whatever the outcome.

Many school policies are immoral and should be halted without concern for whether the teachers evaluate the outcomes positively or not.

If you give kids freedom, many of them will not focus on doing the thing that get them positive evaluations from their teachers. But the purpose of freedom is not to get high teacher evaluations -- it isn't to please others. Freedom lets people please themselves.

Chapter 2 offers a lot of generality about improving education but doesn't bring up many concretes, like these:

- most children do not like school and do not want to attend. making them attend is therefore immoral and the situation is not suited for learning anything. learning works best in voluntary situations because the learner must take an active role and can't be forced to do that (if he's being forced, the forcer is taking the active role)

- most children do not like tests or homework. but teachers impose these on students anyway, disregarding the students' preferences

- many children disagree with the moral values behind the evaluations (by the people in charge) of their life outcomes -- in other words they may not wish to be what their teachers (or parents) want them to be

- teachers commonly pressure students to participate in class, such as by answering the teacher's questions in public, even if the student doesn't want to

- many children are unsafe at school, due to bullies (more broadly, due to dealing with other children in a situation that isn't based on voluntary association), and have other stuff to worry about besides education

- children are expected to show up at school on a regular schedule even if their preferences about how to spend their time don't match that schedule. even children who like school have days where they would prefer to do something else. teachers are not sympathetic.

- school authorities routinely betray children. for example they say things like, "if you have a problem (like another student being mean), tell a teacher". but most teachers aren't particularly helpful most of the time. so some children try to solve their own problems that their teachers aren't solving for them. then, sometimes, they are punished for taking initiative and self-defense.

- teachers have a great deal of arbitrary authority and sometimes use it, sometimes very badly

- initiative and confidence are valuable in life, but schools teach kids to ask permission from authority to even use the bathroom

- schools typically expect students to follow a lot of instructions (often quite exactly and rigidly) and are intolerant of people with different ideas about what to do

- there is a conflict of interest when the same person does both teaching and testing or evaluation on a subject. If I give the lectures and also write the test, then I have to try to be "fair" about how closely the test matches the lecture material. I have to hold back on how helpful my lectures are so the test isn't too easy. In a better situation, I would do my very utmost to make the test easy with my lectures, and there would be no problem because I don't know exactly what's on the test and it isn't my responsibility to look out for the interests of the test maker.

- school tests often use simplistic question types such as multiple choice. success can come from test taking technique rather than topical knowledge. but whenever teachers try to grade anything without clear objective criteria for scoring, there are severe problems with arbitrariness and, from the student's point of view, vagueness about what is being asked of them.

- teachers commonly refuse to answer student questions. there is an idea that it's bad to tell kids the answer, even if they specifically ask. teachers routinely thwart their students in even the most basic ways.

- the interests of all the students in a class are far from identical. yet they are subjected to the same activities and course material

Elliot Temple on April 8, 2012


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