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Paul Grobstein's picture

beyond the present in science/education/educational research

What struck me particulary from our conversation was how readily we (and others) accede to a curiously narrow view of science, education, and research in education.  Science is equated with a body of knowledge and understandings.  Education is equated with learning, the acquisition of knowledge and understandings.  And research in education is then equated with asessing the efficacy of various methods of promoting the acquisition of knowledge and understandings.  What's missing, in all three contexts, is any engagement with the idea of evolution, of change over time and the resulting creation of new things.  Perhaps a shift in orientation from a concern about what has been/is to an enthusiasm for what might be could be useful in all three realms.

Science is, of course, at any given time a body of knowledge and understandings.  But it is also continually evolving.  From this perspective, what is important about science is not what the understandings are at any given time but the new possibilites that existing understandings open up for future understandings.  Maybe that's a good way to think about education as well?  It is not about "mastering" current knowledge/understandings for their own sake, but rather about acquiring the skill to use knowledge/understandings to open up new possibilities of understanding?  Its not about "learning" but rather about acquiring greater facility in generating new understandings?  Education is not about "elucidation," about explaining things, but about "edification," about becoming wiser?

If so, research in education shouldn't be narrowly focused on "learning," but rather more broadly concerned with exploring how people become better able to use observations and existing understandings to generate new understandings.  My guess is that the current focus on research on "learning," and the associated tendency to define research in terms of particular methods, reflects a significant failure of imagination, of the ability to move beyond current understandings.  Let's be adventurous, take some risks, see what new things we can imagine not only in science and in education but in educational research as well?

I like Bill's white water rafting education as a metaphor for this.  But let's imagine an infinitely long and very variable river.  Sure there are understandings that can be conveyed by people who have successfully negotiated parts of the river and, yes, there is some "objective" measure of success of both teachers and students: how far down the river students can get without overturning after interacting with teachers in comparison to before.  But there is no absolute measure of success nor any presumption that any given student will successfully negotiate any stretch of the river in the same way.  What has to be learned is not how to deal with what has experienced by someone but rather how to deal with the as yet not dealt with.   That seems to me an apt characterization of science, a reasonable characterization of the task of education, and an opening for seriously interesting and practically meaningful educational research that will require moving well beyond a reliance on existing methods.



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