Prospecting yields a couple of noteworthy education trends

I used to be a prospector, a job requiring keen eyes and the ability to notice trends obvious and inferred. Prospecting is all about dreaming about what might be and why things appear just so. 

A few days ago I had a chance to dust off my prospecting skills while doing some research in the education library at the University of British Columbia. And in the course of my scanning about 100 papers from recent education-oriented journals, I perceived the following, noteworthy trends:

i. across the US there is universal opprobrium and protest against increasing K-12 standardization, and especially that remaining as the legacy of No Child Left Behind legislation (2001) and arising from President Obama’s recent tinkering reforms. The standards, wedded to near-endless testing, are perceived as pedagogically and psychologically stifling and financially oppressive. Clearly the dominant eduction system of the “land of the free” is no more free than the soviet system of cold war history that offered citizens the widest range of option that tyranny could sustain, i.e. very little. An irony, yes, and potentially catastrophic for kids and educators longing for the freedom to follow their most heartfelt learning interests and intuitions.

ii. Speaking of heartfelt, that is a sensibility decidedly missing from published educational research I reviewed. In substance and tone, layout and language, educational research is now served up to its audience with all the trappings of modern science. Illustrated only by histograms, scatter graphs and statistical equations, education research is, evidently, indistinguishable from research into the ‘hardest’ sciences. That is, drained of any sign of earthly life, save for names cited as references. No pictures, few anecdotes, and language as dry as a shrink-wrapped petri dish. Wow, qualitative education research has been effectively supplanted by quantitative research and I wonder: how did this happen, who has overseen it, and why has it happened? And it begs the analysis: what do we lose, as a society, when educational research is rendered as sterile as a study on grasshopper legs, or leptons. Plenty, is my guess. Thoreau too, I imagine. 

“I look over a report of the doings of a scientific association and am surprised that there is so little life to be reported; I am put off with a parcel of dry technical terms … They communicate no fact that rises to the temperature of blood-heat.” – Henry David Thoreau 

For information on my new book: Learn Your Way! SelfDesigning the Life You Really Want, Starting Now and to order a copy, go here.  

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