“Faced with the choice between changing one’s mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof.” JK Galbraith, Economics, Peace and Laughter (1971), p. 50
Evidence is about being right, proving something, constructing an argument to support a belief. It’s legalistic and limiting. Lots of folk talk about ‘what works’ as if there could ever really be any agreement about that. But on the other hand, I’m increasing keen on research. The more research I read, the more questions I have. The more interesting the study, the more numerous and unexpected the questions it generates. Good research isn’t about finding answers – I’m pretty sure there are no definitive answers – it’s about finding out better questions.
You can find evidence to support any idea and prove pretty much anything. ED Hirsch Jr says this:
Almost every educational practice that has ever been pursued has been supported with data by somebody. I don’t know a single failed policy, ranging from the naturalistic teaching of reading, to the open classroom, to the teaching of abstract set-theory in third-grade math class that hasn’t been research-based. Experts have advocated almost every conceivable practice short of inflicting permanent bodily harm.
To research is to search and search again. To have a bloody good look. And just to be clear, I’m all for research being as rigorous, as fearless and as true to the principles of scientific method as it’s possible to be. While small-scale, personal inquiry might be useful or interesting for an individual it adds little or nothing to our collective pool of knowledge. That said, when we talk about teachers being ‘research literate’ this shouldn’t (just) be about empowering ourselves to spot bogus ideas, it should also provoke ideas we’d like to test out in our own classrooms. When someone tells us “the research says,” we shouldn’t (just) be able to respond with, “but it also shows…”, we should be able to ask, “Why does it say that?” and “Would it work like that with my students?” and “What if I tried it like this instead?”
I used to get a bit upset about people arguing against teaching becoming an ‘evidence-based’ or even an ‘evidenced-informed’ profession, but now I think I get it: I’d like teaching to be a ‘research-informed’ profession. I’d like us to ask, “What does the research say?” and then use that research to explore rather than simply confirm our biases.
Just a thought.