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Trying to Have our Cake & Eat it Too (Part 4 of 7)

Why Have r and Reams of Highly Relevant Research Relative to Schools, Education and Learning Conducted Over a Full Century Been Consistently Deep-sixed or Permanently Shelved?

To properly answer this question would take an entire book. It will be dealt with here very superficially, due to time and space limitations. To say that there has been a plethora of high level research that relates directly or indirectly to education, learning theory, school, child psychology, neurochemistry, neurobiology, discipline, self-esteem, school administration, etc., over the last century would be a great understatement. These highly diverse and important studies typically all lead to great recommendations for certain new ways of doing things that in one way or another necessarily upset someone’s applecart or the school routine, because they are by definition identifying problems and errors in the status quo. They may or may not be definitive but most fit into a narrative that would lead to significant changes.

Good research typically motivates the best educators to institute those specific findings and apply those innovative ideas and reforms in the field. There are frequently calls for widespread application of particular ideas from those in the trenches, along with intense enthusiasm from dedicated believers, including parents and media figures. But the gears of entrenched bureaucracy soon slow the progress down, grinding to a halt sooner or later. Various impediments appear out of the blue. Budgetary concerns may interfere; some people register personal complaints or philosophical objections, and inevitably enthusiasm wanes.

Yet most often, the research never even registers with the educators. Researchers live in a separate universe and speak a very different language. There are no useful lines of communication. There is no one in place to translate the science into practical application.

Furthermore, it is widely understood that someone has to be prepared to move heaven and earth and to devote phenomenal energy and time to get anything new introduced, tested for success, accepted by the powers that be and adopted on a significant scale. We have bureaucracy on steroids. In addition, in keeping with scientific modesty and impartiality, most research avoids making bold claims and definitive declarations leaving room for reasonable doubt. This becomes the ready excuse for delay, excessive caution and calls for yet more research, limited application and the maintenance of the ever-present barriers.

The research discoveries that should be informing our decisions and actions are thereby rendered largely invisible and impotent over time. The established order and the authoritarian architecture of that order are automatically threatened by any significant change. The whole edifice is oriented toward giving precedence to the existing methods and power structures. Authority can brook no dissension, deviation or significant challenge. Innovation and effective “experiments” have a half-life measured in months or weeks. You may find a way to fight city hall but don’t mess with the school hierarchy and their dependence on the status quo.

What is called for here is a meta-study or meta-analysis to examine the numerous questions outlined by this article and others. The time has long since passed when we should be translating the great overabundance of research into a language that school personnel can understand and demanding that they stop stalling and making weak excuses. But we won’t ever have a leg to stand on until there are no laws cutting our legs off before we get started.


Photo by “That’s me looking inside our washing machine while getting some clothes out.” Hamburg, Germany. Dec 2007.