Drawing the Line Between Research and PropagandaJune 18, 2014
One of the complaints most often made about the education research community is that large parts of it are disinterested in objective research and more interested in ideology. At times this is taken to the point where no distinction is drawn between promoting personal opinion and promoting research. I came across an interesting example earlier. I found a new blog called “Respecting Children and Young People“. It was unusual in that its posts were written by academics. However, although they mentioned research they were clearly writing about opinions rather than evidence.
For instance, one wrote:
We need to achieve a balance between different aims of education: not only economic but cultural, ethical, personal and democratic. We need to move beyond segregation by ‘ability’ and towards personalisation based on agreement with learners, individually and collectively, on how best to move forwards – ‘learning without limits’.
We can learn from less restricted European countries, including new forms of learning which involve problem-solving, enquiry and creativity. We need to balance written exams with more authentic (and challenging) forms of assessment based on research, design and projects. This way we can at last create a common curriculum which is both accessible and challenging, experiential and intellectual, which relates to immediate realities but opens new horizons, which aspires to equality and quality together.
Classrooms need to be transformed from the stressful, task-driven, target-led overly competitive environments they are currently. And while the 3Rs are important, teaching children to be caring, respectful, cooperative, knowledgeable about their own and others’ histories, and well informed about contemporary global issues are equally, if not more, important. There is a great deal of scope for widening currently narrowly conceived teaching and learning opportunities, and for developing ‘disruptive pedagogies’ that encourage student to question, as well as develop social and political awareness. A revalorizing of vocational and working class knowledges and a broadening out of what constitutes educational success beyond the narrowly academic is long overdue.
So far this is no different than what can be found in the educational pages of The Guardian on a fairly frequent basis. But what intrigued me was that the website’s about page included the logo of BERA, the British Educational Research Association. This is meant to be part of BERA’s contribution to the debate about education policy. As is so often the case in education, a (so-called) research agenda is indistinguishable from a political one. After I tweeted about this, there followed a twitter discussion with the person apparently responsible for the site:
Perhaps the conflation of research and propaganda should take nobody by surprise, although even I am a bit taken aback to hear that opinions can be given weight by “debate” with people who don’t disagree with them. But let’s face it, there are world famous professors of education who act as little more than propagandists for their favoured ideology, so political activism on the part of a “research” organisation should not be a surprise. However, I couldn’t help but notice the irony of the following text on the BERA website:
PROMOTING EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH
We believe that the development of a world-class education system depends on high quality educational research. But this is field where policy decisions are often driven by ideology rather than evidence.
BERA seeks to counterbalance the politicisation of education by carefully presenting the findings of the best in independent and critical research, through our projects, publications, responses to official consultations and other work on current issues.