I have been a school psychologist for 20 years, and I truly believe that the solutions for the problems we are having with our public schools are not complicated, requiring research, experts, more money, over a long period of time. I think we have become conditioned into thinking that this is the way things have to work. Certainly this is true of other areas, like medicine, and in particular cancer research. We need to keep doing cancer research, having brilliant minds study it, spending more money, and continuing doing this for however long it takes. Well we’ve been doing these things in education for a long time and things are getting worse. At the risk of sounding like a religious nut, science has become our religion. Do I dare say it has become our savior? Something I learned in my research methods class during graduate school is that studies, or research, have to be interpreted. In other words, somebody has to make sense out of them or give meaning to them. Human judgment, biases, limitations, agendas, and money are some of the variables that influence research. They are not as objective and factual like the average person thinks. This is why the research can say one thing one day and something completely different the next. And we can’t forget that how a study is even set up, or how something will be studied, has the same problems. Of course I don’t believe that we should never do any research. Cancer is a good example. We have to find a cure. It’s much more straightforward. Researchers in this area really have no choice in our deciding if what they’re doing or saying is true. They either have a cure or they don’t. But that’s OK because this is a deadly disease and we are willing to do what it takes to find a cure. The research then starts getting muddled. For now one treatment may be the best thing we have for most people, but not for all. Then a newer treatment may come along that seems to be helping some, but we need more research. And then ways of preventing it are even more muddled. Genetics certainly seems to be involved. Then we are told on almost a daily basis of the different lifestyles, foods, diets, vitamins, etc., that a new prestigious study has demonstrated reduces our risk. It would almost seem that we have it cured through prevention. However, of course there are far more solutions than a cure. When a new study tells us of another vitamin, exercise, lifestyle modification, do we add them to our regime? Have any of these studies and the recommendations that people have adopted as a result of them really reduced the number of people getting cancer? But there are many people out there who put blind faith in these studies. We want to believe that somebody has the answers.
There are many other areas and things in life and society in which the research gets even more complicated. The whole point of school is to educate children. Education is learning. Seems straight forward, doesn’t it? Well it should be, but it’s not. The problem with research in education (like with many other areas) is that even though education is getting worse, the experts can propose any reason for these problems that they can dream up, and then appeal to the public’s, or the people giving the money, desire to improve education. There are thousands of studies on thousands of variables in education with all of them purporting to have some way to improve education. With all of this valuable information you would think things would be getting better. And if education really is this complicated, then how in the world are we ever going to pull it all together? Not only does the research and experts complicate things, but things also get complicated by such issues as how society defines things, by our expectations, and by politics.
As test scores, behavior and the overall condition of our schools continues to decline, we need to step back and consider that apparently we are doing something wrong. Today we do what we do in education because the experts and research tell us what to do. They tell us what is right and wrong, what works and doesn’t work. Well guess what? It isn’t working!