Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Describing the elephant

Without first looking at what everyone else says about the Chaiklin & Lave book, I’m wondering if our comments won’t look similar to the group of blind people describing an elephant.
The first thing I was struck by was the variety of activities looked at and the ability of Chaiklin & Lave as the editors to synthesize this range of research into meaningful discussions in the Introduction and Conclusion. I appreciated Lave’s setting out the positivist worldview (p. 24) in order to describe what situated research is conducted in opposition to. I also appreciated Chaiklin’s discussion of the relationship between scientific knowledge and ethical values (p. 396). It seems that many of the authors are conducting their research in response to situations where practice and ethics have become separated, particularly in the schools.
Attempting to think of this volume as a unit gives one a new appreciation of just how complex the world is and how limited is the view of that world one can ever hope to achieve. In the field of educational psychology there is currently a debate over how best to study the complexity that is educational practice. The government funding agency has decided that only experimental intervention research will be funded. On the one hand, because this type of research supports causal claims, the government’s position is understandable. On the other hand, when one begins to appreciate the incredible complexity of real life, and the major part of that complexity which is context, one begins to wonder what infinitesimal part of that complexity can come to be known by attempting to isolate and measure a couple of variables in an experimental intervention. One begins to despair of even knowing what one is looking at.
The Kvale section is a case in point: when one begins to examine the process of examinations, it turns out that while students are being examined, at the same time, the accepted knowledge of the field is also being examined and certified. And in this knowledge certification, the students are no more than pawns. At which point the relationship of ethics to scientific knowledge once again rears it’s head.


Blogger Eileen McGinnis said...

GT: nothing to add really, but I did enjoy your apt comment. Folks bring such different perspectives to the class, compounded in this week's reading by the plurality of perspectives/approaches within the text itself. I think we should adopt UNDERSTANDING PRACTICE as class mascot.

10:26 AM  
Blogger Jim said...

Your comments about complexity make me think that this book on my shelf that says COMPLEXITY in big letters is going to answer a lot of questions for us.

The other thing about the "incredible complexity of life" theory i would bring up is: Does this mean we have to design better studies? Or, does it mean that we have to be more open-ended and allow for a more "organic" mode of discovery?

3:39 PM  

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