What does matter, anyway?

There’s a substantial education research community that’s focused on measurable results. Their research is what you would expect — identifying some way of teaching, designing a way to isolate the effect of that way of teaching, and reporting the results. And what they find is interesting, and sometimes counterintuitive, but it’s only ever descriptive. It explains what happens, it rarely explains why.

I’ve wrestled with that. There are ways of teaching that demonstrate results that also feel fundamentally disenfranchising. But, if they work, then shouldn’t we pursue them?

Or does this research ask the wrong questions? Are we actually observing the results of a cognitive process, or are we observing the results of systems and culture? Are we observing the fallout of oppression and domination?

Does the demonstrated effect of an intervention matter if it’s fundamentally disenfranchising and oppressive? Should we be concerned that a way of teaching appears ineffective, even if it’s liberating? Are results the evidence of what we think they are? Are “failures” ever evidence of what we think they are, or must we attend to the systems of oppression and domination that got us here in the first place?

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