Critical Response to Article. The article by Karl Hostetler (2005) on what constitutes “Good” Educational Research considers not only the academic quality of any research in this field, but also its connection with “a robust and justifiable conception of human well-being” (Hostetler, 2005, 16)…
This preamble marks the paper out as something a little different from the usual mainstream literature, and the impression of novelty is further enhanced by statements to the effect that researchers need to be playful and irreverent about serious subjects, and need to offend some people and annoy others. Hofstetler certainly practices what he preaches, since the article is full of provocative statements that could be taken as undermining the most fundamental values of academic research activity in most contemporary universities. The key problem that Hostetler identifies is a tendency for education researchers to focus on how their work is done, rather than undertaking a deep analysis of what they are doing and why they are doing it. Analogies such as debating which way to investigate the effectiveness of thumbscrews (Hostetler, 2005, 16-17) or herding lemmings toward the cliff (Hostetler, 2005, 17) or even sticking students with cattle prods (Hostetler, 2005, 19) are somewhat ludicrous, but the point important: too many researchers do not reflect enough about the fundamental aim of education and how far their work helps of hinders people who might be affected at some later date by the outcomes of this research. This line of argument flies in the face of standard notions of research which involve concepts such as objectivity and scientific rigor. Without the use of statistics and analytical methods, there would be very little beyond anecdotal evidence to inform policy making and practice. Hofstetler makes a valid point, but he overstates it with his deliberately “naughty” (Hofstetler, 2005, p. 17) examples, and he risks not being taken seriously by the vast majority of interested readers who are quite capable of combining scientific methods with careful ethical reflection, and see no necessary conflict between the two. A second problem that Hostetler describes is that of definitions, for example the very different ways that the conception of “character” in school programs is constituted. Clearly there are quite fundamental variations in the ideologies that can underpin such notions, and Hostetler argues that this complexity is something that needs to be more fully taken into account by researchers. On this point the article is convincing, and certainly there is a case for more clarity in the way that abstract educational terminology is used, especially in government slogans and initiative titles. Hofstetler speaks up for the particular student experiences that are hidden within the data of randomized trial procedures, for example, suggesting that some of the generalizing theories that researchers produce may contain within them actual harm to individual students, since minority results tend to be lost in the bigger picture. Hofstetler questions whether the trade-off is justified, and this is a commendable observation because it highlights the dilemma of that section of the school population with behavioural or learning disorders who are so often lost in the drive for overall quality improvements. This article raises a number of valuable questions, and provides much material for reflection, but it is rather short on concrete answers to these questions. The conclusion which is reached is little more than a platitude expressing approval of the likes of Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa and other moral giants of history and calling for a more ...
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