Saturday, 10 February 2007

Objectivity in Educational Research, E. Eisner, 1992, reader Vol 1, p49

Step into the river, and it is a different river to the one you stepped into

15 years ago Eliot W Eisner objected to the notion that educational research can be done objectively in the fullest sense because procedural objectivity is not untarnished by the research. His argument is based on the fact that people are researched and people have their own frameworks. He considers ontological objectivity is impossible and impractical because the research process would have to be fully certain of its constituent frameworks and be amenable to testing to be verifiable as valid; to know its frameworks and complexities of person interactions in the first place renders the research superfluous. In my words, procedural objectivity is a useful attempt at control, but it is naïve to consider its validity unquestionable.

Eisner’s simple, but bold, argument is well supported with evidence and his argument seems valid. However, the truth is not fully encapsulated because Eisner is not offering a positive construction but, with some usefulness, deconstructing what he sees as invalid i.e. education research should not base itself on procedural objectivity in naïve realism.

My strap line is suggesting that when crossing a shallow river on foot one may entertain a naive realism that one is crossing the river, but because the river by definition is flowing, it is not the same river during the journey, and one steps out from different waters than one stepped into. Moreover, one changes the river itself, especially if unwashed or dressed in polluted clothing. The objection to the river-paradox is that a river is what we want to call it – a nomothetic rather than an ideographic approach. Could naïve realism be more pragmatic than trivialising well meaning procedural objectivity? And, for a bit of fun, place strategic stones and one crosses the river without changing it, although it has been changed by placing the crossing stones in it… Three years earlier D C Phillips suggested that procedural objectivity was okay as the best one could do in the circumstances and repudiated the idea that since one could not know everything one should not test anything or care what one tested – something he called extreme relativism.

Both arguments are valid.

We build bridges across rivers to avoid falling into them and getting wet, but sometimes rivers flood over bridges or bridges collapse. How we build the bridge matters (Philips). We do not trust the bridge absolutely, that would be naïve (Eisner).


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