Thursday, December 02, 2010

Education's reigning error

Why do students fail?
And closer to home for me personally as a student:Why do phd students fail?
I have a friend, heh more than one, and I see that their phds have failed them.
What happened?
The ducks didn't get in line; was it a lack of duck flocking skills, or their duck herding skills? Os a combination of the two? Perhaps a weakness in superglue...
Somehow getting the ducks in a line, and keeping them aligned and recording the process of said alignment, all in a way that would make meaning for others, gathering in the supervisor, the marker, the reader, all didn't come to pass.

At this point I recommend reading Machiavelli's The Prince.
Should be compulsory reading for any Phd student intent on completion.
(And it's freely available from the Gutenberg press, and it's a very short little read for a book that is timeless. Machiavelli certainly got a lot of bad press for a book that is basically about winning friends and influencing people. The moral compass is in the hands of the reader.)

I've just been reading some Actor-networking by John Law (2010) on research methods, and there is an overlap point well worth making in regard to seeing what you expect to see in education. He cites Robert k Merton on "the reign of error".
And there is scope for addressing this in regard to education.

Robert K. Merton elevated the principle into what he called the ‘‘reign of error’’.
Banks fail,he said, because people first wrongly think that they will, but then this definition of the situation become true. STS writers Donald MacKenzie and Barry Barnes have shown how this may happen, for instance in finance. But I also think the point needs to be reworked. Methods, it seems to me are potentially more profoundly self fulfilling than Merton’s talk of the "reign of error" might suggest.

And here's what happens in education, the self fulfilling prophecies become embedded in consciousness, girls cant do hard sciences etc etc...
I knew physics was going to be hard...and it was.
And here's a link demonstrating it
When a teacher told me "everyone in this class can pass maths" ...I did
When my phd supervisor tells me i write well, my confidence is boosted, i write more...and i write well :)
Or so I'm told.
And so I continue.

When I see a colleague hit with a brick because performance isn't great, I see something much less pretty occur. Being hit with a brick does not make things prettier or more effective...
It's not rocket science. It's much more important than that.

Law, J. (2010, 31 August- 3 September). The double social life of method. Paper presented at the meeting of the Sixth Annual CRESC conference on the Social Life of Method, St Hugh's College, Oxford, England. Retrieved from

Machiavelli, N., &. (1998). The Prince: Retrieved August 19, 2010, from Project Gutenberg, (Original work published 1532).

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