NLA Discussion:Research and practice
Julietmerr at aol.com
Julietmerr at aol.com
Thu Jun 25 12:03:33 EDT 1998
I find myself irritated by the recent NLA discussion about research,
conceptual work, and practice -- mainly because we never seem to get beyond
these same old hoary stereotypes of the researchers with heads in the clouds
and practitioners with feet on the ground, and never the twain shall meet.
Adult basic education has long been resolutely anti-intellectual. The faults
are on both sides, practice as well as research. Yes, there are some
researchers who use high falutin' language as a means of distancing themselves
and maintaining status, and who have no interest in their research being used.
But on the other hand there are at least as many practitioners don't value
research or see it as something that they need to invest some effort in. I
remember being asked by a state ABE official, when I was starting a
university-based research center, when I would be "finished" -as if research
is something that is done and then others get on with the work in hand. In
workshops, practitioners often demand quick and easy answers -- 'something I
can use in the classroom on Monday.'
I have been committed to research in the service of action, to accessible
research and to participatory (including practitioner) research all my working
life. I have fought endless battles with university professors about whether
participatory research is 'real research' or not.
But at the same time I don't think that complex and important ideas can be
easily digested -- or if they are they become pap, flavorless and meaningless.
Concepts like 'hegemony' are important for adult educators to know about and
think about because too often we're part of it. We all of us ought to be
looking critically at our own work (and working with students to look
critically at the ways literacy is used in newspapers, television,
advertizing, schools) for signs that our ideas of what is possible and
acceptable are being shaped for us. That's what hegemony means, and there is
no easy 'plain English' word for the concept.
I take as the most exciting news of the season on NLA the various reports from
practitioners who have been involved in inquiry and master teacher projects,
and come to see themselves as researchers in the best use of the term -- as
people who grapple with big ideas, and who are learning not just by doing but
by reflecting, documenting and systematizing.
P.S. I'm not going to defend NCSALL from across the Atlantic -- but I would
say that SOME credit should be given for trying. Here's a research center
whose agenda was based on what practitioners said they needed from research
(including a survey of people on this list at the time), who set up structures
like Focus on Basics and a practitioner research and development network in a
number of states specifically as a means of connecting research and practice.
So they haven't changed the world, but they took OERI beyond their comfort
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