“We need to be careful not to lose sight of the big picture”, said Professor Jonathan Osborne from Stanford University at one of the sessions I attended at the American Educational Research Association (AERA) conference. The professor made the remark in the context of scientific learning; however, I think it was a good reminder for researchers in general.
At a paper session at the conference, I presented the findings from my master thesis from San Francisco State University about how the way college students chose their majors predicted their academic motivation. Although not directly related to my current research interest in adolescent’s reasoning skills, the feedback I received on my paper will help me become a better researcher.
But more importantly, the conference made clear to me the value of the work of researchers as a community. However narrowly focused each researcher’s work may be, each person contributes to moving the big picture forward.
As I watch the heated debates about reforming the education system including the use of standardized testing, the role of technology, and teachers as a workforce, I remind myself why I am interested in reasoning skills. Our ability to evaluate claims with evidence is one thing that protects us from simply siding with our own ideology and siding with what appears to make intuitive sense, which may not be accurate.
The more I read and learn at school and at my internship, the more I see how difficult it is to make positive changes in the complex issue of improving education, especially for those who are underprivileged. Many policies appear to make common sense in a society heavily influenced by the ideology of letting market force do its wonder to create efficiency and the best result. Yet in the book, What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets that I read recently, Author Michael Sandel urges us to carefully examine and debate about where the market force may or may not be an inappropriate tool. What I most appreciate about the book is its emphasis on having a dialogue rather than taking a side.
Often, we are asked to take a stand on an issue and talk about our opinions. Yet, when we are dealing with complex issues, discussions, and arguments for the purpose not to persuade, but to advance our overall understanding will likely be much more productive. As a researcher, I will continue to remind myself that my goal is not to use science to prove whether my hypothesis is right, but to help construct a better picture by adding to what we previous learned.
On a less serious note, Manhattan looks renewed with green leaves sprouting and flower buds blooming everywhere. It’s hard not to stop to admire the nature in the middle of this busy city.