“But those researchers don’t live in my neighborhood.”

This quote got me thinking this morning, about using research responsibly. About recognizing that learning and change are contextual and that research done in a vacuum (as much academic research is) is not always valid.

(in reference to starting class earlier so that afterschool programs do not finish when it is dark out in a dangerous neighbourhood)

“The research says it’s better to start your school day later,” González says, referring to studies showing that adolescents often need to get more sleep in order to be at their best. “But those researchers don’t live in my neighborhood.”

from The Fragile Success of School Reform in the Bronx
By JONATHAN MAHLER
Published: April 6, 2011

One of the issues I struggled with when I was working on my PhD (since abandoned :) ) was the stress in my faculty on research that focused only on a specific element, stripping it from its context in order to garner ‘reliable’ data. That research needed to be objective in order to be reliable.

It seems to me that this focus on data as opposed to context creates ideas that, while interesting on their own, may not be very helpful outside of academic discourse.

I remember a professor bringing up the question of why teachers weren’t using a specific eportfolio software he was instrumental in developing when the research showed it was effective, easy to use, helped in the development of metacognitive skills, etc… My response to such a query was that we can’t just develop something to be used by all teachers in all contexts because environment matters. Something that works in one school environment may not work in another.

I think we need to push González’ point further. For research to be worthwhile, researchers need to ‘live in my neighbourhood’, they need to be subjective, they need to care about who they are researching and not just about what they are researching.