Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The plural of anecdote is not data

A fundamental problem with the world today is the arrogant use of research findings to suit one's ends. To take an education example (because that’s what I have just been subjected to and what has me riled now), just because you might choose a different approach to mainstream education does not make you or your children "better" or "superior" (and how ironic that you think like this), and will not necessarily make the children better human beings at the end of their education experience. Just because I choose to send my children to a state-run school does not make me a bad parent, and does not mean I don’t care enough about my children's education.

Don’t come whimpering to me with claims that "research shows" why alternative education is better for whatever reason. If that's what people want for their children, then fine. I detest that these same people can’t see beyond their blinkered view on life and see the same thing from another perspective (again, the irony is not lost on me). Instead they are just so sad and disappointed that you are selling your children’s education short.

Before you inundate me with why alternative schooling is the only way to go, I will give a brief statement as to why you shouldn’t bother. Homeschoolers and Steiner people can just go away. I've looked into them as options and rapidly discounted them. I’m no longer interested in what they have to say, but – here’s the thing – I still respect your right to do what you want, just don’t expect me to accept it for me or my children. For some reason, the Steiner people, at least those in Kapiti, are militant. I have enormous respect for the Montessori style of education because the literature I received from them showed strong scientific analysis from different viewpoints for and against Montessori education, and relied on the parent making their own intelligent assessment of the information. It was refreshing.  Having said that, my children do not go to a Montessori preschool, but only because I would ideally like to continue with it beyond preschool and there is no Montessori school anywhere near us.  Instead, I have chosen a state-run kindergarten where the teachers have acknowledged the Montessori principles in education.

My respect for anything diminishes rapidly when people throw vacuous statements at me. Today, I learnt that "research shows that longer school terms and shorter term breaks are beneficial for parents and children". How convenient. So am I harming my child by not letting them have longer terms and shorter breaks? No. The statement only shows a limited understanding of analysing and evaluating conflicting scientific research. If, in fact, it is scientific, as in many cases it comes down to a belief that more than one anecdote equals research. I can also point to research and, if it is more helpful to you, many anecdotes, that show that there is actually nothing wrong with the New Zealand state run education system – it’s what you make of it, and some children may in fact benefit from shorter terms and longer holidays, or may not be affected by it at all. Perhaps the statement should be rephrased to: "research that supports our particular philosophy shows blah blah blah."

Statements about "research" are so often used in an arrogantly cavalier manner. I'm also not saying that observational data does not have a place or is not meaningful. But there is rarely, if ever, any evidence shown of harm, just a great deal of information that points to the possibility of harm that leans heavily on untested hypotheses.

It's completely possible to find research that suits whatever objective you are trying to push. Such as vaccines lead to autism, epidurals lead to c-sections, formula rather than breastfeeding leads to food allergies, longer school terms lead to better children. I can easily find research that counters your claim, or at the very least pours scorn on your assertions. Until you can back your research with scientific evidence for and against, I regard you as being nothing more than a cult.


homepaddock said...

Different children have different needs and abilities. Some do better at one school, some at another - private or public.

Opinionated Mummy said...

Exactly! See, you made your point without throwing the word "research" in there!!! Just because more than one child does well in a particular type of school does not equate to "research shows".

**calm down OM, calm down**

brian_smaller said...

Longer terms and less holiday breaks would certainly have been better for my child care costs. Not so bad now because they are old enough to leave them at home.

Sus said...

'Statements about "research" are so often used in an arrogantly cavalier manner'

Oh God, yes! 'Studies show ..' is another phrase designed to make me roll my eyes.

TRN news yesterday broadcast a story about some US busybody outfit that had determined that "too much internet access was bad for children".

I uttered an obscenity, (several of them, actually), and turned the sound down. Didn't need to hear the story -- already knew it.

Because thirty years ago the parents of these same bastards were saying the same thing about television. :/

Opinionated Mummy said...

Thanks, Sus.

"Because thirty years ago the parents of these same bastards were saying the same thing about television."

Do you think 30 years before that, kids were yelled at to get away from the radio before their ears fell off?

Sus said...

Undoubtedly! :)

People forget that girls went nuts over Frank Sinatra years before Elvis, the Beatles or Robbie Williams (chuck) ever saw their first crotchet.

Oh, yeah! I just remembered! My grandparents loved Bing Crosby in their youth, much to the disgust of my great-grandad who'd mutter & moan about "bloody crooners!"

It's all 'concerning' -- even old Bing!