Pring 2000: Concepts and conflicts

hulk“Maybe the distinction will seem clearer on reading the other introduction to Critical Realism we’ve been given (Pring 2000).” – Me, November 1st.

…No, it didn’t really help, not yet. I understood the conclusion fine, but found myself getting really angry at various points in the middle (especially on p72), when I felt the author was just wantonly throwing paradoxes at me, possibly to deliberately confound me for fun, maybe to put off anyone with an IQ lower than 200 from daring to dip their toes in the water of educational research, or maybe just because this is how they actually think on a day-to-day basis and they just wanted to get it out before they went insane.

I’m pretty upset about it actually. I mean, why postpone the account of ‘what is meant by intelligent common sense’ until the end of the chapter? Even more incomprehensibly, why didn’t I just read the end first? The whole thing made much more sense afterwards. I feel partly responsible for this whole debacle.

If I’ve achieved anything by reading this article, maybe I’ve gained a sense of how hopeless everything is. When I first read the unit assignment on the first day, it seemed manageable – straightforward even. I wasn’t bothered at first that I didn’t feel like I had a ‘position’ on these controversial concepts – reality, truth, knowledge, etc. I guess I thought that would come through reading and writing. But I feel like I’m getting further away from it, and this is a very uncomfortable situation for me.

If I have a position, it’s something like this: I believe there *is* a reality independent of us, but it can’t necessarily be discovered or determined (because of our biases and the socially-constructed nature of what we observe)? Even if we – as sentient beings – can’t make a judgement about whether the conclusions are ‘true’ or ‘false’, that doesn’t mean they’re not one nor the other, that ‘truth’ doesn’t exist, or that there’s no point in trying to get to it. The opposing view to realism appears to deny that reality is anything but socially constructed, but to me this is a difference between what IS (ontology) and what is possible for us to KNOW (epistemology) – and why we have the two things.

…but mostly I just can’t get my head around it. I just want to be a better teacher, and to help other people become better teachers. I know all this is – deep, deep down – relevant to that. It will – presumably – help me to take a more objective approach to analysing and evaluating what takes place between me and my students, and deducing possible mechanisms through which the things I do might influence their learning. The section on causal explanation is really useful in this piece because it gives educational examples to illustrate both the complexity and the unpredictability of social mechanisms. My reaction to this chapter is probably doing a good job of illustrating that; while my intentions are to understand it so that I can draw on it in my assignment, my motives are complex; intrinsic enjoyment of learning and achievement is in there, but so are less admirable qualities. My disposition when I don’t understand something is often to be angry – it goes further than frustration – it’s genuine anger, mostly at myself. I think it comes from having high expectations of myself and then not meeting them, and I direct the anger towards myself as a kind of self-discipline, because I believe it will help me perform better. I suspect it doesn’t help at all though…!

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3 Responses to Pring 2000: Concepts and conflicts

  1. Dave Aldridge says:

    Dear Lindsay,

    Thanks for letting me know about the blog. I must admit to not being massively concerned about your discomfort here. These are challenging issues in education research that are not easily or hastily resolved. A fair amount of intellectual discomfort is healthy here, and I mostly feel it myself.

    I particular I am encouraged by this:

    “If I have a position, it’s something like this: I believe there *is* a reality independent of us, but it can’t necessarily be discovered or determined (because of our biases and the socially-constructed nature of what we observe)? Even if we – as sentient beings – can’t make a judgement about whether the conclusions are ‘true’ or ‘false’, that doesn’t mean they’re not one nor the other, that ‘truth’ doesn’t exist, or that there’s no point in trying to get to it. The opposing view to realism appears to deny that reality is anything but socially constructed, but to me this is a difference between what IS (ontology) and what is possible for us to KNOW (epistemology) – and why we have the two things.”

    This seems to me to be a clear articulation of a pretty sophisticated position – don’t underestimate your achievements here. All I would add is that we *do* make discoveries all the time, but they are partial and revisable.

    Also

    “The section on causal explanation is really useful in this piece because it gives educational examples to illustrate both the complexity and the unpredictability of social mechanisms.”

    Useful, then, even if painful?
    I don’t mean to be flippant or dismissive here. I am happy for this dialogue to continue. But that’s how I see it: this dialogue is well underway.

    I look forward to reading more…

  2. David – that’s really reassuring, thank you! It’s been one of those weeks where I’ve felt like I’ve been banging my head against a brick wall – not just with this – and it was kind of you to describe my discomfort as ‘intellectual’ 😉

    I *do* think a cartoon would help!

  3. Pingback: By jove, I think she’s got it | Doctored

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