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Thursday, April 27, 2006

Where are the stories of scholarly success?

I won't do it! I won't contribute to the story of insucesso escolar in Portugal. I will not talk about the shocking level of scholarly failure. And yes, I do know that could undermine my credibility as a docente (lecturer). I am aware that if you want to be taken seriously as a docente in Higher Education, then you must shake your head and tut and mutter the words at least several times a day.

In fact I have just received pages of numbers in Excel tables that prove to me the failure of our students. Each row tells me the disciplines they are failing and each of the many columns tells me how many fail at every moment of evaluation. I check the failure rate of my own disipline - it will be like a badge: the higher the failure rate in my own discipline, the more I will belong to the growing band of teachers concerned about students' lack of culture, education and study skills.

Looking back to the turn of the 1900's, let's just imagine for a moment that John Dewey had won (*) and not Edward L. Thorndike. Whereas Thorndike's plotline was embedded in a reverance for numbers and faith in empirical data, Dewey's plotline for social science research was one that was concerned with humans, their relations with themselves and with their environment. Studying experience was his starting point and the key term for social science inquiry.

But Dewey lost for a while and the story scripted by Thorndike became pervasive and a metanarrative for education. And judging by the pages of statistics that tell the story of the scholarly failure of Portuguese students, it's still the grand narrative round here.

But hey! Dewey's back folks... And Lyotard has given metanarrative a serious knock on the head. Education, experience and life are inextricably intertwined. Our students are much more than their nota. Their lives are filled with complexities, hopes, dreams, wishes and intentions. And they live the stories that we tell about them. Our stories are their education.

I want to hear the good stories. Where are the stories of scholarly success? I want to hear them so that our students can live them, reaffirm them, modify them and create new ones. And I don't hear those stories in rows and columns of numbers that prove their failure.

(*)"John Dewey's Defeat: Studying Education in the Research University 1890-1990" by E.C. Lagemann (book in progress)

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