Just a little provocation, to continue our deliberations around the status of data in qualitative research. (See earlier blog item, ‘What is data?’ 7 September, 2012)
Has data had its day? Norman Denzin once told me that he doesn’t like the word ‘data’ and prefers his students to refer to ‘empirical materials’. His rationale (I think) was that in fields such as performance studies, the notion of data doesn’t really work. And in a recent email correspondence about the ‘new materialisms’, Norm returned to the question of data, and whether it was a necessary component/concept in qualitative research. He predicted its demise:
(from email 25.06.12, quoted with Norman’s permission):
I’m taken with the new materialism on the one side and the new developments (post-butler) within performance studies; post-empirical, post-humanistic, materialist pedagogies engage transformational politics engage theatres of the oppressed engage new communities of practice engage a new new from a new beginning …….
This radical strand cuts through and into our old fashioned modes of ‘inquiry’ calling for new ways of making the world visible—the mundane, from intervews, focused groups, ethnography, arts-based inquiry, discourse, narrative, par, borderlands case studies, video, dance, performance, writing as inquiry, to, in the end, the death of data.
So is the very idea of data ‘old fashioned’?
The London Evening Standard have published a short article praising Teach First for their role in boosting the performance of London’s schools. In what must get the prize for one of the sloppiest pieces of education journalism, the article cites research conducted by the Financial Times which appears to rely on a statement by Lord Adonis that Teach First has had a role to play in boosting the performance of schools across London.
Normally, I wouldn’t bother highlighting such an article. After all, Teach First are very good at blowing their own trumpet and don’t need me to do it for them. However, the comment that followed this article was very revealing. In it, an uncle of a recent Teach First student had this to say about the programme:
You’d have to talk to my nephew, who dropped out of teaching shortly after passing through the Teach First programme. The course seemed to provide a sugar rush of boosterism, telling the applicants how brilliant they were, and how lucky schools would be to have them, then leaving them unsupported and poorly-trained when they went into the classroom after an absurdly-short programme. The effect on the morale of committed professional teachers of being bypassed by parachuted-in whizz-kids, many simply wishing to polish their CV’s before moving on rapidly, may be imagined. Getting a share of the top talent into teaching is vital, but not this way.
Again, I wouldn’t normally highlight this either – one statement doesn’t make a truth (something that the London Evening Standard reporter ought to bear in mind perhaps?). But this comment does ring true with conversations that I have had with several parents of recent Teach First participants. They are not required to toe the party line in the same way that anyone else associated with Teach First is indoctrinated into a particular perspective about their process of initial teacher education. Many of the above issues have been raised in these conversations. I am expecting to have another one of these conversations next week and will ask the parent’s permission to recount it here.
Whilst parents (and in this case an uncle) can occasionally find ways to communicate their dissatisfaction with Teach First, for the most part there is a complete embargo on criticism of Teach First in our media. Politicians are unwilling to examine the issue (Labour initially embraced Teach First; the Coalition are sustaining them with our money); the voices of many academics, despite having serious concerns, are silenced by their concern for the reputation of their institutions that rely on generous Teach First contracts for significant portions of their income; and you won’t find many Teach First participants criticising the programme – they are far too indoctrinated for that.
Obviously, I have significant concerns about the Teach First programme. Many of these are highlighted in the comments made by this uncle. Underneath the veneer of hype and self-publicity, the Teach First programme leaves a lot to be desired and is an incredibly costly way of training our teachers. I think it is a shame that others are not prepared to come out in public and criticise Teach First in a robust way. Whilst I know that Teach First can, and does, produce a number of excellent teachers, there are far better ways to educate our postgraduate students and create inspirational young teachers.
This post was first published on Jonathan’s blog. The visit the blog follow this link.