The purpose of this blog post is to highlight the importance of researchers bringing their own personal values to educational research and how living values – which demonstrate respect for learners and for developing lifelong learners – is important in driving effective research.
BERA’s vision is for ‘educational research to have a profound and positive influence on society’. It is therefore important that we are clear as to what constitutes educational research and the ‘profound and positive influence on society’ it intends educational research to have. We are taking education to be a lifelong values-laden process of learning to live a humane life which is personally satisfying and socially productive and worthwhile, while helping others to do so too.
There has been a continuing debate in BERA and other global academic forums over decades about the distinction between education research and educational research, as illustrated by papers by BERA’s past presidents such as Whitehead (1989) and Whitty (2005). Many distinctions have been made. The distinction we make here is with particular reference to contributing to BERA realising its raison d’être. Education research is that carried out within the conceptual frameworks and methods of validation of the disciplines of education, such as the philosophy, psychology, sociology, history, economics, politics and administration of education. Whereas educational research is focused on the generation, rigorously testing and making public knowledge in the form of a practitioner’s validated values-based explanation of their educational influence in their own learning, in the learning of others and in the learning of the social formations within which the practice is located.
The implication of recognising what distinguishes educational research is for practitioners – realising their professional responsibility – to hold themselves to account for their practice and contribute to the growth of knowledge. As they engage in educational research, they contribute to the knowledge they generate to the growth of a global knowledge base and academic, intellectual and scholarly discourses that enhance Humanity learning to bring into being a more humane, peaceful world for the flourishing of all. The values that serve as explanatory principles and standards, by which educational research is judged to be having a ‘profound and positive influence on society’, are the embodied values of human flourishing that give an individual’s practice and life meaning and purpose. Instruction, training and the effective transmission of skills and knowledge are important, but only with respect to the purpose they are to serve. As Ginott (1972, p. 317) pointed out, gas chambers have been built by learned engineers, children poisoned by educated physicians, infants killed by trained nurses, and people shot and burned by high school and college graduates.
‘The values that serve as explanatory principles and standards … are the embodied values of human flourishing that give an individual’s practice and life meaning and purpose.’
We are not implying that education research, as distinct from educational research, does not generate important knowledge. Quite the contrary: the implications of engaging in educational research are not only for the knowledge generated but also in the process of creating it. As a practitioner researches their educational, values-laden, practice, they draw on insights from the knowledge of others, and clarify and evolve their understanding of their embodied values of human flourishing. They identify where they experience themselves as a living contradiction, experiment with ways to improve matters, and test the validity of their knowledge claims as they make them public as a contribution to the global educational knowledge base. As they do so, they contribute to enhancing their educational influence in their own learning, the learning of others and the learning of the social formations within which they are practising.
To summarise, the focus of this contribution to this BERA Blog special issue concerns the meanings of the academic discipline of educational research and the academic disciplines of education research, and some implications of being clear about the distinction.
Practitioners, such as members of BERA, can realise their professional responsibilities by researching their educational, values-led, practice to understand, improve and explain it, while contributing the valid knowledge they generate in the process to the global growth of educational knowledge. They can do this by integrating their educational research into their other research activities – and by helping others to do so too and by participating in a Living Educational Theory Research Scholarship group, as a BERA Research Methodologies in Education special interest group activity initiated in a workshop at the BERA Annual Conference 2022 (Capewell et al., 2022).
Capewell, C., Huxtable, M., Whitehead, J., & Fox, A. (2022). Developing a living educational theory research scholarship group. BERA Conference 2022, 6–8 September (Unpublished). https://insight.cumbria.ac.uk/id/eprint/6503/
Ginott, H. (1972). Teacher and child. Colliers Books.
Whitehead, J. (1989). Creating a living educational theory from questions of the kind, ‘How do I improve my practice?’. Cambridge Journal of Education, 19(1), 41–52. https://doi.org/10.1080/0305764890190106
Whitty, G. (2005, September 17). Education(al) research and education policy making: Is conflict inevitable? Presidential Address to the British Educational Research Association, University of Glamorgan. https://www.bera.ac.uk/publication/2005-geoff-whitty-bera-presidential-address