Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Truth or Dare?

Today, I had the opportunity to catch up on some reading and I read these immortal lines: "In a free society, independent journalists and scholars will invariably emerge to write stories and accounts they honestly believe."

The problem is that, as in other free societies, there are morons who honestly believe that aliens are cloning Elvis up a kangaroo's arse, and so on. Thus we get stories and accounts they honestly believe but which we shouldn't.

I find this typical of many 'truth in journalism' and 'open society' publications and websites. 10% sycophancy or whatever becomes 100% untruth on the principle that unless something is completely truth, it is all falsehood. The problem has always been at least twofold in journalism:

1) Since total objectivity and completeness of knowledge are impossible, how objective and complete is the account? (And if you go for 100%, then it's ALL lies no matter what, no matter where.)

2) How qualified is the interpretation of data? And what is the significance of any particular datum?

The questions that the public should ask of ALL sides are: Does any of this drive society forward or is it just manure stirring/spreading to prove one's anti-/pro- establishment or academic scholar/shrewd man-in-the-street credentials?

In my own research on educational reform and globalization, my intention is clear, as is the intention of some others toiling in the same field: if we can figure out what works and duplicate it with the least cost, perhaps educational practice will improve; if we can figure out what is just window-dressing and rah-rah circuses, perhaps we can reduce costs and still get as useful an education or better. We will never know all the truth, because there are too many filters, too many facts, too many opinions and perspectives. But we can make some pretty good guesses based on criteria which we can present openly for other people to think about.

And subsequently, we can stand before an open and rationally-directed assault on our conclusions and attempt to answer the assault with rational defence, or admit that we were wrong.

That's not to say that the field of educational research is always being turned over and dug into with honest intentions. Sometimes, as in ALL human endeavours, there is a political aim that is being concealed. In mine, to be fair, the political aim is to show that we can get a better education without a lot of things that people say are needed but which aren't. For me, I sometimes think that modern education is still like an alchemical approach to science — we carry out activities that aren't relevant (along with the necessary processes) on the way to producing the desired outcomes, and sometimes we produce serendipitous outcomes that we claim we were aiming at all along (but weren't really).

In the end, truth in matters concerning human societies is as much a matter of conscience, ethics, and hard work as anything else. We don't get the pure 'truth' (i.e. axiomatic consistency) of mathematics, but the messy constructions of literature. What we need to do is educate people to figure out how honest we were, whether a more reasonable and honest account can be justified, and to write the upgrade version themselves instead of berating the original writers for not being so good. I for one would be only too happy to have any of my writings corrected after a fair reading.

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