Epistemology reflections for week three

The following is part of a series of blog posts I wrote while taking an education PhD course on Epistemologies. A summary of all posts in the series is included in this paper: Developing an Appreciative Understanding of Epistemologies in Educational Research: One Blogger’s Journey

It is only the third week and I have already deviated from my original question set twice. I wonder what this says about my theoretical framework when it comes to investigating knowledge? To be fair, it has been an exceptionally busy week, with the preparation of scholarship applications taking much more time and many more of my thought cycles than anticipated. This has been complicated by a cold that is also taking away precious thought cycles. But alas, I am ready to ponder some more on epistemology but not within the constraints of the format in which I initially set about.

Week 3

This week’s reading was focused on historical influences of the epistemology in education and social sciences. The article for this week’s reflection is:

Paul, J. (2005). Chapter 1 – Historical and philosophical influences shaping perspectives on knowledge. In Philosophies of research and criticism in education and the social sciences (pp. 1-17). Columbus, Ohio, USA: Person-Merrill Prentice Hall.

The article began by discussing logical positivism, an idea that “only verifiable statements have meaning” (p.2). This struck a cord with me, as it aligns with what I had learned in elementary and high school. We learned of the “scientific method” and the need for experiments to be repeatable in order for them to be considered valid. This was what was meant by knowledge. My formative schooling years were in the 1980s, and this was a time when educational researchers were having philosophical battles over the value of qualitative versus quantitative research; however, these battles were not reflected in the classrooms of my high school in Northern British Columbia. We were still being taught a very positivist perspective, as that is what our teachers had been taught.

In my Masters (completed in 2005), I had to make a real shift in my way of thinking. Suddenly, I was being asked to do an “action research” project. Action research is inherently not repeatable. I was to go into a situation and make an organizational change. The organization itself is complex, and the nature of the change I was to introduce, necessarily meant that the experiment would not be repeatable, as the organization after the experiment would not be same as it was before the experiment. This was a huge shift in my thinking as to what constituted knowledge. Even after completing my Masters, I did not really have an appreciation for the epistemology behind what I was doing. Inside me, I still saw what I did as quasi-research, and I questioned the validity of it. I had fun doing it, but I didn’t see it as adding to any body of knowledge. I only now realize that is because I was taking a positivist world-view. The teachings of my high school years were strongly influencing my beliefs. They were formed at a time in my life when I was forming my value system, and changing my value system is not an easy task.

In that time of transition, I began to appreciate the complexity of knowledge, and the complexity of how we learn. I’m only now beginning to develop a deeper understanding of the philosophical perspectives that drive what we call knowledge, and how each of us has a different, and yet valid, perspective.

The article also talks about the role of politics and self-interest, and how difficult it is change organizations. I find myself wondering if kids today are still taught the positivist views of science, or have we actually changed what we teach in school? Will other would-be social scientists share my struggles to overcome the positivist world view?

The article says “throughout most of the 20th century, the hegemony of positivist science made it difficult to publish articles that addressed voice and privilege in appropriate narrative and interpretive forms. The hegemony extended beyond criteria for publications to research funding, and criteria for promotion and tenure.” (p.8). I wonder if and when the Internet will change the pace of change? Does the Internet mean that academics with opposing views now have a voice – albeit not one that “counts”, as blogs don’t yet count for much in academic circles? When will this change? Will it ever?

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  1. A recipe for mixed-methods research | rjh.goingeast.ca

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