Biometric “Hysteria”?

Diane Ravitch may be adamant and forceful… but hysterical?

In a post today, she refers to another, one by Gary Houchens, a professor of “Educational, Leadership, & Research” at Western Kentucky University. His is entitled “Biometric hysteria: the anti-research mentality of the educational status quo.” In a postscript Ravitch writes:

I do not like to refer to gender and I seldom do. But I can’t help but mention that there is a long history of men asserting their superiority by calling women “hysterical.” Why is it that men never are “hysterical,” only women?

Good question. But let’s leave that aside.

Houchens’ use of language isn’t merely playing on sexual stereotypes, but creates assumptions where questioning might be more appropriate. “Anti-research mentality”? “Educational status quo”? These are just the types of phrases that the so-called educational “reformers” have been using for years to derail any questioning of what they are doing.

Let’s look at the latter first: The assumption behind Houchens’ title, as the article shows, is that the Gates Foundation is not, somehow, part of the “educational status quo.” That’s a ridiculous statement on the face of it: Gates money is moving into a central position within American education. It has reshaped the status quo: just go to Common Core and you will find this:

The Common Core Curriculum Mapping Project, created and operated by Common Core, is funded in part by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Right now, there is nothing having a greater impact (nothing new, that is) than the Common Core standards. It is establishment all the way.

The “reformers” who, like Houchens, still like to style themselves as outsiders trying to correct a corrupt system, became the insiders with the establishment of No Child Left Behind a decade ago.

What galls me more, however, is that “anti-research mentality” idea. Those of us who really do care to research education know that there’s much more to it than the sort of lab testing of new methods of quantifying educational results or methods than the Gates biometrics project (or any of the others like it) can encompass. The likes of Houchens (or so I assume, given his choices of phrases) see “research” in much the way they see “assessment,” as something leading to numbers. They love to test.

They don’t seem to like to study.

Real research encompasses the past and what people learned in the past, most of which is not quantifiable. One cannot look ahead adequately without looking back substantially.

When I was a kid (this was during the summer of 1961), I was part of a programmed-instruction (“teaching machine”) test group at Harvard, where my father was spending the summer as one of the researchers. They tested me (and others) for much the same purpose the Gates-funded project wants. It was all new and exciting.

But, by the end of the decade, it had all been abandoned (expect as tangential tools).


Because unmediated interaction between teacher and student (or student and student, or student and mentor) had been shown to be much more effective. Even B. F. Skinner, in The Technology of Teaching, had reached the conclusion that reliance on technology alone will never bring about improvement in education. Only reliance on teachers (and improving their performance) will do that.

Has Houchens even read Skinner? Have any of the “reformers” studied what was tried, and rejected, in the past?

Just askin’….

Houchens writes that he’s:

willing to give researchers the benefit of the doubt and see what they can find by doing some basic exploratory studies.

Why bother? We already know that the earth isn’t flat.

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