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Reviewed by:
  • The Politics of Inquiry: Education Research and the "Culture of Science"
  • David Hursh (bio)
Benjamin Baez and Deron Boyles, The Politics of Inquiry: Education Research and the "Culture of Science". New York: SUNY Press, 2009. 252 pp. ISBN 079147688X. $24.95 (pbk.)

Baez and Boyle provide evidence that educational research is inherently political and shapes how we look at the world, what research questions we ask, and what counts as a valid answer. They show how those who hold powerful governmental and academic positions advocate for and limit funding to research that is positivistic and elevates the natural sciences above all other forms of science. Such an approach not only marginalizes other forms of science but also slights ethical questions of good and right action. Moreover, this narrow view of science guides what research the government, foundations, and corporations fund, what academic journals are held up as most prestigious, which research is published, and what research counts towards tenure and promotion. Most importantly, the current push towards positivist research, exemplified by the No Child Left Behind Act and National Research Council holding up experimental research with randomized control groups as the "gold standard," positions teachers and most education professors as consumers of research rather than creators of knowledge. Therefore, in this clear and cogently argued book, Baez and Boyles expose how particular social, political, and economic forces, including the rise of globalization and neoliberalism, shape this increasingly dominant view of science, research, and education. These concerns form the basis for the book's five chapters: "(1) the professionalization of education researchers, (2) the scientism and positivism of education research, (3) the normalization of doctoral [End Page 73] work, (4) the institution of science in our lives, and (5) the political economy of research" (p. 5).

The authors begin with a critique of the No Child Left Behind Act, the Institute of Education Science (IES), and the National Research Council's report "Scientific Research in Education" (SRE). The legislation and reports not only promote a narrow view of science but also, as practices, make possible particular thoughts, conversations, and pedagogies while excluding others. Furthermore, they argue, theory and practice have a dialectical relationship with each, in such a climate, reinforcing the other. Consequently, those who hold dominant positions in the research community shape and limit how educational research is conceptualized and carried out, with real implications for educators.

Using the theoretical constructs of both Foucault (1970, 1978) and Derrida (1984), the authors advocate that engaging in debates over what counts as science is inadequate. Instead, they assert that we need to question "the ideological presumptions and political practices that make it possible, particularly those granting legitimacy to scientific knowledge" (p. 31). Therefore, they trace out how the dominant view of educational research, as embodied by the NRC and the IES, aims to prove, through ostensibly objective and replicable experimental design, which educational programs and practices are effective. They describe as a leading advocate of this approach Grover Whitehurst (n.d.), first director of the IES, who held up as the research standard "randomized field trials when the question is the effectiveness of mature programs and practices."

The authors are not, however, against science. Rather, they are against the ways in which science has become the only acceptable narrative, rather than one narrative among many. They are interested in "the construction and social consequences of scientific knowledge and the expertise it confers on particular actors" (p. 31), primarily those in power and those who obtain funding from the agencies promoting experimental empirical research.

Baez and Boyles demonstrate that the scientism of organizations such as the IES and the NRC are of concern for several reasons, but three stand out for the authors. First, the IES and NRC view experimental scientific research as neutral and objective. However, as Baez and Boyle explain, all research encapsulates human interests and can be neither neutral nor objective. Embedded within all research are assumptions about the nature and purpose of schooling and society and how the world works, which are inherently normative questions of ethics and social justice. Therefore, what questions researchers ask and how they are answered cannot escape being a political, value-laden...


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pp. 73-77
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