Long on Prescription, Short on Description…

Speaking of Lortie, there is an oft-quoted passage from the introductory pages of his book that I thought may be of interest to the readers of this blog.

Schooling is long on prescription, short on description…It is ideally conceded that the core transactions of formal education take place where teachers and students meet.  Almost every school practitioner is or was a classroom teacher; teaching is the root status of educational practice…but although books and articles instructing teachers on how they should behave are legion, empirical studies of teaching work–and the outlook of those who staff the school–remain rare.  Changes are proposed and initiated without sure knowledge of the settings they are presumed to improve. Without a clear picture of school reality, efforts at rationalisation can dissolve into faddism and panacean thinking. (Lortie, D. C. (2002). Schoolteacher: A sociological study. University of Chicago Press. p. xvii-xviii)

So such descriptive/sociological studies, especially in the so-called developing contexts, about the conditions of work of teaching are conspicuous by their absence, no?

At the same time, there is a growing population of comparative studies of public and private schools that rely on standardised test scores to make claims about the relative effectiveness of teaching in private schools.  Side by side, there is also some growth in the reports of ‘impact evaluations,’ due perhaps to increasing availability of funds for such studies. They attract funding from the multi-lateral and bi-lateral funding agencies, which are more concerned with the ‘monitoring and evaluation’  research for entirely good reasons.

So, can we say that not much exists by way of thick descriptions of the work of teaching in developing countries? Please do post references here for the benefit of readers, if you are familiar with such work.

About Irfan

I am an independent researcher and blogger interested in everything under the sun, but more so in the philosophy and history of education and education reform generally, and specifically in the so-called post colonial contexts


  1. Using Standardised Tests for Accountability? | Just questions! - 22/07/2011

    […] and half-thought prescriptions, and less deliberation and analysis.  Education reforms, to quote Lortie, have been ‘long on prescription and short on description.’ I also find it interesting, […]

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