Ethics, Value and validity in self-study
Presented at the American Educational Research Association Conference
New Orleans. March 2002
It may be more important, from an ethical point of view, to
consider much more carefully the virtues of the researcher than the principles
he or she espouses' Pring (2001) Paper Presented at the British Educational
Research Association Annual Conference, University of Leeds, 13-15 September
In this paper I am working in tandem as I complete the final section
of my PhD. The issues I raise directly relate to the tensions I am experiencing.
Let us begin by putting two statements together and sensing the tension
the peculiar evil of silencing an expression of an opinion
is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the present
generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still ore those who
hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity
of exchanging error for truth; if wrong, they lose, what is almost as
a great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of
truth, produced by its collision with error. John Stuart Mill (1959)
on Liberty p.142 in Pring, R. (2000) Philosophy Of Educational research,
I like everyone else, could tell my own stories but dont
and wont at least not in a form which would make their
characters recognisable. (Griffiths, 1998, p. 102)
My contribution to this seminar is entitled Ethics, Value and Validity
in Self-study and arose from a web-based conversation six months ago when
I was working on my PhD. As I read what I was writing I realised how selective
I was being. How un-authentic I was. How I glossed over tensions and anomalies
in a narrative of my practice as an educator. And I wondered why and I
came to a to challenge myself as a self studier and I turned to the SStep
mailing list with a questions that steadfastly refused to Go placidly.
My questions aroused my curiosity but also my anger, my frustration and
my discomfort.I experienced tension where my self-study did not satisfy
the ethical stance I aspired to. These five concerns suffused my enquiry
into my multiplicity as a professional educator
Though my account of a nodal moment may represent my genuine effort
to show what happened at a given moment in a given context, it is but
my own, one persons, view of reality and so how much store can I
or anyone else put by it?
Can my account be valid when I can only see a partial reality
and thus I can only reflect upon and interpret partial implications of
some of my actions?
Where I have been asked by a participant in a nodal moment not
to mention their participation in an event, how far is it possible for
me in creating my self study to draw a line round my influence and still
give a valid impression of what occurred?
In funded research, I have experienced pressure to divulge only
what is likely to please. Am I imagining similar pressures as I submit
my self study for a PhD where revealing significant weaknesses to colleagues
may well invoke reprisals?
The use of validation groups is often offered as a way of ensuring
validation in a self study. Are these groups really as unbiased as they
may initially appear to be?
What does it mean that I ask these questions here and I seek to explore
them at AERA?
In my mind, this means opening up dialogue around issues that I see quietly
put to one side. I suggest that it means that I now have my evidence of
having navigated an educational journey from being a new classroom teacher
to becoming a university-based academic. I now believe I cannot but engage
in a study of ethics underpinning my educational thesis: In considering
the ethics value and validity of how I construct my thesis I am not only
accounting for my values, I am accountable for my values in constructing
a post-modern approach necessarily involves ethical issues as integral
to the research process. It means seeing research through whatever paradigm
it is carried out, as beingjust as much about values s about methods and
outcomes. Scott (1999) page 75.
I experience tensions as I consider how to write my truth and experience
a fury at abuses of power within the Academy. Should it be a powerful,
sensational text that represents a defiant gesture or should it Go placidly
amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in
silence. As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all
persons. Whichever route or combination of routes I choose surely I must
'Speak my truth quietly and clearly; and seek to listen to others'? Somewhere
between Ehrmans wisdom in the Desiderata and Terri Austens
gentle but persistently powerful epilogue in her PhD thesis I am being
enabled to find another way than charging headlong into a confrontation
that might overshadow and unbalance the study of my professional life.
Lets see how far I am learning to go placidly as I explore issues
that deny my values!
I am coming to recognise that much of my commitment to teaching is grounded
in a sense of duty. I have felt a moral imperative that children should
enjoy their childhood in a way that I sometimes was unable to during my
own schooling. I have a duty of care for students. As a mentor I cannot
walk away if I see my mentee in difficulty I must help. I teach
because I want to bring about good for my students, and also for myself,
through mutuality of enjoyment. By this I dont necessarily mean
the superficiality of fun My lessons should be enjoyable because
they draw from and inform further good practice and not just because they
amuse for the duration of my session. Furthermore I believe in the rightness
of being an educator as I am playing a dutiful role in creating the basis
for future learning by children by exciting their creativity and imagination
I hold a belief in the good of education for its own sake as well as
a means for acquiring goods. Goods of some kind are necessary for life
within any society but education in itself is a good that is of infinitely
more value, Can good imbue goods? Recently I was in Japan and my host
told me that Japanese parents tress the importance of handing on an education
to their offspring because land is too expensive to hand on as an inheritance.
In this sense good has become a form of goods. While I acknowledge Aristotles
wisdom that the supreme happiness is to be found in a life of philosophical
contemplation, I guess I have some way to go before I attain that realisation!
Philosophy remains an enjoyable pastime for me rather than the means to
self-actualisation and contentment above all else.
So saying, I have rarely enjoyed a book as much as that of William Frankenas
I discovered this text at a time that was appropriate in my education
of my Self. Perhaps that is the point that Aristotle is making
I needed to graduate to studying ethics, to develop a full and sufficient
understanding through practice of being an educator before I could be
in a position to philosophise morally about it though this does
not appear to prevent those particularly in the media from doing so at
every possible opportunity
Frankena (1973) sets out for me in a
brief readable text all I had previously mystified about philosophy. I
found to my delight that I can not only understand what he says from a
linguistic perspective, but reading his work inspires me to examine the
underlying morality or otherwise of my own work here in this thesis as
I interrogate my own work.
What is the moral basis of my own practice as a teacher, a mentor
and a researcher?
Here I am taking my thesis as an embodiment of my practice as a professional
educator. As I read Frankenas words questions arise in my mind that
relate to how and why I have written as I have and I am bound to confront
rationale for the selection of my reality here. What did I omit and why
and how does this affect the nature and intention of my work? When I read
what I wrote about myself-as-teacher I know it to be different from my
theorised account. I have only to look at the photographs of my children
in my early classes to know that I know differently from the reality I
have portrayed in my text account of Self. Yet when I wrote it, I believed
it to be a full authentic portrayal of my teacher-practice. I have had
difficulty putting my thoughts into words at times, not because of any
linguistic impediment but because I think in images, startlingly bright
images that move and still. I think in intuitive feelings beyond words,
intuitions that I have acquired through experience of practice and which
now defy a simplification words alone demand. In mind of this I included
images in my text because to do otherwise would be ethically wrong. Ethically
wrong because I am not being true either to what I do or who I am as teacher
unless I include images that enable me to explain more fully than conceptions
in words. Some of the images I include are stills there is a particular
quality about catching the essence of moments that attracts me. Some are
videos as my teaching is about interaction. Yet for me photographic images
raise ethical dilemmas.
Did I seek permission from the children and their parents in 1978 and
1988 to include these photographs in my writing now? No. Did I realise
I might write a thesis then? No.
When I present an image and say 'Do you see?' it is a leading question
colouring reality. As we hear others account of themselves where they
use multi media to back up their claims of having an educational influence
I urge caution. Do we have any evidence that the others in the images
interpret the scene portrayed as the self-studier depicting it does? This
is the challenge I am setting Jack Whitehead. What evidence do we have
that at the time you took the video footage of the encounters with your
students they would interpret them as you are now and is your retrospective
account of your influence admissible as evidence? It seems the issue of
gaining permission from students is fraught with ethical problems.
Researchers in the field of childhood studies have developed guidelines
for ethical practice in social research that gathers empirical material
from children. These focus on the processes of gaining consent or allowing
for dissent from being empowered through having
their voices heard. However, such guidelines do not consider the processes
of presenting information in particular contexts such as educational
settings, and the implications of this. David, Edwards and Alldred
(2001) page 349
The Ethics of My Self as Self-Study Researcher
This leads me to consider the moral principles that lie behind my practice
as a researcher and in particular those that I embody and aspire to as
I present my self-study submission.
How far can I claim this thesis to be an accurate representation of myself
as educator? The answer is that I know it to be omitting aspects of my
professional and private life I would rather include but I am mindful
of my audience and how I am presenting myself. In reality of every day
practice my personal and professional lives intertwine emotionally and
I am being quasi-immoral by detaching my personal from my professional
personae. If this thesis is intended to depict those events that have
been most influential in shaping my professional multiplicity of self
I know I am withholding truth through cautiousness. I believe that the
fact that I have explained that I have changed and omitted truths is significant
in educational terms. My aim is to educate for good and not to injure
by truth. In making a moral stance I am drawn to the theory of obligation
expounded by Frankena
1 One ought not to inflict evil or harm (what is bad)
2 One ought to prevent evil or harm
3 One ought to remove evil
4 One ought to do good or promote good
In my thesis I would claim that I have not knowingly inflicted evil or
harm. I have sought to prevent evil or harm even if this has meant changing
some details of events. I have sought to remove evil where I have written
accounts that subsequently seem injurious to others or to myself. I have
sought to do good and promote good in my thesis. That may of course leave
me open to accusations that I have created a victory narrative but I trust
examiners will find sufficient detail, without intent to harm, to reject
this label. What value then should I place upon a self-study narrative?
My answer is that it is that this work was to be an integral part of my
self-study account as a professional educator. I attribute some of my
educational nouse to experience, to my parents' guidance when I was a
child but there is also a pervading sense that I do not understand how
it is that I know how to act well in some educational relationships even
when I find that I am doing so. I attribute this to another kind of intuition
an intuition of spirituality and wonder that transcends rationality:
Whatever the origins of my knowing what I do must, I believe, be tested
in my practice: what I give as an account of my practice and what I say
I believe in may not be verifiable, but I should ask myself On the
balance of evidence I have, is what I know or think I know likely to be
true and likely to lead to benefit myself and others? You as my audience
must decide on balance whether what I offer as my ecology is truth.
My search for ethical guidelines to inform my self-study as a professional
A search on the Internet one Saturday morning in February 2002 revealed
a puzzling array of ethical guidelines, mostly in relation to medical
practice. Similarly a Boolean search of the library catalogue at the University
of Bath revealed a recent (since 1999) proliferation of interest in ethics
especially in medical practice but also within education. One of the most
poignant and relevant sites I encountered relating to ethical issues was
that belonging to John Hewitt. You can locate his work at www.ahabitoflies.com
I found several books have been helpful in raising my own awareness and
sensitivity. Beauchamp and Childress (1983) has widened my awareness of
global ethical issues:
in addition to codes formulated by consumer groups, several regulations
and guidelines have been promulgated by government agencies. Consider
such issues about research, for instance. Since the Nuremberg Code of
1947 the United States Government has promulgated several guidelines for
research involving human subjects. P.11
This reference jarred me to find out more about the Holocaust and the
ethics of writings of those who witnessed the atrocities. How can I allow
my concern about reprisals in my professional life to determine what I
include in my self-study when I read these accounts?
' I pray you to believe what I have said about Buchenwald. I reported
what I saw and heard, but only part of it. For most of it I have no words.
If I have offended you by this rather mild account of Buchenwald, I am
not in the least sorry
' Edward R. Murrow http://www.us-israeli.org
So should I leave out the relatively minor skirmishes of my personal-professional
life? It is not so much a question of courage I dare to include
if dare is an appropriate word, but should I include them only where I
can provide evidence of my professional learning. Lets consider
an event that has had a profound effect on me and that I am unsure how
or if I should represent it in my PhD. I would be interested to share
your thoughts on this account ...
Last December I applied for and was granted in writing leave to begin
my vacation on 14 December. After the agreement I was asked to undertake
a consultancy. I sought advice from Personnel and was told I had to alert
my department to my intention to undertake it. This work was an extension
of but not entirely related to a previous paid consultancy undertaken
in University and vacation time for which I had been promised £1000
and received £250. After e-mail communication I was ordered to fill
in forms requiring me to donate the monies earned to the department. I
declined. I was told I could not accept any form of paid work in my vacation
unless I had permission from my Head of Department. The Dean of Faculty
arrived in my office and required me to sign confirmation that I would
not earn any money whatsoever before the next semester I sought
a colleagues advice. He was formerluy president of the union to
which I belong. What I did in the circumstances has profoundly affected
my professional practice since. In my mind the incident and the implications
of it in terms of my professional standing and how I have been treated
since the incident demand inclusion in my self-study as PhD. If I include
it I may find my details used as a basis for action under the Law of Loyalty
yet should I exclude it is I withhold evidence that will enrich and inform
my self-study. I find myself agreeing wholeheartedly with Deweys
pronouncement on morals:
A moral situation is one in which judgement and choice are required
antecedently to overt action. The practical meaning of the situation
that is to say the action needed to satisfy it is not self-evident.
It has to be searched for. What is needed is to find the right course
of action, the right good. There are conflicting desires and alternative
apparent goods. What is needed is to find the right course of action,
the right good. (Dewey, 1954, p.133)
While acknowledging a need for ethical guidelines in relation to self-study
practice. If nothing else thesis can give me a basis for considering if
one right is the right to opt for. I adhere to the view that I need ethical
guidelines if only to know when I am about to override them in a particular
situation where a surge raw emotion might lead m astray! But can ethical
guidelines be globally relevant where culture reflects very different
value systems and dont ethical guidelines need reflect evolution
within socio-political climes? Bottery (2000) presents how the ethical
agenda of teaching has changed since the 1970s.
If the key words of the New Right under Reagan and Thatcher were
those of competition, entrepreneurialism and institutional survival, under
the New Modernisers have been added those of outcomes, standards and benchmarking
Government strategies and activities are in one sense very rational. Yet
this rationality is questionable for a number of reasons, and it produces
effects that make its pursuit in a wider sense really quite irrational.
it has a tendency to view citizens as human resources, rather then
resourceful humans and in doing so tends to downgrade issues of personal
liberty; it prioritises economic reasons for education systems above other
reasons and thereby marginalizes other issues like inequality and social
The climate in which humans become resources and research on them is
for money the potential for abuse in the Academy is mushrooming. As I
am in the final stages of writing this paper for AERA I have been contacted
by a colleague in one of the major unions for teachers and lecturers in
the UK, in connection with a discussion we are leading shortly on mentoring
within schools. In passing she has written in obvious excitement, sure
that I am party to the happy event
I am just off to DfES steering group on research into professional learning
communities which X and Y et al have secured, by what I think is a brilliant
research proposal. (You figure in the literature!!)
X. is the head of the research group to which I belong in Bath. The role
of the groups is to promote active cooperation and collaboration in seeking
funding for high quality research. At no point has L mentioned this proposal
to me. Our Group goes by the name of Learning in Educational Communities.
Unfortunately you cannot trace it on the Bath University web site that
shows in its place a group disbanded over two years ago. I find it ironic
that my own extensive work on mentoring and the fact that I convene the
Bath University Teacher Research Network that has been instrumental in
enabling networked learning communities in the locality of Bath should
be excluded in making this proposal I want to express my sense of intellectual
outrage in my PhD. How do I do so ethically? I feel duty bound to locate
my ethics in a P/political as well as a temporal climate. Though I am
having to balance carefully how I can live my values as a teacher educator
in the environment where I work, I am keen that P/political constraints
will not dictate either my practice as a researcher (Pring, 2000) or as
a teacher and research-mentor. Increasingly I see the government pressure
to measure and assess processes and outcomes and to specify how and where
teachers should be doing what as a technical exercise in passing on knowledge
rather then in excitement of creativity and a passion for enquiry, Tillich
(1968) reminds me of my educational duty towards others in Existential
to resist a world in which everything was transformed into a thing,
a means, an object of scientific calculation. , psychological and political
management. P. 121
Guidelines produced by AERA and BERA reflect, according to Pring, 2000,
the sort of values that ought to pertain in a democratic society amongst
which openness would seem to be one. it is all too
easy for those in power to protect their interest by recourse to secrecy
and the stifling of discussion. Page 154
My experience as an academic is that silence and stifling of discussion
are all too rife. I am not describing a productive necessary silence of
trust that I think Giddens so ably describes.
Trust is a means of ordering social relations across time and space.
It sustains that necessary silence which allows individuals or groups
to get on with their lives while still existing in a social relation with
another or others. (Giddens, 1994, pp. 115-6)
I am describing that insidious silence of distrust and unsocial behavior
and control; Am I alone in experiencing the writing of requests into a
void? No response arises.
Take for example my recent attempts to get my research as an individual
represented. Details of my own research achievements are silenced in the
report presented in my name for a departmental Meeting on 13 March 2002
Members of the group are preparing papers to present at the American
Educational research Association annual conference (2 people); working
on Mode B PhDs (2 people); presenting at conferences; writing joint book
chapters and book proposals (with colleagues in other groups) etc etc
This report was written for me by the Head of my research group. I was
not permitted to present my account. My request for time to discuss my
work at the meeting was refused.
Compare this with the joy in communication Shulman urges as he talks about
One of the qualities that make us fully human and distinguishes us from
other species is our capacity to invent and discover both knowledge and
beauty and to pass our understanding on to successive generations.
(ASCD, 2001) We have a capacity to invent and discover both knowledge
and beauty and to pass that on
A number of questions occur to me...
How can I ensure I am judged as an educator in relation to my capacity
to enable knowledge and beauty?
Am I being over sensitive in feeling closed down, constricted and forced
As a self-studier how do I explore the event and my emotions and learning
it has evoked?
I am mindful of Frankenas observations about bringing interactions
with others alive
If our morality is to be more than a conformity to internalised
rules and principles if it is to include and rest on an understanding
of the point of these rules and principles, and certainly if it is to
involve being a certain kind of person and not merely doing certain kinds
of things then we must somehow retain and develop an ability to be aware
of others as persons as important to themselves as we are to ourselves
and to have a lively and sympathetic representation in imagination of
their interests and of the effects of our actions on their lives.
Frankena, 1973, p. 69.
It seems to me that as long as I remain superficially tied to aspired
values I am not properly operating within my own morality I am
borrowing it as I might borrow others values to try out. Once I
am living my moral code as more than performance text I am using my values
as a basis for distinguishing what I know to be good and what I find I
know to be harmful. Sometimes I will realise that what I value is detrimental
to my own and others good. An embodied value has to be somehow developed
or removed if it is not to cause harm. I think it is in the balancing
of relative goods and harms that I develop my own moral code. I retain
values combined in a moral code that promote my well being and I reject
others. The significant consideration for me is that I am now aware of
what it means for me to hold values of my own and to be able to consider
how far I am or I am not living up to them in practice. Self-study is
no one thing and like any kind of qualitative research it includes a wide
variety of types, genres and forms. Like Suderman-Gladwell (2001) I see
that guidelines could define what my self-study should be and this can
only be appropriate where I bring my own moral principles into the process
of creating an ethical context for my self-study.
What values should self-studiers aspire to when undertaking their
Perhaps I am mistaken in looking to external ethical principles, codes
and rules of ethics to inform how I undertake my self-study. Perhaps instead,
I should concur with Pring who writes that
It may be more important, from an ethical point of view, to
consider much more carefully the virtues of the researcher than the principles
he or she espouses' Pring (2001) Paper Presented at the British Educational
research Association Annual Conference, University of Leeds, 13-15 September
2001 and in his conclusion I think I finally pinpoint why I feel in such
an uncertainty about the ethics of what I am doing
What is my intention in commenting on the tactics of academe in this
way? Do I believe that it will stop the abuse surely not in a single
transaction I cannot change the world. But yet if you who
read my self-study think yes she has a valid point here.
This should be addressed. Silencing opinion and setting unrealistic
targets as a form of control should be curtailed as it closes down creative
engagement and wearies the academic soul, then my writing and my lone
stance here in my thesis is having an educational effect. My intention
is not sufficient in itself to reassure me that the risks I might take
are justified. My intention is educational influence as well as investigation
of the ethics of self-study.
Jean McNiffs writing has been an inspiration for my development
as an action researcher. I awaited the publication of the revised version
of Action research Principles and Practice with eager anticipation and
I have not found it wanting in relation to ethics. Jean McNiff is there
to help me, this time in person at the Practitioner Research Group: One
of the group says that validity is about believability but
the question is whose reality is being described? How much corroboration
does a self-studier need for an account to be considered valid? Can we
be objective about I by discussing I as me? The issue I learn
from the group is related to engagement that engagement with literature
means not just drawing on it. It means getting inside it so it elucidates
What can I learn from others ethical guidelines for self-study?
I find the Guidelines for Self-Study research from the AERA (2001) crucial
to my understanding of what it means to self-study well. I particularly
appreciated this part;
Quality self-study research requires that the researcher negotiate
a particularly sensitive balance between biography and history. While
self-study researchers acknowledge the role of the self in the research
project, such study does not focus on the self per se but on the space
between self and the practice engaged in Otherwise there is no possibility
of answering the so what question of significance, that wise
readers ask an require be answered. Ultimately the aim of self-study is
to gain understanding to make that interaction increasingly educative.
(page 15) Bullough and Pinnegar have set out helpful guidelines for autobiographical
study forms and my suggestions in my paper are intended to supplement
not replace these since their ethical guidelines intimately relate to
the kind of study that I am undertaking in my PhD . In contrast the BERA
(1992) Ethical guidelines have far less direct relevance on self-study.
I am indebted to other members of the Practitioner Research Group who
worked with me to compile this modified set of ethical guidelines for
self-study on 4/03/02.
1 Educational research should be conducted within an ethic of respect
for the self and aspire to democratic values towards others in educational
2 Educational researchers should aim to avoid falsification or misinterpretation
of evidence, data, findings or conclusions.
3 Educational researchers should admit their shortcomings as well as strengths.
4 Educational researchers should justify why they have chosen to self-study.
5 Educational researchers should aim to report research conceptions, procedures,
results and analyses accurately and in sufficient detail to allow others
to understand and interpret them.
But we remain in the realm of statement and I yearn for dialogical engagements!
In conclusion therefore, as a contribution to the practice of self-study
I offer the suggestion that ethical guidelines can usefully be a basis
for dialogue rather than and with that thought in mind I urge that we
move towards a dialogical form to stimulate debate.
A pre-viva a session a doctoral student who has submitted a self-study
evoked enquiry in my mind as I returned to work on my doctoral thesis.
Might they be helpful to others?
How can I show my self-study is an educative rather than ego-centric-indulgence?
How far are the values I embody in this study appropriate to a professional
How far can I demonstrate my self-study is educative as well as educational?
Issues of educational value:
How does the form of my self-study make an original contribution to knowledge
of how to create a self-study of educational practice?
How valuable is the content of my self-study as a form of educational
How far do demonstrate that I have learnt from the process of undertaking
How far has my self-study demonstrated my capacity for critical judgement?
Issues of validity:
How far have I related the form and content of this writing to my intended
How relatable is the content of my self-study to the self-studies of other
How believable is my self-study given who I am known to be and what I
How far do my ethical dialogical guidelines meet my needs as an autobiographer?
In this paper I began by considering issues that my self-study has foregrounded.
From these I have reviewed my thesis and decided there are areas that
demand more inclusion
In the light of the dialogical challenges that I posed at the outset of
this paper I believe
1 As one individual I can only communicate reality as I see it and
that has its own intrinsic value as I am accounting for my educative influence
2 My view of reality should enable others to see more than their own realities
but I need to verify with them that my reality represents a believable
3 I have to take full responsibility for my self-study and ensure care
of myself and of others as I construct it as a representation of myself
as an educator.
4 Though I must be mindful of my academic audience I must look to it as
a platform for learning for wider audiences and myself in the public domain.
5 The responsibility for offering my work for validation beyond those
who can reasonably be expected to support my study (because they are friends)
How far do my responses have validity and what issues of ethics, value
and validity have I omitted as I face the challenge How can I improve
my practice as an auto biographer? Like Feldman (2002) I strongly agree
we can increase the validity of our self-studies by paying
particular attention to and making public the ways that we construct
our representations of our research.
It is that spirit of openness that I offer my paper today.
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