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Ethics, Value and validity in self-study

Sarah Fletcher

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 2001

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 between them

‘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, page 146.

‘I like everyone else, could tell my own stories but don’t and won’t – 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 person’s, 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 my study

‘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 Ehrman’s wisdom in the Desiderata and Terri Austen’s 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. Let’s 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 don’t 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 and emotions!

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 Aristotle’s 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 Frankena’s on Ethics.
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 Frankena’s 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 educator

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. Let’s 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 colleague’s 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 Dewey’s 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 don’t 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 justice.’ (p.58)

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 protest;

‘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 which reads

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 teaching

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 to conform?

As a self-studier how do I explore the event and my emotions and learning it has evoked?

I am mindful of Frankena’s 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 research?

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 McNiff’s 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 self-studies.

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 community.
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?

Ethical considerations:

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 educator?
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 knowledge?
How far do demonstrate that I have learnt from the process of undertaking this study?
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 audience?
How relatable is the content of my self-study to the self-studies of other educators?
How believable is my self-study given who I am known to be and what I know?
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 and myself.
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 addition
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) is paramount.

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 that

‘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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