Counting Horses' Teeth and Education R & D
04/19/12 08:40 AM
There's an old story in science that might be one of the first urban legends.
In the Middle Ages, scholars met to settle questions unanswered in sacred and secular texts. One was the number of teeth in the mouth of a horse. After several days of prayer and re-examining ancient sources, the scholars were perplexed. In response to the elder’s distress, a young student volunteered to visit a local stable and count the teeth in a horse’s mouth. He was beaten with sticks, banished from the assembly, and cursed as an apostate. Somberly, the scholars concluded the answer would remain forever known only to God.
In education R&D, there comes a time to venture out, try ideas to see how they work. It’s safer to stay in air conditioned rooms debating theories and dreaming up interventions. But once all theory and evidence are thoroughly chewed, take to the field, learn from experience, count some teeth. Don’t be afraid to fail. You probably will, and might learn more from failure than more hours of debate and conjecture. Some grizzled veterans of the R&D wars might tell you this: out in the field with real people in actual settings, you often abandon what you thought would work in favor of discovering something that will.