Your Favorite Author wakes up. She fumbles down the steps and lands in front of a cup of coffee that her husband left her. ("Thanks Dave," she thinks.) She takes a long sip and opens up the latest issue of the Journal for Research in Fiction Writing, which is lying on the table. She flips through it.
A title strikes her: "Characters that Stick: An Exploration of Backstory Tragedy in the Likeability of Supporting Characters." Interesting. She's working on a story now, one with a woman who, as a little girl, watched her parents die. (Spontaneous combustion, a metaphor for the ways in which life and time stories the inability to communicate in the digital era and recession.) She turns to the piece.
She reads the abstract:
This study investigated whether a character produced with a tragic background contributed to 236 randomly selected readers' literary pleasure, that is, the effectiveness of a story at inducing a passionate reaction. An exploratory quasi-experimental study was conducted with a pretest-posttest-control-group design. Men were found to derive more literary value out of a character with tragic backstory than women. Implications of these results for novel-writing are discussed.Fascinating. Her next story would be better. She takes another sip, takes out her reading glasses. She digs in.
Here's what I'm curious for in the comments:
- The above scenario strikes me as absurd. Do you share this reaction?
- If you think it's ridiculous to imagine novelists improving their craft in this way, then do you also think it's ridiculous to imagine teachers improving their craft in this way?
Here are some points that I think are worth making:
- Research about how students learn isn't the same thing as research about what makes effective teaching. As an analogy, doctors regularly keep up on research about medications, procedures or treatments. But this is different than research concerning how to make a good diagnosis. It's the difference between research that's relevant to practice, and research on that practice.
- You might be tempted to say that this comes down to whether teaching is an art or a science, and then (in the spirit of even-handedness) you'll want to say that it's a little bit of both. But you'll have to admit that artists have a wide base of knowledge from which they draw on, and that there is widespread (if far from complete) agreement that at least some art is really good, and some art aint so great. So it's not like facts and knowledge and correct judgement are foreign to art.
- Besides, what would it mean to say that teaching is a science? Physics is a science; it's the study of the fundamental properties of the natural world. Biology is a science; it's the study of the living world. If teaching is a science, would that mean that it's the study of the something? But teaching, whatever it is, is just not the study of some subject. Maybe instead of "teaching is a science" we mean to say something closer to "there is objective, testable knowledge about what good teaching looks like"?
Looking forward to a spirited, late-August debate here. See you in the comments.