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Toward a public scholarship

Randall F. Clemens

I originally posted this blog on April 29, 2010.

“The issue now is not simply to promote ourselves better,” writes Craig Calhoun, an acclaimed sociologist and president of the Social Science Research Council, “but to ask better social science questions about what encourages scientific innovation, what makes knowledge useful, and how to pursue both these agendas, with attention to both immediate needs and long term capacities.” Calhoun’s incitement to social scientists to make research more useful and more public is critical and timely.

The education landscape is changing. Whether the change is a fad or true reform, the fact remains that in three years school districts and universities will have undergone drastic alterations. Now is the time for academics to become more involved, to communicate and collaborate with various audiences. Yes, a spirit of intellectual curiosity and discovery is critical to scholarship. I’m not arguing for that to end. Instead, I am arguing for education research to become more public and better designed to answer pressing social questions and inform public policy. There is no reason why research design cannot serve multiple ends.

Social science scholarship has not always been this way. It used to be progressive, just as concerned with social movements as scholarship. But I fear we’ve lost a bit of our edge in an effort to gain legitimacy from our big brothers and sisters in the hard sciences. After all, in two years when I go on job talks, faculty will want to see publications rather than outreach. That is a shame, but it is also something we can improve.

This week is an important week for educators. It is the American Education Research Association’s annual gathering, the largest assembly of education academics. During this week, I hope we can all find some time to reflect on the ways in which we may better create public scholarship.