The baby and the bathwater: Reflections on current debates in educational research

Year: 1994

Author: Gill, Judith

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Much current teaching and debate in educational research is constructed around false dichotomies, most notably the qualitative/quantitative divide. This division is largely a construction of the research literature and one which is produced most vehemently by the proponents of qualitative approaches. While that division may have had some historical basis, its usefulness is long past. Currently there is a danger that the continual revisiting of this non-debate hinders the advancement of educational knowledge rather than promoting it.

Qualitative researchers continually affirm their commitment to not treating their respondents as "subjects", to not reducing complex human responses to numbers on scaled questionnaire forms and to not utilising complicated statistical procedures which further remove the personal story from the overall picture. In contrast, they believe in valuing the people involved in their studies and adopting methods which preserve the dignity and privacy of the respondents while allowing them free range of responses. However, despite these noble sentiments, the integrity of the research is frequently at risk. The argument here is not that research based in positivist quantitative methods is either the best or the only form of acceptable educational research, but rather that there is a need to recognise a multiplicity of research approaches and to acknowledge the value of the situated knowledges that emerge.

The question of mixed as compared to single-sex schooling is offered as a case study of research which addresses an issue of interest to practising educators from a range of approaches.