There is No Observation (Including Measurement) without Theory: The Stanley Fish View

As I have said before:

(B)ecause of a unified view of construct validity, theory (and hermeneutics) touches all aspects of validity and measurement.

One thing I meant by this is that you can’t do a good job of measuring practice or performance if you don’t understand how measures and practices are theoretically and empirically related, or as I said in my last post:

Any measure implies a theoretical rationale that links performance and measures and it can be tested validated and improved over time.

(Although the topic is faith not measurement) Stanley Fish supports the same type of idea and writes in his NY Times column:

. . . there is no such thing as “common observation” or simply reporting the facts. To be sure, there is observation and observation can indeed serve to support or challenge hypotheses. But the act of observing can itself only take place within hypotheses (about the way the world is) . . . because it is within (the hypothesis) that observation and reasoning occur.

I would use the word theory instead of hypothesis, which I reserve as a word for research questions in an experimental context, but otherwise the meaning is pretty much the same.

Fish goes on to explain an aspect of theory that explains why people do not like the challenges that are presented by theory and deep theoretical understanding.

While those hypotheses are powerfully shaping of what can be seen, they themselves cannot be seen as long as we are operating within them; and if they do become visible and available for noticing, it will be because other hypotheses have slipped into their place and are now shaping perception, as it were, behind the curtain.

I’m not saying it is easy, developing measures with deep understanding is difficult, but I believe the effort is well worth it when the result are better more relevant measures and better performance.

A need for value with tenure

Yesterday I felt the need to support an instrumentalist view of education in response to Stanley Fish and Frank Donoghue.  Today I’m exploring thoughts on their primarily premise, that tenured professors are a dying breed and this fact is leaving education in lesser hands.

The cost of education is very high. Too many people need to mortgage their future to secure their future.  Beginning to address this issue will mean tenured professors and administrators must leave their walled-departmental-gardens.  From a business standpoint (and unless you are willing to work pro-bono, everyone should have some type of business perspective) administrator, professors and everyone involved need to account for how they add value to a students education, find new ways to add value, and understand how much that value costs.  Many professors are concerned with little more than delivering their course load and completing their (tenure hoop jumping) research projects; many advisor focus less on mentoring and more on choosing courses and navigating bureaucracy.  Many administrators just seem totally bureaucratized.

I believe that tenure for intellectual educational purposes is important.  A lack of tenure would be lamentable, but value propositions, not tenure proposition, are needed to be a central role in determining professor valuations.  My graduate mentor once suggested that meet every three year to justify the continuation of their course.  I agreed at the time, but even more so now.  Things change so fast these days and so many people, even tenured professors, keep on teaching the way they were taught.