497. The Research Gap

We’re a culture that puts a lot of faith in research. I have some faith in it myself. But sometimes I wonder what kind of thinking would motivate anyone to volunteer for a control group. Other times, I wonder about the experimental group. If I were supposed to die of some terrible disease in six months (the traditional length of the medical death row), and a cure were discovered, I’d want to be in the experimental group. On the other hand, if a possible treatment for MS were discovered (we’re not supposed to talk about “cures” in MS lingo), I’d rather be in the control group; I don’t want to develop awful symptoms while attempting to ameliorate a condition that isn’t quite so awful.
Sometimes research lags behind common sense. Smokers were dying from lung cancer and other diseases long before cigarettes were “proven” to be harmful to your health. And as for second-hand smoke, I don’t think I was a lone genius when I decided that whatever harm smokers were doing to themselves could not be avoided by having smokers filter out the toxins through their lungs and add a little carbon dioxide. Much later, research told us that those of us who had been avoiding second-hand smoke weren’t so crazy after all.
I’m sure there are plenty of people in the medical world who were and are frustrated by the slowness of research, and by the way media have of announcing “startling new discoveries” that have been around for years. Well, we educators know the feeling. Working with children, we try some approaches. If they don’t work, we try other approaches. If something works, we try it again. And if it keeps working, we gradually decide that it’s something that works. Later on, if some study done at some major university shows that it works, we’re not surprised. Sometimes we’re a little annoyed. Why is so much money, time, and energy spent proving what we already know? Why didn’t they just ask us?
This line of thinking was inspired by some research that’s being reported now. It turns out that music may possibly help children learn. There are various studies uncovering that possibility. One tells us about some children who listened to a piece by Mozart, and did better on some tests than children who didn’t. Howard Gardner’s scholarly work on human intelligence is also proving that music can help children learn.
If you’ll pardon the expression, duh! Those of us who have been working with children and using music from time to time are not surprised. Some, like me, did it for fun at first, and gradually learned that it really did help. Others knew, right from the start, that it helped.
I am not opposed to research. Sometimes it tells us things we never suspected, or things we could have taken years to find out. Sometimes it
contradicts what we assumed. But I think we ought to listen more closely to the unofficial research that’s happening all the time – to teachers, doctors, and other people who are following up hunches, and learning.

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