Friday, 1 November 2013

It's not working: let's do more of the same...

I was interested to read this article on anti-bullying programmes at MercatorNet.  I don't know enough about the background and the research to come to an informed view, but the thesis resonated with me.  As did Izzy Kalman's interesting analysis… done some years ago, about why anti-bullying programmes might not have the desired results.

To take the second point first, Kalman suggests that actions have consequences; and frequently they have unintended consequences, which undermine the outcomes intended by those taking the actions.  This is classic open systems stuff, about which I have blogged more than once (follow the label).

But the article caught my attention because of the phenomenon of research demonstrating that something isn't working - and the researchers concluding that we should therefore do more of it, to get the intended result.

That isn't necessarily an incorrect conclusion, but it is certainly open to question. Consider a drug such as aspirin: if one tablet doesn't stop a headache, a second tablet may be advisable; but not another twenty.  We really need to understand a little more about why it is not working to discover whether an increased dosage is the right solution.

But this finding and conclusion is of course identical with those relating to sex education for children.  And I suspect there is something else going on here.  

I am not, for a moment, impugning the academic integrity of the researchers; but I do think that Lewis' observation, which I have quoted before, comes into play:

It is therefore useless to appeal to experience before we have settled, as well as we can, the philosophical question.

So it seems to me that the researchers, understandably enough, start with a philosophical assumption in favour of education.

However, when interrogated, that assumption reveals its flaws. For the assumption at root is that bad behaviour (in this case bullying; in the other, sexual irresponsibility) is caused by ignorance. 

However, we know that ignorance is only one of the causes of sin. Therefore to seek to address all sinful behaviour by education alone is a flawed strategy.

I would go further, and say that in some arenas (certainly sexuality, and quite possibly bullying) education - in the form that is meant here, at any rate, is more likely to exacerbate the problem than to solve it. 

What is really needed on the supernatural level is grace; and on the natural level, character, which is formed by the practice of the virtues. Of course education has a role there too, but in a rather different sense.

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