This is one of Tim’s favorite sayings. He often reminds me that no matter how doom and gloom a set of new research data might look, statistics can only tell us what is, statistics don’t tell us much at all about what could be.
“Why then,” I ask, “does the research matter at all?”
It matters, he tells me, because if we can get a sense of what causes a particular statistical fact to be true we can start to think about how to change it (undesirable data) or repeat it (favorable data). In fact, the evaluation, implication, and synthesis sections of the research are more useful to us- practically speaking- than the raw numbers and data. A meta analysis of the data and conclusions on a particular topic or a literature review probably prove more useful for an individual teacher than charts and graphs. In addition, we need qualitative data alongside our quantitative data…and we need some solid qualitative analysis of the data.
What does that mean for catechists and parents?
The news (liturgical and mainstream) have a tendency to focus on the numbers. They often provide for sensational headlines capable of attracting an excess of clicks.
If we want to prevent our children and students from being the next victim of statistics- and there are some depressing ones out there- then we need to think critically about how a certain problem came to be. Then we can build a relationship with each individual child or student that seeks to reverse that cause (or rather causes, usually there are more than one). We can help students clean out the bad stuff the research implies and replace it with the good stuff- Jesus (sacraments, scripture, virtue, etc).
The more students we work with, the easier this will be because we become a classroom researcher. We take our data (observations and experiences) and draw conclusions about what works and then adjust our teaching and parenting accordingly. Just like any other skill, we can practice and get better at it!
Research is immensely helpful in making broad scale changes in curriculum development, the way we teach, or the way we make our environments safer on the whole. They are very important for people in charge of training and programming on a parish, district, or diocesan level. At every level we move away from the individual student the research matters more. Nothing, however, will ever replace knowledge of an individual child as the most important data point inside a family or classroom.
Statistics are not predictive and research doesn’t have to be scary.
Our challenge to you this week is to spend some reflective time thinking about all the data you have collected about your students. How has your year gone this far? What is working? What is clearly not working? Which students are engaged? Which are not? Who has missed more class than they’ve attended? These (and more) are all classroom level data and are more valuable than all the statistics in the world when it comes to an individual teacher or parent forming individual young people in the truth of Jesus.