Friday, October 9, 2009

Evidence and values

When people discuss rewards programs like the one I argued against here, they often frame the question as whether the program "works." Such a program, its supporters say, is "evidence-based," and there is research showing that it works.

I agree that evidence is important, and that we should look at the research about programs like these. But it's also true that there are some things evidence can't do.

For example, at a recent meeting to discuss the use of reward "tickets" at our school, one parent, a preschool teacher, explained why she opposed the program. "I know that kids need help learning good behavior, but if one of my preschoolers did a good thing, and I responded by handing him one of these tickets, it would just feel so condescending."

I am sure there are people who don't think there is anything wrong with acting condescending toward a four-year-old. There are also those, like the woman at the meeting, who do. Is there any research, any experimental design, that could prove one right and the other wrong?

To someone like me who opposes this kind of program, the issue is one of values. The fact that the program may "work" to increase compliance with school rules doesn't lead me to support it, any more than I would support corporal punishment if the evidence showed that it "worked." So I'm afraid that until we start talking about values, we're just going to be talking past one another.

..How can I comment?