Professing in the real world

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Education professor Sam Wineburg has a provocative essay in the Chronicle of Higher Education espousing a public impact agenda: “Choosing Real-World Impact Over Impact Factor”. He describes his increasing work getting curricular materials out to teachers free over the internet, and reflects on how little impact his research has actually had on the real world.

Dont get me wrong. I have not given up on verified knowledge, scientific replication, peer review, and rigorous statistical tests. I still publish in specialized journals and help my graduate students do so. I serve on two editorial boards, attend academic conferences, and dutifully fill out the ballot for the officers of my professional association. Whats changed is that Ive stopped lying to myself.
I no longer believe that the scholarly enterprise of education has much to do with educational betterment.

I think the word “impact” is a good touchstone for Wineburg’s essay. Another could be “value”. A program that has real-world impact is valuable to any university, but perversely not nearly so valuable to academic colleagues who decide promotions, tenure, and who review grants and publications.