Reeves (1995) argues that colleges of education should replace human subjects review committees, with social responsibilty review committees. The goal of educational research should be primarily to make education better, and only secondarily to "discover" the first principles of learning. He cites Roger Ebel, past president of the American Educational Research Association "....the value of basic research in education is severely limited, and here is the reason. The process of education is not a natural phenomenon of the kind that has sometimes rewarded scientific investigation. It is not one of the givens in our universe. It is man-made, designed to serve our needs. It is not governed by any natural laws. It is not in need of research to find out how it works. It is in need of creative invention to make it work better." (In Farley, F. H. (1982). The future of educational research. Educational Researcher, 11(8), 11-19.) -S.H.
I am not convinced that we can "make education better" without discovering the principles of learning; therefore, I do not agree that basic research in education has limited value. To try to make education better without understanding the principles of learning is to take a hit or miss approach to education. Let's try this and see if it makes it better, if it does--good, if it doesn't-- we'll try something else. If it makes it better for some and not for others, we typically accept it as effective practice as long as it is effective for the majority. While the process of education may not be a natural process, the process of learning is a natural process and the purpose of education should be learning in its broadest sense. Here is a rather extreme example, but I think it makes my point. Some students with severe disabilities engage in self-injurious behavior (SIB) to the extent that they do physical damage to themselves. What works sometimes is to punish the SIB, when the punishment no longer works a more severe punishment sometimes works to suppress the SIB. A more humane way is to eliminate the function of the SIB. Sometimes the SIB functions to allow the student to escape a demanding educational task, to receive attention from the teacher, or to receive much needed stimulation. What works sometimes is to not allow the student to escape from the task when SIB occurs. What works other times is to not allow the student to receive attention when SIB occurs. What also works sometimes is to prevent any stimulation from SIB. The problem is that to rely on just what works is to possibly have to try many different things before finding what works and in the process of trying, do more harm than good. A more humane way is to first determine what causes the SIB--what function it serves. This is accomplished with functional analysis which we have available because of basic research. The learned behavior of SIB can be addressed scientifically. I believe we have much to discover about the natural phenomenon of learning (facts, social skills, thinking skills, problem-solving skills, etc) and to abandon basic research in education would be a terribly mistake.