30 Pages

Ethnographic and Historical Method in the Study of Schooling

Most essays have an interesting origin, a beginning, which helps give meaning to the substance one wishes to present. Among several, one brief story comes to mind in regard to these thoughts on the relationship between historical and ethnographic research in the study of schooling; it comments on the Department of Education at Washington University where I work. Although most of us are quite individualistic we do talk, banter and play a variety of friendly one-upmanship games. Several years ago I had been trying to understand the concept of 'explanation' and began reading people like Scriven (1959), Dray (1957) and Gardiner (1959) on the nature of explanation in history. In the course of this I began to try to figure out how historians do their work. With my colleagues Arthur Wirth, Raymond Callahan and William Connor in mind, I came to the conclusion that historical method was just, nothing more than, 'participant observation with data fragments', a kind of less adequate ethnography. I don't recall their specific reactions, beyond benevolent, tolerant smiles, and I'm not sure that they believe I won that round. Cloaked in the jest, however, were two significant ideas. Essential similarities existed in the two approaches, that is, one is a form or instance of the other. Second, a major difference seemed to appear in the quality of the data that existed, that is, fragments. Malinowski's (1922) active ethnographic huntsman image seemed bounded. In a sense, my hope in this essay is to explore the hunches caught in that bit of attempted humor.