Science should supplement passion

This month, CESAU have spoken with Niels Rosendal Jensen, coordinator of the research group Pedagogical sociology, education, and learning. He works at DPU as associate professor of pedagogical sociology, while also coordinating the MA programme in pedagogical sociology.

By Nina Damsgaard

Niels Rosendal Jensen is a busy man, and the same goes for remaining 11 researchers in the research group Pedagogical sociology, education, and learning. The workload and the broad geographical dissipation, since many of the researchers are based at DPU in Copenhagen and others in Aarhus, has meant a low level of activity in the research group. Niels reports that in spite of this, there is a high level of involvement with the group, which was taken into account all the way back to the initial negotiations concerning CESAU, and its important role in, among other things, developing policy.

What is the idea behind the research group?

Initially, the area of pedagogical sociology was already involved when we formed the idea of CESAU. Here at DPU, we had a large portion of staff within this areas, and we were very interested in strengthening sociology at Aarhus University during the fusion process. We were able to contribute where it came to learning, education, and child formation. så byde ind med læring, uddannelse og opdragelse.

Could you give an example of a current theme of research which might pertain to your group?

Well, there are lots of different ones. Quite recently, there’s the discussion concerning the distribution of high school grades. We have some researchers from “Centre of Youth Studies” who can offer interesting input concerning the extent to which grades are tied to home location, parents’ education and such. These are thought-provoking problematics which these people have followed over a longer period of time, involving various elements. This could be one topic. Another might be the state schools, where various interests are at play. People have been very attentive to this wave of legislative suggestions from a parliament whose intentions may at times be good, but who lack the professional knowledge of what is actually going on. A lot of initiatives are taken, some in continuation of PISA. And so now one is faced with the challenge of assessing what actually came of all this. So one can follow this wave of reforms and see whether it led to what one had imagined. Or whether it has had completely different, unintended, consequences. Furthermore, some are concerned with subordinate elements of all this, such as for instance children of non-Danish ethnic origin and their position in schools, or the entire paradigm of inclusion.

Why is it important to have a research group concerned with pedagogical sociology, education and learning?

Education and child formation are massively present in the Danish public sphere. Most of the time, the angle is critical, asking which institutions or persons are the problem. This immense presence makes it important to add some science to all the passion. There must be some academically founded knowledge upon which to base discussion. It is, after all, a scientific area. Some of the arguments in parliament are based on what the members of parliament experienced during their school years. And one could ask whether this is a valid basis for conducting modern educational politics. It probably isn’t sufficient, and so one of the tasks here is to create a more enlightened or informed basis on which to make decisions. This is the function tied to working with this type of research: Among other things, it is intended to have political impact. No matter what surfaces in the media concerning education, pedagogy, and learning, it explodes in a matter of seconds. For instance, take the current debate about nurseries. It quickly becomes a discussion of very little nuance, precisely because so much is at stake, emotionally speaking, when it comes to education, child formation, and processes of learning, and all the psychodynamics behind. This is why it’s important that one have something more factual by which to navigate, rather than just being driven by our passions.

There hasn’t been too much activity in the research group?

No, that has been a bit scarce. I think one of the problems is that people have too much on their hands here. There is a lot of requisitioning work here at DPU, and lots of deliveries. This means that we have less time for looking at all sorts of other things. Opportunities for getting involved in things, as far as researchers are concerned, are limited. We have had some well-attended events, but it’s been hard to gain any continuity.

If one wanted to join the research group, what should one expect?

Well, there has been some general discussion as to which themes would be interesting for the research group to attend to. This turns out to be very difficult, because we have so many different interests and research areas. One could almost form subgroups within the research group. The topics either have to be slightly generalized in order to fit in everywhere. Otherwise, one must think in terms of people attending event that might be interesting to them. But not necessarily for everybody else. We have alternated between having meetings concerning more general topics and themes. But it has been difficult to plan ahead due to full schedules. We have also had meetings where one researcher has given a presentation intended to spark debate. So one might say that the research group becomes more of an organizer than anything else.

What sort of research are you doing as of now?

I just concluded an analysis of didactic practice at Rudolf Steiner schools, a project on request. We were to look at what they do and how it works. We looked at the teachers’ motivations, the opinions of 10.12.-graders concerning the benefits they reap, and we’ve also followed former pupils’ subsequent path through the educational system. I’m also working on something else that’s almost finished. It’s an overall report on gathering knowledge concerning disabled adults. Also a consulting project.