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Relevance April 17, 2006

Posted by Michael McVey in Online Tools.
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aera   At this time of year, graduating doctoral students inundate me with requests for assistance with their dissertations. They need help with paginations, tables of contents, graphs, and endnotes. I am always happy to help and share a little expertise in the production of dissertations but so much of the issues they were facing they could rectify with a simple collection of commands in their word processor. This raises the question, should making it into the academe be so easy?

A few years back I attended a civilized wine and cheese party with a score of educational leaders, all of whom had written dissertations in the 1970s or early 1980s. They regaled me with stories about having to type their papers using carbon paper onto onionskin paper. They needed to make five copies and there could not be a single mistake on the page. Liquid correction fluid, invented and marketed by Bette Nesmith Graham (1922-1980), had been around since 1956 but more broadly by the mid 1960s, but university administrators admonished scholars for using it. The copies sent to the binders, of course, had to be completely free of errors.

Now dissertations need to be just as correct but the process is not as time consuming or difficult. That said, I have read a share of dissertations and caught grammatical and spelling errors in almost all of them. However, students today can hire people to check the layout of the dissertation, the spelling and grammar for academic consistency, and some even hire statisticians to ensure that their ANOVAs, two-tailed t-tests, and Chi-squares are correctly prepared.

I can just hear the scholars of old complaining that they had to push their dissertations uphill both ways back in the olden days. So, are those of us entering the academe finding the challenge any easier? The answer seems to be yes and no. They may be able to formulate dissertations with ease, but they still have to come up with a valid research question, do the requisite background literature review, gather data, analyze the data, and draw conclusions. They also have an even greater challenge.

After listening to the American Educational Research Association (AERA) President’s speech at the last convention (video) it appears scholars today must face the broader issue of relevancy. President Gloria J. Ladson-Billings quoted Kenneth B. Clark and reminded us that scholars today must help train educators “to understand, to cope with, or to change the normal chaos of ghetto communities. These are grave lacks which must be remedied soon if these disciplines are to become relevant to the stability and survival of our society.”

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