Who involved in educational inquiry has not faced questions, usually from individuals in different areas of specialization, that seek justification of their work based on “importance,” “significance,” and “relevance” to practice? Studies seeking to advance knowledge primarily for the sake of knowledge often appear to be held in lower regard than those that claim to advance immediately practical and useful results, than those that purport to offer panaceas for specific matters or nostrums for special problems. Add to this situation the forward-looking nature of education, the preparation of young people for uncertain futures, and the result is that informal lists of factors used by many educators to determine “worthwhile research” expands to include not only the immediately practical and useful but also the contemporaneous and novel. This collection of asserted criteria for the assessment of the value of educational inquiry is lamentable for its shortsightedness.
An often tacit corollary of such emphasis on the newest—or, more appropriately in some cases, the most faddish—trends in education is ignorance of our educational past. All too often, this ignorance grows into a virulent disdain, equating past events and proposals with primitive, backward approaches to education from which more enlightened individuals of today have nothing to learn. Consider, for example, how many assignments in education courses carry a stipulation such as “using sources no more than five years old.”1
Consider, also, the relegation of educational “classics” to abbreviated notes in broad overview foundations courses during the undergraduate years or to a commonly unrequired educational history course at the graduate level. Frequently, the works and wonderments of our intellectual and practitioner predecessors are mentioned merely by name, followed by a one-sentence identification or a one-paragraph “overview.” Seldom do students read the original works. Consequently, most practicing educators and individuals conducting educational inquiry are woefully uninformed about the rich past of their shared field of interest. More appalling than this ignorance is the common failure to comprehend how knowledge of past educational practices and ideas can assist our understanding of today and improvement for the future.2