We hear a lot about data-driven or data-informed decisions. To some degree that language has gone underground and no longer enjoys the popularity it gained in the late 90s and early 2000s. But it still is a fundamental feature of neoliberalism's focus on the bottom line, on the need to find measurables that will facilitate the competition needed for innovation and entrepreneurship. We can safely say that dream hasn't panned out in education. In a kind of Baudrillardian irony, the intent to map the reality of education became a hyperreality of its own, engendering its own topography which we, the inhabitants of that landscape, now navigate.
Perhaps the want of value and meaning allowed this to happen without much questioning or resistance. As I've written before, education reform in this country has largely organized around what Tocqueville called “negative” doctrines—the peculiarly American solutions of ideological silence, negation, and effacement.
As Biesta has pointed out time and time again, we just can't evade the question of value and purpose. I don't think assembling a data team is wrong (in fact, I've done it myself more than once), it's just that we need to start turning the tide against data driving everything, data as our raison d'être. We can't hope that just because numbers are values, that they can stand in for value. For that, we'll need to look into our hearts and our humanity.
Having worked in a Catholic school, I can tell you that having a pre-existing system of values does not exempt us from this need to inquire into value and purpose. Perhaps that can frame discussions somewhat, but it can also atrophy our ability to engage in serious discussion around these questions. If God has created us in his image and likeness, he might like us to encounter something like the primordial chaos he faced at the foundation of the world. He might want us have an experience like speaking into that chaos and darkness, of saying how things will be in the albeit finite spheres in which we operate. Since he himself is a community of persons, he might want us to do that as community.
God gives us the opportunity to declare what is good. That's value. And we'll need that value if we are to bring meaning and purpose out of the disorder of data.