Monday, May 6, 2013

The Ethics of Research

The idea of hiding in a fake bush, not detected by the middle school, virtually invisible, would be alluring to most young children but for our Kindergartners there were many mixed feelings about the prospect. 

Our children are Book Buddies with the eighth grade and hold them in the highest esteem. One of the students has an older brother and sister in the middle school. These relationships muddied the water and made the business of spying feel unexpectedly bittersweet.

R: I lied half and I did not lie. My sister already asked me what that was (the fake bush) and it was a kind of test. I felt like I needed to lie because we are keeping it a secret away from the middle school.

N: It actually is a lie. I remember when we were in the garden(preparing to observe the middle school in the fake bush) we had to say that we were playing in the garden but when we said that we were playing you were making us tell a lie.

D: We need to tell a lie  or else they would know that it was a fake bush.

N: I remember Mary Baxter said that she was just hanging out with the bushes. It is still a lie because she is hanging out with one of the bushes that is a fake bush.

A: If she didn’t say that it would not work and we would not be able to spy.

Ell: It feels uncomfortable.

N: I have some friends like Tom and Hunter in the middle school. I am ok with hiding but not lying.

We took these concerns to the class. Many of the children said that they were feeling the same way. They wanted to know what to say if they were asked about the bush and what they were doing in the bush. They did not want to lie.

L: We can’t spoil it, too.

A: If someone asks us about the signs we could say “I sort of do and I sort of don’t”.

E: We could say, “I don’t think I know much about the signs”.

The class felt this was still a lie because we do know about the signs.

T: I know stuff about the signs but I don’t know who made them.

L:  We sort of don’t know about those signs. Maybe the first grade did them?

Both of these replies were still lies. We were getting worried. We really wanted to observe people looking at our signs but our stomachs were hurting thinking about lying to our friends.

E: What would not be a lie would be to say yes I made them but that is not what we want to do.

TK:  I know those signs and we made them.

This was not a lie but it would also defeat the intention of our experiment. The middle school would realize that we were observing them.

M raised her hand and not only gave us a solution but also a much needed giggle (this was a very serious discussion).   

If we were asked by a middle schooler if we knew anything about a fake bush around the math cottage we could say:

“Well I can’t answer that question right now because I have to go to the bathroom”.

The children's laughter and nodding confirmed that this was a response that was not a lie, maintained the confidentiality of the experiemnt and was friendly.   

Later Mary and I were sharing this experience with our faculty. Dan Daglish, our Science Lead teacher, said that it reminded him of the research dilemma in science regarding withholding information. The Kindergarten, at the tender age of five and six, had stumbled on the tension that exists between scientific research and ethics.  

1 comment:

  1. I recently visited the school as I'm looking for a kindergarten program for my daughter and I remember and Maggie was sharing with me about the signs, the observation and the "bush". Tonight as I still try and make a decision on where my child will go decided to read the blog that Maggie had shared with me earlier in my request for information and I just want to say that this bush update made my night. I just love how this school encourages kids to problem solve, explore and create learnings. This is the place that I really want to be and fingers, toes, eyes and nose crossed this will work out in our favor.

    Thanks for sharing!