Belmont High student Gaspar Marcos, center, takes in a history lesson despite little sleep. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)
Diamond Bar High School

Opinion: High school research projects are not effective

High school students are notorious for struggling to think analytically. Teachers try to address this pervasive dilemma in their humanities classes especially; students are frequently assigned research papers and are told to find some reputable sources, work those sources into an argument and convey that message in a formulaic manner.

But does this work?

Let’s start from the beginning — many teachers often assign stances as well as topics. One would be writing on, say, gun control and only working on the pro or con side. Already, students are narrow-minded and do not tolerate any dissident opinions.

Students are to include and refute a counterargument, of course, but what help does that do? We’re taught to squash the counterargument completely in a majestic rendition of the straw-man fallacy.

In conducting proper research, we show our multiple reasonable hypotheses and we test them empirically. In high schools, a quick Google search of press releases, blogs and quasi-legitimate articles suffice.

We also learn to cherry-pick supporting evidence and foster observation bias in the hopes of achieving not only a perfect score but the praise of our struggling peers and the smile of our teachers.

If research papers were considered only for the literary value, sure, students might excel in their writing and how they weave “arguments” and commentary. But they’re not. These are mental exercises, meant to teach rationality and holistic consideration.

We’re doing something wrong here. Let’s fix it.

Teach kids to do their research the right way, without presuppositions or stances. High schools aren’t doing research, they’re creating propaganda.

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