In Defense of the Curator

In the not too distant past, on Edutwitter, there was a discussion of ResearchEd.  Of course, like all things education, there were supporters and detractors.  One particular thread centered on the topic of researchers versus curators in the world of education.  In my best estimation, researchers were defined as those actually conducting the studies…pretty straight forward.  The curator was seen as those who either compile research findings or read journal articles, perhaps infer their intent, and relate the findings to their philosophy or classroom.  

I was taken aback by the negative connotation associated with the curator.  Several comments were made essentially likening them to being a thief of knowledge.  In a sense, it was as if the curator was someone who took another’s hard-work and used it simply for the profit.  Several comments in the thread made associations to them being lazy or even unfit for the information they were compiling or passing on to others.  

Now, I take particular offense to these comments because I see myself as a curator of research in education.  In particular, I use research in the field of cognitive psychology and learning strategies.  I read what others have done, when there’s not a disconnect, and attempt to relate it to my high school classroom to improve the learning environment.  Am I shouldering the heavy load of looking for and applying for grants to conduct the research?  No.  Am I working with participants in a study that can take years? No.  Am I compiling the data?  No.  Am I writing and applying for approval in a reputable journal?  No.

In the machine that is education research, I don’t see the curator as the most important cog, but an increasingly necessary one.  To me, the curator is the middle-man between research and the real world application of research.  What good would the best study be if it were never applied to real life, or in this case, the classroom?  I mean, no one discredits the museum curator because they were not the artist.  I don’t see talk of belittling the librarian because they did not write the novel.  Why have a go at the curator of knowledge; particularly when its application affects us all, now and in the future?  

Let me put it a different way — Imagine you’ve just returned from IKEA with the ultimate TV-storage combination that will perfectly tie together your living room’s motif.  This one is particularly fancy.  One problem…you’ve got to put the monstrosity together now…and you’re not especially astute at these sorts of jobs.  Right now, you’ve got a lot of pieces that; when understood, assembled correctly, and applied to your design aesthetic, will improve your dwelling.  But the assembly of the numerous parts, coupled with the confusing instructions and pinched fingers, is enough to drive most away from such a task.  Now, imagine a person showing up to take that burden away from you…someone who will assemble your TV-storage combo for you, allowing you to sit back and decide where you will put the furniture and exactly how you will maximize its usefulness.  Sounds pretty nice, eh?

The curator is that person.  The curator takes the sometimes confusing rhetoric of journal articles and assembles the information in an easier to understand package for your consumption and application.  Without the curator, you may be left to enjoy others’ IKEA pieces (most institutional professional development) or with no furniture at all (no development…stagnation).  While the curator didn’t physically chop down the tree for the furniture or conduct the research, their worth is certainly palpable in the process.  So, before you denigrate the curator, consider their place in the process or be left to piece together your own IKEA furniture.

One more thing…why did you buy the extended warranty?  Everyone knows it’s a ripoff and you’ll want/need a new piece soon…I mean, people’s taste change from semester to semester.

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