In March 2010, Varenne, in collaboration with Gus Andrews, Juliette de Wolfe, and Sarah Wessler, initiated a set of small exploratory research projects on targeted topics.

Preliminary reports

We are working with the educational aspects of autism, adolescent health, and the internet. We ask “how do people find out about these matters?” “how do they respond to the discovery of the social orders within which they get enmeshed?” “in what ways do the people with whom they interact transform their own activity?”. 

Autism, adolescent health, the internet, are instances of everyday experiences that are matters of great popular and political concerns with fundamental policy implications. Most importantly, these matters, in the details of their workings in the life of the people affected, are neither obvious matters one learns about by simple immersion, nor matters that schooling can quite teach.

Internal Review Board

For example, how to receive institutional support for an autistic child requires deliberate and sustained efforts by parents who must figure out something they never even knew had to be known. The same is true of most matters concerning what makes us sick, or healthy. As for the new technologies, they are evolving too fast for any program of guided teaching to be up-to-date with the result that “finding out” about, say, “3G enabled phones” and what they can do, is essentially a communal event at the interface between the press, advertisement by large corporations, and local peer or familial groups discussing the merits and costs of this or that device.

... in autism

The first project is conductedMs. Juliette de Wolfe. She will follow a family as they discover what is entailed when one of their children is diagnosed with autism. As we are discovering, autism is not a purely psychological event. It is also, for those involved (parents, teachers, administrators, regulators, researchers), a complex fact that is both inescapable and wide open to interpretation and transformation through joint activity. This is extremely deliberate work that is broadly educational at all times, from the most local of classroom levels to the broadest levels when experts revise the DSM-IV manual.  (test analysis)

... in adolescent health

Ms. Sarah Wessler conducts the second project. She wil explore the settings where Harlem teenagers build their health education. Much public health research has established what are the main health issues for this population, and there is some consensus among experts as to what should be taught. Less evident is what teenagers do know and, more importantly, what they discuss, with whom, and with what consequences. There is much evidence, for example, that what is taught in a sex education program does not necessarily mesh well with the sex education friends give each other, or what two potential partners might decide they must pay attention to.

... in the new technologies for sharing information

In the third project Ms. Gus Andrews would take her research in a new direction. In her recent dissertation (2010_, Ms. Andrews traces the complex communicational issues involved in the writing and reading of blogs. She raises fundamental questions about authority and control of textual expertise that are the bane of all professional educators, as well as prime evidence of human intelligence at work sorting out what might be happening, and discovering new ways to deal with it. She would now focus on the experiences people have had with search engines (including such questions as their history with the engines, their use of the engines for familial or communal purposes, etc.).

This project is funded by a grant from the Provost Investment Fund at Teachers College, Columbia University

The projects will be conducted over the summer 2010.