Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

Good Drones or Questioning Citizens?

Below is a column, posted online last week, by a blogger who calls himself “The Rude Pundit”. He commonly visits spicy nooks and crannies of the English language which I tend not to visit, myself. So while I would like to quote the piece verbatim here, it includes strong language that I generally avoid in this space, and in my personal and professional life. So I shall quote it after applying a gentle editing pen to it – at the risk of overly watering down what probably a more effective rant when it does include the F-bombs and such. I’m not sure whether I’d want my own stuff edited for content by someone else, so this may be presumptuous of me. Literary and artistic integrity is important. If you want to read the column in the Original Vernacular, and I recommend it (people who know me will be startled to discover that I can approve of the occasional appropriately-flung profanity), do wander over and scroll downward and find it and read it, as well as almost anything else he writes. His blog is basically a series of aggrieved rants that mostly feature a lot of common sense.

The Rude Pundit’s main thrust here is the subject of standardized testing at the college level. I’m a teacher who has experienced the exquisite joy of standardized testing in public secondary education. In Massachusetts, No Child Left Behind and our own state version of education reform has yielded MCAS, the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment something-or-other, in which our students get to kill three or four weeks of valuable educational time taking pencil-and-paper tests that will, by the 11th grade, serve as the sole arbiters of “…well? Can s/he graduate or not?” By extension, that will determine how well the schools are doing, which is to say, how well the teachers are doing, so the sword of Damocles hangs over everyone’s head – including (to an extent) administrators, whose jobs occasionally are on the line according to test results, and who pass that stress on to the teaching faculty. The MCAS subjects don’t include music, so at the moment I’m not directly in the crosshairs of the testing push – I have on occasion half-joked that if ever there’s a music MCAS, I’m going into insurance. (If there’s ever a music MCAS, let’s face it, I’ll know I’ve fallen into an alternate universe.)

Another subject of the Pundit’s ire is the array of assessment organizations that swoop in and regularly coerce school administration officials into providing Tasks for its faculty (in addition to, you know, teaching), which usually involve extra time spent on committees and department task forces. Those Tasks include rewriting or re-organizing or re-formatting or just plain re-copying their curriculum materials, and to create exciting new “goals”, and other items that often feel like busy-work. I’ve been mixed up in this process more than once in my teaching career. At those times, I have taken deep breaths, squared my shoulders, and half-convinced myself that it was worthwhile to codify my lesson plans, techniques and tactics. Next to no one, even the administrators who have pointed us toward these tasks, has ever looked to me like they really enjoyed using their time to accomplish these things. But someone, somewhere, out there in the shadowy world of education policymaking, has declared that it has been a Good Idea, so as to Prepare Our Students for the Twenty-First Century and get them Ready to be part of the Workforce.

(As a teacher of the fine arts, I’m usually a little disappointed that we’re not nearly so concerned about Preparing Our Students to have a clue about things like culture and other things that make humans more than just future Twenty-First Century Economic Engine Parts. If they don’t recognize the names Mark Twain, Louis Armstrong, or Mort Sahl, then we got ourselves a problem. But that’s a subject for another time, and another hijacked column.)

So here’s the column, which makes a number of suppositions about the genesis of these Assessments and Tasks that make a certain amount of sense to me [particularly the end of the absurdly long paragraph in the middle of the column]. Although I do post this with apologies to my friends who attended Ivy League schools … whom I know do not fall into the slightly whitewashed category into which the Rude Pundit sees fit to place them all [remember also, one of my favorite phrases, which I may have made up: “People Who Generalize Suck”] …

See what you think.

 

David Brooks Understands [Everything] About Colleges

The Rude Pundit doesn’t spend a lot of time writing about his profession because, frankly, he just doesn’t think a lot of what we do is very interesting to most everyone everywhere. But New York Times writer David Brooks decided to s*** where the Rude Pundit sleeps, and, between that and an enraging sliming in the Washington Post a couple of weeks ago [a column by a former university chancellor called ‘Do College Professors Work Hard Enough?’], a response is more than justified.

“Today, in his ‘column’ (if by ‘column,’ you mean, ‘the pathetic pleadings of an elitist prig begging to demonstrate his regular dude street cred’), Brooks cites a few studies and books that say that students simply aren’t learning very much in their college experience in the last couple of decades. You can tell where he’s coming from by this line: ‘At some point, parents are going to decide that $160,000 is too high a price if all you get is an empty credential and a fancy car-window sticker.’

“Let’s unpack that for just a moment: he’s obviously talking about rich students at elite institutions, where ‘parents’ can obviously afford $40,000 a year. Because that ain’t about kids who have to pile up student loans and get government assistance. And it ain’t about the vast majority of schools in the nation which cost far, far less. Oh, and one thing. Let’s not be naive. Of course, those parents are buying a fancy car-window sticker. And the schools know that. Grade inflation has been a far greater problem at Ivy League institutions than elsewhere. Why? Because Harvard and Columbia and Yale need to keep those cash teats good and ready for suckling.

“’One part of the solution is found in three little words,’ Brooks says, and if you know anything about a conservative approach to education, you know what he’s gonna say. ‘Value-added assessments. Colleges have to test more to find out how they’re doing.’ Yes, yes, yes, let’s test more because it’s done so very much to improve public schools in America.

“Let’s get this straight, David Brooks and every other stupid [person] on the right who wants to solve the ‘problem’ of college education (or any education) in America, and this comes from someone who has been at this job for over twenty [expletive deleted] years: You [screwed] it up. Back in the 1980s, you got [scared] when multiculturalism and ethnic/gender/queer/whatever studies began to take hold in academia. You published idiot books that said that what educators wanted to do about education was wrong and that people outside of academia should actually be involved in setting standards. And then you went further. Colleges, you decided, needed to be run like businesses, blaming colleges for the ever-rising tuition rates when, in reality, the problem was worthless tax cuts, going back to Sainted Reagan, that did [nothing] to help the economy but forced states to gut funding to universities, but, no, no, it really was that schools needed to be run efficiently, like businesses, and if a college is now a business, with the bottom line being the only line, and not a place where people get, you know, educated, then you have a [expletive deleted] responsibility to your customers, in this case, the students, to make them happy with the business where they are spending their money. The Rude Pundit’s own institution is now in the midst of ‘streamlining’ the general education requirements so that students can graduate more easily. It’s under the guise of ‘making transfer easier’ or some such [nonsense], but it’s really about getting the kids through to get more money. And let’s not even get into the evisceration of public education at the primary and secondary levels so that the students that are coming to college are starting at a point where freshman composition is now ‘How you write a sentence with proper grammar and punctuation because your high school teachers were forced to transform their classrooms into test prep labs so that the place where they work won’t be shut down.’ And let’s not get into the over-reliance on criminally overworked and underpaid adjunct faculty to teach the vast majority of college classes, people who often work at several institutions in order to cobble together a liveable wage. And let’s not even get into an economy that has transformed technologically and socially without any concomitant investment in those things that might actually allow people to be ready for the jobs that are out there. And let’s not get into the devaluing of a broad, liberal arts education that creates thinkers and doesn’t just train people to work. [Expletive deleted], what’s better to those in power? Good drones or questioning citizens?

“And you know who caused all these [expletive deleted] problems? The [people] who went to the $160,000 schools who figured out a way to scam and scare everyone into ‘value-added assessments’ as some kind of Holy Grail of education.

“Every couple of years, every department in the Rude Pundit’s college has to deal with some ‘assessment’ organization coming in and forcing them to justify everything they do. One of the last groups made the departments create rubrics of goals and lists of assessment tools to reach those goals. It was pencil-pushing, ego-soothing nonsense. It was overlaying a factory model onto the role of colleges. But you can be sure as [hell] that someone made money on the whole nonsensical exercise in futility.

“But, no, really, David Brooks, by all means, let’s waste another s***load of everyone’s time and money on more worthless testing. It’s far better than just letting professors do their [expletive deleted] jobs.”

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April 27, 2012 - Posted by | blogging, education, teachers | , , , , , , , ,

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