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I’d like to start out here by saying that I was never not talking to any of you.  I was just not talking.

But, some notes on the discussion thus far:

1) In terms of fundamental differences in intellectual ability by race, what may or may not be observable at, say, MIT or Caltech, is largely irrelevant in the places I teach.

In fact, one of the constant frustrations of teaching remedial students in classes like mine is the fact that minority students are quite often significantly brighter than the white students who outperform them.

The achievement gap is not being caused, on this level, by any innate differences in intellectual ability.

It is being caused by the fact that, when students are not taught thinks like standard English usage and a wide range of general knowledge at school, then those students whose families and who pass it on will automatically do better than those students whose families do not have the same background and resources.

That’s why that principle–I wish I could find the reference, but at the moment I’m coming up blank–at a high school offering AP classes tried to lay down a rule that students could not bring AP work home, or ask their parents about their assignments.   After all, some students might have parents better able to help than others, and resources in the home (like computer access and encyclopedias) not available to others–and that wasn’t “fair.”

2) One of the things that is exacerbating all of this is our increasing reliance on a single conduit to employment and opportunity.

No matter who you are or what you want to do, the assumption is that you are “qualified” for the job only if you have the right academic paper, and that somebody with such academic paper is automatically “better qualified” than somebody without.

My brother got his first ever job–at fifteen, as a mechanic–from a guy who had watched him work on cars since he was ten.  He was still in high school and had no formal training in automechanics–and he never would.  He was, however, a near genius with automobiles.

Today, the chances are good that that man would not be able to give my brother that job, and especially not be able to give it to him if there were competing applicants with less talent but more academic credentials.

The employer would have to prove that he was not discriminating in any way when he hired my brother over a “more qualified” somebody else with academic credentials.  “I’ve watched this kid for three years and he’s the God of getting clunkers back on the road” isn’t going to cut it if the EEOC or a lawsuit comes calling.

And yet the simple reality is that there is nothing about being an auto mechanic that requires an academic degree, or even an academic credential.  And that’s true of a lot of other things.

Every year, kids with athletic talent that rivals anything you see in the pros are condemned to lives on the streets make the grades to get into a college–why, for heaven’s sake?  Does it really require academic training to play football?  Or basketball?  Or hockey?

And yes, I know that most pro ball players have short careers and end up broke–but isn’t it at least arguable that that it is preferable to give them the shot and see what they make of it than just telling them, no, you can’t do history papers, you just have to rot?

Credentials do sometimes–and in some fields–indicate that you know something, but far too often they represent nothing but certification that this kid could sit still and follow directions while being bored out of his skull for two to four years.

A lot of times these days, it doesn’t even mean that.  I reference Judy and grade inflation.

3) I’ll stick to “the Feds are going ballistic.”   They’re just not going ballistic over the things Robert wants them to go ballistic over, and they’re the wrong Feds to be concerned with those things.

A lot of this will make more sense if you look at what the Department of Education Bureaucrats actually want, which is not educated Americans but Congress off their backs.

Congresspeople are looking at skyrocketing costs for all those college students, at federally guaranteed student loans with default rates in free fall, and with constituents and supporters who want to know what we’re going to do about all this money.

They then light on a fact that is true enough, but doesn’t mean what they think it means.

Students who complete their college educations are more likely to repay their student loans than students who do not.

Obviously, they think, the answer is to make sure more students complete their educations.

They begin demanding that more students complete their college educations.  The Department of Education hands down regulations requiring colleges and universities show that they are really trying, very hard, to keep kids in school until they graduate.

This results in knew bureaucratic departments of things called “the office for student success” and “the learning center” and whatever.  These chiefly monitor student progress, haul students in for pep talks or required tutoring sessions, and all the other things that are largely beside the point.

Student retention rates do not rise much, because the efforts being made are irrelevant to the  problems causing the low retention rates.

A few years go by and Congress is yet again made aware that retention rates are really low and that the debt is getting even bigger and tuition rates are rising into the stratosphere (you’ve got to pay for all those extra administrators somehow) and that students who don’t graduate are more likely to default on their loans than students who do.

So Congress starts leaning on the Department of Education, and the Department of Education begins leaning on the colleges and universities and also on the states, which of course run large public university systems.

The states and the universities then turn around and say–you’d damned well retain more students, or the Feds are going to take their money away.

This is, in fact, everybody in the system going ballistic.  They’re just not going ballistic about educating students.

Their problem, as they see it, is not that students aren’t being educated.  They don’t care a damn whether students are being educated or not.

Their problem, as they see it, is that their access to Federal money will be reduced or eliminated if they don’t produce a specific result:  more students graduating.

Since we live in a world where we simply assume that if a credential is conferred it means that the student upon whom it is conferred has a certain set of knowledge and skills, forcing the kids through by grade inflation or the complete collapse of standards is just fine. 

Of course, a few years down the line we will reach a point where the lack of skills and knowledge can no longer be ignored,

But, hey.  That’s a few years down the line.

Remember:  the first job of any bureaucracy is to keep the institution functioning, even if that means harming or completely destroying the purpose for which the institution was founded.

4) The bottom line is that students are not being educated because nobody is trying to educate them, except a few of the teachers on the ground who are attempting to do the impossible.

The system is a gigantic scam to transfer wealth from largely poorer students to largely more wealthy administrators, and that is true of all parts of the system: publicly funded, nonprofit and for profit. 

The flap about how awful the for-profit universities are and how they produce too many students with “worthless degrees” is a smokescreen.

Students are graduating with degrees just as worthless from every state college system in the country.

5) Professionals are still professionals when they are required to show that their work does what they say it does.  But professionals are NOT professionals when somebody else controls the hours they work or the organization of the content of what they do.

Public school teachers are not professionals because their hours of employment are set by others, their teaching is often controlled by lesson plans and other dictats set down by others, etc.

On this level, college teaching is also rapidly losing its status as a profession.

Written by janeh

December 10th, 2012 at 9:45 am

Posted in Uncategorized

5 Responses to 'Artificial'

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  1. OK, I stand partly corrected. The Powers that Be are interested in the repayment of student loans rather than borderline illiterate unsuitable for any work graduates. But I still say that when they actually go ballistic, high-ranking people will be dismissed and new techniques tried. This doesn’t look as though they’re even very upset.

    The “single conduit” thing is inevitable from the start of “equal opportunity.” Tell employers that hiring and promotion has to be by “objective” standards because of their own bigotry. Then make sure the cabinet and sub-cabinet people implementing this have high degrees from prestige schools, and tell me how you can NOT end up with a system in which the job goes to the candidate with the nicest piece of paper. (Generals CEOs and Presidents also think our current promotion system is working well. They always will. It produced them, didn’t it?)

    I’d agree that you don’t micromanage professionals. But you also don’t pay them for credentials and seniority rather than individual performance. That ship probably sailed for K-12 when the teachers unionized, and college teaching could easily go the same way. The proof of a professional is the quality of the individual work. But when I hear the academics complain, it’s seldom over teaching methods and very frequently over the gall of the commoners who no longer take their word for the results. And, of course the complaints about instructors who know their area of expertise well but don’t have PhDs are ongoing. If college professors don’t want to be treated like line workers, they should probably stop sounding like the UAW.

    But back to the main point. The first step is to decide what students are to learn. The second is to find a way of checking whether they’ve learned it. We can argue about Step Three, but regardless we’re not going anywhere until we get Steps One and Two right.

    Set a standard for literacy and numeracy for each grade. Find out who’s not achieving it. THEN go ballistic. (But it’s so much easier to lower the standard.)


    10 Dec 12 at 12:58 pm

  2. You’ll get into trouble as soon as you decide what materials to teach literacy with – that’s what determines the cultural facts and ideas that we’d have to agree on for such as system to work.

    The reason there wasn’t a public school system, in the US (and rest of Canada) sense in my home province until very very recently was because back in the 1800s a proposal to have public schools for all children foundered on the Protestant’s insistance that their version of the Bible should be used, and the Roman Catholic insistance on theirs. Even as late, well, OK, relatively late, as my childhood, the Catholics used different textbooks than the Protestants.

    You need some way to manufacture a consensus on the importance of learning skills and world views as well as (or even before) you start emphasizing the importance of self-expression over correct (or even understandable) prose.

    I don’t see it happening any time soon.


    10 Dec 12 at 2:20 pm

  3. Yet another NY Times op-ed. Is it another aspect of the problem?



    10 Dec 12 at 2:56 pm

  4. Mique

    11 Dec 12 at 4:08 pm

  5. Mique, demand a recount. California alone should have lowered us enough to have pushed you out of last place, and it’s NOT alone. I am assured by a New Mexican that the motto of the New Mexico Department of Education is “Thank Heaven for Alabama” and either one of them looks good next to the District of Columbia.


    11 Dec 12 at 7:15 pm

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