Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Thoughts on education today: Potential

'Potential' ... Love and hate that word. Human potential is the great hope of mankind. And yet, who knows what a student's potential is? I don't, even after 30 years experience in the classroom. Can a student do better? Maybe. According to the latest conventional wisdom the high school adolescent brain can only do so much at this point in their development in any case. Boys, for example, lack judgment and empathy in their teen years and, some say, this isn't fully developed until they reach their middle to late 20's. This makes it easier to put young men in uniform and ship them off to idealistic battle, oops, inner voice leaking out again.

Where do we begin to determine a student's 'potential'? Of course the teacher presiding over each level of the student's progress can give anecdotal advice, but this has been largely downplayed and discredited by the rationalists and this 'unreliable' subjective evaluation as wholly unacceptable. Empirical, dispassionate, evidence of a student's potential is the universal benchmark these days, that means number grades. Grades made up from quizzes, tests, graded class work, all euphemistically and unemotionally called 'assessment', will be collected and averaged to create the benchmark. We have been indoctrinated with this for many generations now and have come to expect, know and believe this as accurate in showing what a student has done with their 'potential'. However, this 'grade' does not indicate a student's further potential into the future.

Teachers intuitively know these grades to be inaccurate so massage them with weightings and other devious methods to give the student the best advantage possible. The issue is that averages are just that, average. And within the mathematically objective process of averaging, disappears the flashes of brilliance, the disasters, the good days and the bad, the motivations and the boredom, that all of us recognize exists as something we know as life. There exists the conflict of objectification of a subject; that is, taking a vague, undefinable, action or thought, sense or feeling and turning it into a quantity, affixing a value. Put a value on love; love a little is a 1, love a lot is a 5 and sort out the other values as you see fit, make it arbitrary rather than fluid. You can't average it otherwise.

So, what is it about 'assessment' then? Is it the almost arbitrary nature of objectifying subject matter, whether formative or summative, the student either gets it or not, or the over emphasis on a device that really does not measure much in regards to a students education and what goes on in their mind?

As well, collected marks, among different objectified subjects, averaged together to 'give' a student a benchmark of their averaged ability is completely inaccurate in determining what the 'potential' of a young individual human being may be for the future.  If anything demonstrates that student learning cannot be addressed via an empirical rationalist means it would be here. Indeed, any attempt to claim that a prediction to a student's potential is accurate and true is ludicrous when all known variables, let alone the unknowable, are taken into account. Yet, these averages and potentials are the stock in trade in any conversation regarding education.

All forms of assessment are isolated snapshots, orchestrated by the instructor, of a moment in time that becomes the past as soon as its done of a student's learning or ability as it progresses forward. I hope you see the problem here. If, presumably, one learns progressively, for regressively would be to unlearn and statically would be to halt, an assessment is always about the past, never about the future. After all one cannot test for what one does not know now but may in the future. We only assess for what one has done and to what level and is really no means of an accurate predictor of what may be learned or of interest in the future. So, then, assessment and its relative importance are to be regarded with high skepticism not blind faith.

Assessments are dependent on what the instructor wants to see in the answers to the questions, which is further framed by the overall expectations of knowledge, skills and attitudes (KSA's) within the prescribed curriculum as set out by government as representative of the needs of society, further framed again, by special interests, business and labour markets as well as post secondary requirements, that determine what the societal needs are for the community of their children in later life. This is social engineering for perhaps individualistic, democratic and capitalistic characteristics or as cheap, docile, obedient labour, or superior technical skills for the industrial and space races, or for patriotism, national identity and nationalism. Perhaps all of that is considered important in a societally stratified, powerful state.

In any case, test results are dependent on the emotional/rational moment in time of the student as many internal and external factors are at play at any given moment. Physiology, psychology, cause and effect, life, in other words all have an effect on a students ability to write a test at any given moment. As with the NASA training of chimps before going into space, over the years the students 'irrational' fears are trained out of them in order to deal with these rational tests.

No experienced teacher who has seen 10 years worth of students in their classroom puts too much stock in assessments for other than a rudimentary sample of a young persons knowledge and abilities and says nothing about what any one student may learn in the future. However, outside the experienced teacher's classroom, assessments are used to artificially stratify students in a class system hierarchy of ability, which will supposedly mirror their place in greater society and supposedly help them, and others, make choices to fit in to those places. 

Assessments are also used to ensure teachers follow the proscribed curriculum created by that greater society in order to ensure it's self perpetuation. In fact, assessments themselves have become the means of pointing to an outcome of a minimum standard of knowledge, skills and attitudes (KSA's) attainment by any student and it is this simple exposure to the KSA's themselves that is all a state requires to maintain and perpetuate itself for many generations at a time, it is the mysterious hidden curriculum spoken about in such hushed tones in the university education classes. And in any and every case these assessments are only an average outcome that says nothing about the real significance of statistical outliers and may in fact serve to keep them 'average' or outcast as anomalies.

 All in all it is a most unfortunate situation for all involved that normal learning development of youth cannot be allowed to naturally occur. 'Potential', then, would have a completely different connotation and a more positive one at that. But large society is not a 'state of nature', it is rather a construct of KSA's that a community commits to. To say that students should be able to head out and learn whatever they want, whenever they want, to finally do whatever they want is far too anarchic for those older members of government, business and labour of society who have finally reached a measure of power and control over their own lives and society. Government doesn't really want autonomous thinkers, neither does business or any other social organization of humanity. Visionary thinkers, yes, but not too visionary and not autonomous. Galileo's experience some 500 years ago remains a cautionary tale to this very day.

It would seem it is time for the levels of society to admit finally, and clearly for once that education, as it fits in today's society, is a process implemented upon our youth to socialize, stratify and emulate the existing society and to maintain and perpetuate it as purposefully as possible. It follows the naturalistic philosophy of classical liberalism that struggle and competition, as demonstrated by nature, makes one more able to achieve, than if allowed to develop solely by nurture in a safe, caring and sympathetic social environment. This argument is nearly 400 years old with no sign of resolution in sight.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

History doesn't repeat itself, but human nature does

Is it an accident or fate of history that seemingly momentous disasters in recent sport stories come from places that once were havens for Christian fundamentalists searching for freedom from oppression to practice their beliefs? There seems to be a parallel, or at least I see a parallel. For me it is oddly amusing to connect the dots. History doesn't repeat itself, but human nature does.

Re: The unwarranted mythology of Oscar Pistorius


How is this any different than the unwarranted mythology of (insert name of nation here)?

No question the author is fundamentally correct regarding true athletes specifically, not just wannabe's in general. But this applies to everything, including the author. Why write about it? Why take some pleasure from helping to demolish another? Is the author, by diminishing another, elevating his self? All of this begs the elemental questions about human nature. Is the highly competitive survival instinct of humanity, that is head to head physical competition, no longer acceptable to a self supporting society no longer listening to the 'state of nature' of a long ago past? Do we have to struggle any longer? Must we compete for mates for procreation? Must we strive for higher, faster, stronger? Must we compete for grades, schooling and work? Are we now becoming the ultimate Calvinist society, divesting itself of all base 'natural' instinct and its resulting self expression in favour of uniformity, obedience, hard work for possible salvation in the hereafter? And the fear that someone somewhere is happy? The here and now is so determined, constructed, safe (the only predator we fear is the psychotic human as shown by all our TV programs, ie 'The Following', and pop culture books ie The Hunger Games) that life IS boring and the contest between unbridled human 'nature' and the sedated modern world is becoming more and more protracted. We emphasize one over the other at various moments sometimes apart from one another, but sometimes confusingly overlapped.

As a critical, perhaps cynical from time to time, thinker, I can see some of the world as it is from a position of experience. I am not too concerned by that, but what must the inexperienced youth of today make of what they see. Their base natures being enticed by 'Axe' commercials and then the sedation of the 'rules' of a safe community and then the 'inoculation' of hard honest work, for money, as a means to all that is valuable in life.

Re: DutchNews.nl - Dutch cycling star Michael Boogerd admits doping up to 2007


Yah, and now it seems in those days if you didn't dope you weren't a real cyclist. And if now everybody says they doped, then it really was a level playing field as Armstrong said. There sure must have been a lot of blind eyes...sponsors, mechanics, directeurs, trainers, etc, etc. which means...Everybody benefitted from the money, from the lowest to the highest, even the public who lined the road.  After all the pro cycling organizations weren't murdering anyone, didn't cause societal unrest nor debauchery! After all, how many people willingly and knowingly risk and die on any job in the real world, say, in the oil drilling business, construction or transportation?

The only guys taking a big risk in cycling were the riders and their health; besides if you died on the job you would be mourned by many, could become a hero and have a marker placed beside the road. So, then...if everyone was doing it, most knew it was going on and most everyone benefitted, then why was/is it illegal?

So, in walks the American purest, a real Puritan of the American tradition of its early settlers, hard line moralist religious people, taking down Armstrong and the rest. The Inquisitors have largely done their work, thumbscrews and all. They have made once solid teammates and comrades become traitors to each other and appear as thieves and pirates to the public at large. If taken too far with all this, as Puritans are likely to do, we will get to the Salem witch trials and begin burning innocents and soon no-one will 'play' anymore as it is another thing that only reveals the excesses of human activity, a sin, something according to the Puritans condemned by God as impure. The seven deadly sins versus their corresponding virtues, the contest of which, for most of us, is too much to deal with and is, in the end, equally destructive in their strict adherence at either end of this spectrum. Author Walsh would do much for the sport of cycling if he were to 'study up' regarding real life, get down off his high 'bike' and see it all for what it is rather than from his own poor me victim position.

Efforts to be 'reasonable' have largely left the building leaving everyone everywhere left to ponder what to do as we now watch the lawyers sue and counter sue. It's only cycling, people! Leave the Puritans to clean up their own backyard, God knows there is plenty to do with, murder, mayhem and Las Vegas! So, get on your bike and ride!!

Re: Cycling Lobby Group Urge Armstrong To Make Full Confession


The fundamentalist religious undertones are quite evident - Armstrong's confession in order to begin the journey of salvation of his individual soul and to purify the community from a corrupt old church, the UCI, is the primary goal of the new puritan cycling community of competitors, sponsors and followers. The puritan church, USADA in this case, with its most puritanical leader are lost and confused with the attitude of a non-believer, a realist, like Armstrong. It is further fascinating to listen to the ongoing consternation of the puritan leadership of the USADA as it tries to legitimize itself as the grand, universal, arbiter of athletic souls through the epistles of its beliefs and its truth about sport above all others. Sanctimonious attitudes writ large. The puritan church has managed to achieve and receive contrition from the rollers who fell from grace, a rag tag group of 'born again' now evangelical riders and managers who now lead the charge and acceptance and obedience from the rest, all except one.

But what to do with the sacrilegious barbarian, the Viking Armstrong, who follows his own code of personal honour different from that of the collective as believed by the fundamentalist USADA hierarchy? An honour forged in competitive combat in the peloton, on the road, rather than from the comfort of the office chair where only idealized principles are discussed, and where nary a drop of sweat is noticed during these lofty incantations. The voices and sounds of disbelief, the begging and cajoling of the puritan leaders for Armstrong to come clean, to save himself, to cleanse his soul, is heard everywhere. But would it save himself? Armstrong is condemned either way, his victories not just taken away, but his participation erased from history itself. Or would Armstrong's 'confession' save and further legitimize the church, the USADA, thereby making their position canon in the world of sport. Is that what it's all really about? Must the USADA have every soul, every bended knee, every last corruption rooted out?

If the canon from the USADA were the last word on what is right and good in sport, even above the old church, the UCI, then, if they are so right and certain, why not leave the 'unbelievers' behind, to die in ignominy as it were, and move on? Why put all this effort in reclaiming the one soul of the recalcitrant and unrepentant Viking Armstrong? Is that one individual so central to the legitimate existence of all that he is to be hounded for his confession and conversion to USADA canon?

Though the puritans would wish to have any acknowledgment of Armstrong's existence expunged from memory, the best they can hope for is his dying confession screamed to the god of sport as the flames consume him, purifying his soul for the legitimacy of the god of sport and his representative on earth, USADA, and to cleanse the guilt of those who believed and followed him in error.

Older and more civilized regions of our world have a longer and more circumspect view, recognizing the fallibility of the human animal despite whatever it may think and believe. Reasonableness is paramount in the old world, having experienced with great pain the results of both rigid thought and action and no thought and inaction. Surviving the 'vicissitudes of outrageous fortune' is the real task at hand.