Saturday, April 18, 2015

DISSENT! Contra anti-intellectualism

Kool-aid drinkers are often unaware of their complete and utter
pitcheresque Kool-aiditude. They become nasty enforcers of the sugary way.
     Sometimes, a student will ask me, “What’s the information we’ll have to know for the exam?”
     I really hate that word, “information.” It’s a small word for small things.
     The word has its place, I suppose. Perhaps you need a phone number. You call "information." Yeah.
     What students learn in a college classroom is not information. To have some notion of the fate of, say, teleology in Western history is anything but “info”! Neither is a grasp of the relevance of Locke’s liberal political ideas to, say, contemporary American politics. Information is small and ridiculous, but these things are rich and sprawling, like sagas and symphonies.
     But there are those who would reduce education to information bits and bytes.

The inevitable forces of anti-intellectualism
Phyllis Schlafly
     The enemies of reason have a way of destroying the good slowly—incrementally and by degrees. Thus it is with education in America. It is endlessly under assault by the forces of anti-intellectualism: all those under-educated educationists, with their useless Ed.D. degrees, who have no conception of logic or evidence; and the business crowd with their notions of widgets and customers; —and the political crowd, especially on the right, who, unlike the others, actually wear their contempt for knowledge and learning on their sleeves.*
     I was trained as a philosopher, and, in any case, I tend to distrust how things strike us at the moment, for we tend to be blind to big and "obvious" problems. It’s amazing how we do that, over and over. Though few seem willing to say it aloud, it is big and obvious that the kind of lousy thinking that has long characterized K-12 reform has invaded higher education. For California's community college instructors, the chief episode of insurgency took the form of new accreditation standards, adopted in 2002, that assume that all educational goals (including what students learn in a particular course) can be captured in “measurable student learning outcomes” (SLOs).
     They can’t.
     At any rate, when the “outcomes” approach (to reviewing and improving education) was adopted by the ACCJC, the new standards were imposed sans evidential backing for the superiority of that approach. The State Academic Senate requested that such evidence be provided. The ACCJC provided nothing, since there was nothing to provide.
     And so, naturally, the “reform” went forward anyway. We’ve been banging our heads against walls and creating dubious “SLOs” ever since. It’s been, and it continues to be, a colossal waste of time and money. Imagine what we could be doing instead?
     I’m sick of it.

One more time
     I’ve been told that, by now, the appropriate studies have been conducted: meta-analytical investigations of comparisons between the “outcomes” approaches and more traditional approaches. And, unsurprisingly, the news is bad for the Kool-aid saturated “outcomes” crowd (not that they'll notice or care). So, once again, a shiny new idea has fogged our minds and busied the world and produced a spirit-sucking fiasco. And, hey, the fiasco continues!
     Here we stand: the strong case against the “outcomes” approach is even better today than in 2002, when the ACCJC rammed “outcomes” down everybody’s throats, amid howls of protest and demands for justification, ignored.
The ACCJC's Babs Beno
     Recently, I instigated and then helped write** a proposed resolution about all this, presented at the recent State Senate Plenary in San Francisco. Essentially, it demanded that the ACCJC provide evidence that its “outcomes” approach is superior to alternatives. Again, the State Senate had essentially done that back in 2002, in a series of resolutions.
     Despite early indications of support for the resolution, it was eventually voted down.
     I’m told that the resolution’s defeat may reflect, not rejection of the basic idea, but of details it contained, including its account of the state of the evidence re the efficacy of the “outcomes” approach. And so IVC’s Academic Senate is proceeding to compose a revised resolution.
     I’m glad. But even if we manage to get the new resolution adopted at the State Senate, it is unlikely that the move will do better this time than it did a dozen years ago. (Who knows.)
     But we’ve got to do something. Maybe we can generate interest in setting things aright.

Better to go along with OBE folly?
     Or no? At such times, there are those who will argue that dissent is pointless, that it is better simply to make the best of a bad situation. Despite the utter wrongheadedness and inefficiency of busying ourselves with the composition of endless silly SLOs, we need to find a way to make the goshdarn effort useful somehow.
     That’s not for me. I can’t help but think about the big picture. I don’t want to look back at this time, twenty years from now, and know that, when the enemies of reason showed up, we laid down our arms, saluted Babs Beno, and joined the march to mediocrity and ruin.

*At first, far right critics of education embraced Outcomes Based Education—probably because they liked the idea of demanding "outcomes." But then they got the notion that it was a cover for all sorts of dastardly worldly and New Age instruction. So they became its enemy.

**Well, I hastily wrote something, which was quickly and faithfully adapted by Senate officers to the resolution format. I take responsibility for any deficits of the resulting verbiage.

Widget production efficiency experts

Interesting articles about the ACCJC’s President, Babs Beno:

• ACCJC prez admits City College got unfair treatment (48 Hills, OCTOBER 28, 2014)

• The elusive Barbara Beno: The story of the person who is behind the move to shut down City College (48 Hills, DECEMBER 18, 2014)

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