Relative Afternoons: part II

Discussion in 'Writing' started by JoRingo, Dec 12, 2003.

  1. JoRingo

    JoRingo Guest

    On Education (part II of Relative Afternoons)

    On the first day of class he told us that if we attended class he would give us the answer to a daily quiz and that it would be worth 10 points. Notice I didn’t say he would give us the question; he gave us the answer. Then he said that if we were to write down the wrong answer, he would change it to the right answer and give us the points anyway. About half the time he gave us the answers, we didn’t even know what the question was. The question didn’t matter at all. My wife said, “Well, he’s just using it for attendance.” She was assuming that each 10 points represented attendance in the class, but he took attendance too! It was just a way of racking up points for seemingly no reason at all!
    When he told us that all the questions on the tests would be covered in the class it sounded reasonable. Then he said more exactly that every answer would be provided by him in the class. I couldn’t have imagined that he was actually going to let us use those answers word for word, in order, during the test. When he started giving the answers for the test I was shocked. He said laissez-faire was the answer to number one on the test. I whispered, “Why are you giving us the answers?” He said, “Why not!?” I had nothing to say. I was speechless. The fact that he would ask “why not” told me that there was no reason for me to bother answering.
    He went on to explain one of the reasons for this method. He said that his reason for being there was not to make us “guess at what the test is going to look like”. So wouldn’t it make sense to give us the questions ahead of time and let us discover the answers? He simply avoided the middle man, our brains in this case, and gave us the answers right along with the questions. That way there’s no surprises, no guessing as to what we should study for, and really no reason to think at all during the “test”. He didn’t use the word learning at all. He used the term “creative understanding” to describe the goal he wished us, as students, to reach. I’m only guessing, but I believe that the difference is learning can be more objectively demonstrated whereas creative understanding has a more loose and subjective definition.
    At the beginning of the course I highlighted the material in the books and looked forward to the discussion of what I had read. For almost the entirety of the first text book he did ask questions, and the students had to read the material to answer them. As we started on the second book the material seemed less and less a part of his lecture, so I read much less of it. He even told the class that if we wanted to finish the last four chapters then we could, but it didn’t matter. So, I didn’t read another word. I had already read half of the third text before class ever started, but I never needed to pick it up again. I’m sure there will be questions about it on the final, but I’ve got a source for the answers.
    We got started on a conversation about education while discussing representative government and participatory democracy. He said that the problem with representative government is that no person can truly represent another, and he suggested that a participatory democracy would be better. I said I would completely agree with him if every person were equally educated about the things they would be voting on. Now, up until this point we had an intelligent discussion and we had reached a level of agreement. I didn’t expect what came next. He came back with the indefensible notion that everyone is equally educated. He added that he’s neither smarter nor more educated than anyone else; and no one more than he. I had to wonder then if it was really worth my time, effort and money to pay him to teach me. The truth was I never wanted to miss a day.
    When I made the statement that I’m more educated than my father was he told me I was limiting the definition of education. Actually, I felt he was attempting to expand the definition. So I suggested maybe the word we were looking for was intelligence. That’s when he claimed that there was no such thing as intelligence. He went on to say that “a three year old is sovereign and just as intelligent, or knowledgeable, as I am”. For a while after he said that I lost interest in arguing with him in much the same way I would have lost interest in arguing with a three year old.
    His ideas on education led him to say “The SAT is a manipulation of symbols, that’s all it is.” I said, “But those symbols mean things”; meaning that they are language used to pass on knowledge. They aren’t just arbitrary symbols. He patiently explained that the SAT is simply “understanding symbols within a cultural context.” He said that the SAT does not measure any kind of intelligence that is “absolute” and “cross cultural in nature”. I argued that just because something has no relevance in every culture does not mean it lacks relevance in any culture.
    He then asked the class a strange and irrelevant question. He asked what a person with a triple PhD in history, political science, and economics would score on the SAT. I answered, “Between 1000 and 1600.” He said, “What if I told you that they didn’t speak any English?” The obvious answer is that they would take an equivalent test in their native language? What was the point in that question? Sure, the SAT has relevance for American students that it would not have for foreign students, but how would that invalidate its usefulness? It doesn’t.
    He went as far as to say that the SAT was a fraud because of the notion that “the test scores measure anything of significance and importance” and that it merely “measures your ability to take that test”. Well, since he provides all of the answers to his “tests”, he must then believe that there is something of “significance and importance” about his student’s ability to read their own hand writing and copy it over to a separate sheet of paper. That is the absolute extent of his tests. Fortunately, it is not the extent of the learning for the student, but it is the extent of his measurement of their knowledge.
    He had to admit as he looked across his classroom that he had no idea who the best student was. I said, “That’s because you don’t test. You have no means of finding out who knows the material and who doesn’t.” His answer was that each student is “equally privileged in the universe”. That sounds nice, but it’s irrelevant to the topic. I suppose we should all reach an infinite level of accomplishment by virtue of our birth, and with no regard for our efforts?
    It must be recognized again that despite teaching techniques the course material is always available for the students, and an education is there to be had. As in any classroom, it is up to the student to put forth the effort. I’m sure that if all professors viewed education like this, going to college could still provide a high level of education to those students who applied themselves. The question would then be; why would they bother to apply themselves if every other graduate would appear to have the same level of achievement. It’s vocational socialism. What would set apart those who achieved academic superiority? Ah, that’s just it. To Professor Triplett there’s no such thing as superiority in education, understanding, achievement, or anything else.
    He labels the SAT as a worthless fraud while at the same time he reports our grades to the school without knowing if they represent our level of understanding. For example, I have no idea who William James is. Professor Txxxxx read numerous quotes by James out loud to the class, but I didn’t really pay attention I guess. The reason I say this is to demonstrate the perpetration of said fraud. My test had seven or more questions about William James and I got every one of them right. It wasn’t because I knew the answers, but because he gave me the answers. If not for my telling him, he would have no way of knowing that.
    The most telling part of our discussion about the SAT came when I asked him if he thought it would be “better” if all those who took it were provided the answers and everyone received a score of 1600. He admitted, consistent with his own practices, that it would be better, and even went as far as to suggest that in the event that a student did manage to answer any one of the questions incorrectly that the monitor of the test would then provide further assistance to insure they got the right answers.
    This type of achievement without effort would never again be available to these students after their graduation, that’s for sure. The job market is always competitive and employers require, as they should, some evidence of the potential employee’s abilities. I asked the professor how, if not for a testing and grading system, he would propose keeping someone like me, with a very limited knowledge of world history, from teaching a world history course. He said that was a good question, and that we’d get to it.
    I waited for more than a week for my answer, but then one day he started off the class with the topic. He said, “To be a brain surgeon; I don’t think you need tests”. Maybe that’s theoretically true, but if you’re going to hire a brain surgeon you need some gauge of their abilities and knowledge. The professor suggested that the only thing one needed was passion. I asked him if he could choose a quality in a surgeon, would he choose passion, or knowledge. This seemed like a silly conversation, but he was actually telling us that people could be hired off the street, put through hands on training programs, and become surgeons without ever having a formal education with testing. I’ll admit that passion goes a long way toward pursuing a career, but in between the passion and the career is the education. I can’t believe I had to argue this point with a professor.
    In his continuing attempt to discredit student testing or formal education he pointed to the example of William Shakespeare’s great writing, and that he didn’t even attend college. He said that Shakespeare’s inspiration came from “laying in the grass”, looking at leaves by the bank of a river. I had to ask him if he would want to teach his class in a building designed by a man who was merely inspired by “laying in the grass”. He said, “No, but I’d want to read a play by him.” Did he understand my point? Again, just because you can find examples when a formal education and standardized testing were unnecessary, does not invalidate the worth of either one.
    I think this anti-logic can be infectious, but fortunately will continue to be limited to theoretical debate in the class room. It flies in the face of the human desire to achieve, excel, and be rewarded for their accomplishments. I’m sure that if our fine professor had his way we’d end up with a world of geniuses running construction equipment and idiots teaching our classes. Oh, I see… -JoRingo

Share This Page