From Short-Circuit Signs:

[I]t is hard not to notice how often standardized tests come up as examples of good, or at least acceptable, assessment – ironic because faculty are exhorted to take this stuff seriously on the grounds that doing otherwise will mean federally mandated testing. Sounds like a Foucauldian nightmare/farce, right? It gets worse when the discussion turns to standardization of curriculum to make the testing possible.

What often seems lost in this discussion is a recognition that college and university faculty aren’t professional teachers. We’re professional scientists, writers, artists, etc. etc. who teach. This remains true even at institutions like mine where undergraduate education is the primary purpose. We’re supposed to contribute to the development of knowledge, not just recite received works. Standardization runs counter to that larger process of knowledge production, stifles it even.

Read the whole thing.


13 thoughts on “Precisely

  1. I think scholars should be willing to get basic teaching skills before they face classrooms. A lot of the unhappiness with teaching comes about through not knowing the tricks of the trade. I sure found that out after being unhappy for years with my teaching. My last boss, who had a secondary degree, got me up to speed, alas in the last few years of my career.
    No longer did I fume about “standards” or any of that stuff, because I could get around those demands. I used pop quizzes to make sure students had read the content for the day’s work. I gave them a pre-test consisting of objective and short answer questions. I had them write in-class essays.

    These were high school equivalency students, but I do not see why this approach would not work with college students, too. And most importantly it puts the onus on students rather than teachers as to whether they succeed or fail. In short, every challenge a teacher faces has been faced by other teachers. Find out how they handled the situation!

  2. I don’t think the post is about not knowing how to teach.

    It’s about “assessment” in higher education and focuses on standardized testing – which actually gets people *off* the hook for not knowing how to teach, in my view.

  3. Teaching skills these days concern behavioural management, not the matter of imparting information. (I really mean that — the issue is whether little Johnny can sit still, sto that he can progress “at his own pace”. What he picks up in terms of actual knowledge, if he picks up anything, is the icing on the cake.)

    I disagree with Hattie that these principles need to be imported into universities as well.

  4. Behavioral management etc., no. I do use the things she suggests – pop quizzes, pre-tests, in-class essays – in basic courses, though. You sort of have to if they do not know how to study, and so on. It’s high school-ish, but since high school seems no longer to teach those things, one is left with little choice.

  5. hahaha.

    Well I got her book and it didn’t look so fine at first, but then somehow I found a lot of parallels between her ideas and M’s in that particular book of his.

    Why cannot you stand K? Is it that her ideas are too European and too bourgeois?

    I am learning, with regard to Marechera, that the resonances to his work are in the oddest places. So I’m getting some training in being open-minded about this. I’d be surprised if Marechera has read K, but the resonances are similar, for instance the inner exile that she attributes to Meursault kind of parallels Marechera’s inner exile motif of being “subtracted from oneself”.

    I think that I have to accept, perhaps, that The Black Insider is one of Marechera’s most bourgeois books in some ways. It’s theme is inner exile and it is fairly universalist in its subjectivist exploration of this feeling — (ie fairly European/existential).

    Anyway, in Marechera, I often find a resonance with some other thinker that I did not particularly like (eg. Freud, Jung), but their ideas are given a whole new body, mood and context — and hence mind.

    So I am getting used to it.

  6. K: European, bourgeois, antifeminist, self-indulgent, etc. I don’t like Meursault either and am not really interested in justifications of him. But, re rest of comment, yes.

  7. Yes, she is very much what you say. But I am now approaching my thesis in a very objective way, independently of what I — personally — would like Marechera to say or the theoretical approaches I would have preferred him to use. Let me know what you think if you like, but it seems as if K’s Meursault and his nihilistic shooting resonates very much with the state of being “subtracted from” oneself and no longer being able to feel “the temperature of the blood”. Marechera’s book also descends into nihilistic shooting in the last few pages. Additionally, Helen of Troy is killed as a result, and this seems anti-feministic.

    But there is also deeper commentary in Marechera’s writing that goes beyond this subjectivist framework. There is the issue of black Africans as “cerebrally raped” exiles. This depiction may run closer to Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth. (But as Jock McCulloch points out, Fanon’s views were also Europeanised — psychoanalytic — and hence adopted a psychologically universalist model.)

  8. “being subtracted from’ oneself and no longer being able to feel ‘the temperature of the blood’”

    That’s true. And that is the way to do the thesis!!! And – yes – one does not really escape Europeanization all the time, but it’s important to see how non-Europeans appropriate and use European models, etc.

    I may not like Kristeva, but she can be useful.

  9. The thing with Marechera is that he moves through culture like a fish through water, adapting, churning the substance, and allowing it to pass through him and his writing. There is just a huge degree of intellectual adapability about his approach/es.

    And for some reason he has determined to give us a sense of the uncanny in The Black Insider. It’s all contained in a paradigm of inclusion and exclusion which is not just related to the environment of the exile but also works as a model of his own mind: “Inside out is outside in.”

    And this, in turn, feeds into the final reversal (inversion) whereby the insiders who had been intellectuals and cultural outsiders and — particularly — pacifists — take up arms to oppose (but at the same time become) the militarised world that they were previously opposing.

  10. I must say that some of my best teachers were those who taught to standards, and the very worst ones were those who refused to do so. Of course this means the standards must be reasonable!
    It’s just that intellectuals have nowhere to go but into teaching, and not all are good at it, or even like students that much.
    Reading above, I’m glad to hear that you are having wonderful teaching experiences this year.
    My all time most skilled teacher said you can have a bad year or two of teaching. Hell, he said, in fact you can have bad years and years of teaching, and then it all clears up and is great.
    It’s an odd profession!

  11. Teaching to standards, I agree. But I thought you were against that, as per your comment above?

    I still claim that people who consider themselves “good teachers” usually are very bad at it – they’re into their authority, period. And I’m not a teacher at a school, I’m a professor at a university, and that is an entirely different thing. I’d be having a crappy time if I were again dealing with the people I was last semester and the courses. Others are and they are still having a crappy time.

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