Thread: My observations (and rant) on a career spent in education

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    My observations (and rant) on a career spent in education 
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    aihfl's Avatar
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    Nov 2015
    El Pueblo Loco
    I just have to vent and I'm not necessarily looking for a response.

    It's final exam time at American colleges and universities and I was listening to two students whining about a B plus and how they're going to contest their grade. Excuse me? When did a B stop being a good grade? This of course, is a rhetorical question, because the last few years I spent on a university faculty, it became obvious that students regard an A as a passing grade and a B as a failing grade. I had a student at my first job eons ago come to me with a permission form to drop my early music history course because "she might get a B." Excuse me? Of course I refused to sign saying a B is still a good grade and at that moment she had an A- so if she distinguished herself, she could have brought it up to an A, or if she decided to coast, she might have ended up with a B without the plus.

    Now, I dun got mah-self hah-ly edumacated, and I have spent a fuckload of a lot of time studying test design, assessment and metrics and most people on a well-designed assessment should fall squarely in the middle of a bell curve. Carrying this over to letter grades, in a class where assessments have been well-designed and fairly assessed, most students should get a C. I made the mistake of saying that to one particularly troublesome and whiny music theory class. One kid practically begged me to pass him and I knew I shouldn't go there, but I knew I was going to quit and I couldn't help myself. I told him that he's in sophomore music theory, he can barely read music and he only knows the most basic key signatures. I told him that he does not need a music degree to be a great performer, only a great set of pipes (Luciano Pavarotti, the "great" opera singer, was a complete fucking moron) and having a degree in music should establish certain basic competencies in order that for EVERYONE who has a Bachelor of Music or Bachelor of Arts degree in music, the degree actually means something and is not another meaningless certificate to hang on your wall. You should have heard the blowback I got from that about how students entering college are "consumers" of education and we need to treat them accordingly. That gave me another flashback to another job, in which a particularly acerbic colleague was shouted down at a faculty meeting for the entire College of Fine Arts when he had the cojones to say, "College isn't for everyone." Coming back to the present, I told the department chair if kowtowing to "consumers" is the direction he feels he needs to go, I don't expect his degrees to be academically credible for much longer and that I wouldn't let the door hit me in the ass on the way out.

    Which brings me to the third part of my rant. I am still working in the education field, but now in the field of standardized testing. So often when strangers ask me what I do for a living, I get quizzical looks when I tell them. I love what I do now. Because you cannot get any more objective than a standardized test. No student can level some bogus claim of bias against them because the machines that read the bubble sheets can't give a shit about who you are, and the humans that have to assess the constructed responses (essays and the like) couldn't even begin to know anything about you, not even your geographic location (unless the student brings it up in the response) because you are nothing but a number. To those people who question the usefulness or validity of standardized tests, I tell them maybe you think that way because you're afraid the test is going to tell you that, despite your 4.5 grade point average, you just ain't that smart. Because, (once again) these tests have a fuckload of people working on them and are redesigned (as are the assessment criteria) semi-annually to (drumroll please) ​make sure most scores end up being average.

    A college degree (and by extension masters and doctoral degrees) used to be viewed as something exceptional, because not everyone could get one, nor was even cut out to get one. This "democratization" of education is bullshit. Bachelors degrees are now worthless because everyone has one, just like high school diplomas became worthless a generation ago. I hold out hope that graduate education, by virtue of its rigorous examination and writing requirements will remain immune for at least a little while longer. Case in point, I failed the first defense of my PhD dissertation. I had one more opportunity to get it right and if I didn't, seven years (two years as a full time student) of slogging through all those degree requirements would have gotten me a hot cup of jack squat. Get it? That actually happens to people, at least for now and that's the way it should be because people who can slog through that hell should be set apart for that accomplishment. Just like the 18 year old who decides to become a US Marine. That's some serious shit right there. I would have gotten kicked out of boot camp on the second day. You get through that shit, that's special; it sets you apart. If the Marines took everyone, then we'd have one seriously sorry ass fighting force defending the United States.

    Which brings me back around full circle to what I opened with in this rant. "Well, like, uhhh, the feedback I like got like was all like opinion, and he said like, my formatting like was inconsistent." (You'll have to use your own imagination to provide the Valley Girl accent) Listen toots, his opinion, was like, your critical analysis was like shit. And like, if you end up with any sort of like professional job where you have to like produce professional looking documents, you're going to have to learn how to like produce professional looking documents. So like, you might as well like learn now. If I could do it with a battered old Brother typewriter and carbon paper, you sure as fuck can do it with Microsoft Word and a laser printer.

    I feel so much better now...
    Last edited by aihfl; 14-05-2018 at 03:50. Reason: because leaving mistakes means you're careless or an idiot
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    Professor Emeritus TheLoveBandit's Avatar
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    Feb 2000
    Getting to the point ...
    Hilarious read. I hope you feel better now having gotten that out.

    It's funny, and yet oh so sad that those pursuing a degree have reached this level of expectation about the process. Showing up doesn't mean you pass. Knowing the material proves you deserve the degree. Otherwise, the degree does become worthless.

    I look at it this way, those of us who sweated and learned and worked our asses off to prove we knew the material can appreciate what it means to have the degree. If we someone else with the degree, we believe they earned it like we did. However, if I got my degree simply for paying tuition and maybe showing up for classes, I'd look at my peers with the same degree and wonder 'other than showing up (questionable, but we'll assume it), what can you actually do?'
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