Sunday, January 25, 2015

A dream about credentialism

Have you ever dreamed that you're suddenly one class, credit, final exam, or semester short of graduation?  Many people, myself included, have this recurring nightmare.  There a whole reddit on it.  A typical case:

    "I've had this kind of dream very frequently over the past several years. Even though I graduated college 10 years ago, I dream that I'm back in college but not the one I went to (oftentimes several credits short of graduating) and begrudgingly have to do one more year or semester, and feel very disappointed. In my dream I'm back in school at my current age, with kids who are at least 10 years younger and I feel uncomfortable.

In contrast, I've never ever heard of someone dreaming about suddenly forgetting whatever job skills they learned in school."

How should we interpret these stylized facts about the dream world?  Most plausibly: Belief in the sheepskin effect is extremely deeply rooted.  When you're stuck in this nightmare, you're often confused by the discovery that you failed to cross the educational finish law.  But the idea that failing to cross the educational finish line has dire consequences doesn't confuse you at all.  Whether awake or asleep, you take the power of the sheepskin effect for granted (unless, like many labor economists, you're struggling to talk yourself out of the obvious).

Furthermore, people also have a deeply rooted belief that crossing educational finish lines has a big effect on employability but little effect on job skills.  The nightmare isn't that you suddenly can't do your job.  The nightmare is that you're the same person you were yesterday, but society throws you into limbo because your papers aren't in order.

Dream evidence is obviously easy to dismiss.  Human capital purists may even say I'm desperately grasping at straws.  But these reactions strike me as dogmatic.  At minimum, sheepskin nightmares highlight the fact that educated humans, no matter how competent, have pronounced anxiety about their official educational status.  Why would they have this anxiety if they firmly believe that competence, not credentials, rule the social world?


Dad told off for packing ‘unhealthy’ lunch

A DAD was taken aback after getting a note from his daughter’s teacher complaining he had packed her a lunch that was too unhealthy and demanding he promise to do a better job of it the next day.

Justin Puckett, a family doctor from Missouri, posted the letter on Facebook.

In the note his daughter’s substitute teacher at Kirksville Primary School in Missouri listed the unhealthy foods in his daughter Alia’s lunch. They included: four chocolate bars, a bag of marshmallows, crackers and a pickle.

It ended: “Please see that she packs a proper lunch tomorrow”. It was followed by a request for a parental signature that Dr Puckett, offended by the letter’s officious tone, declined to do.

The father-of-four told US ABC 3: “I have the ultimate responsibility to raise my children and I take that role very, very seriously and so maybe I took it bit more personally that there was some offence that maybe I wasn’t doing a good job in that duty, something that is my number one job.”

Dr Puckett said the school later called to apologise. The school also released a statement saying “we had an individual take it upon themselves to send a note home to parents” and promising “this will not happen again”.


Since when has knowing what lesbians do been a British value?

The task of education is to impart knowledge – especially of that which might develop literacy and numeracy, for without proficiency in words and numbers one may be muted from community and computed for a lifetime of ignorance, incomprehension and poverty. And when the eyes of the child are turned to the light in order that they might see for themselves and understand their perceptions of the world, they will come to know the value of moral, spiritual and physical formation, for what is the mind if it cannot grasp transcendence? What is intelligence if it is wilfully bound by corporeal indolence? And what is wisdom if it is not the inculcation of virtue and all the principles of goodness?

A good school will be holistic in its curriculum: it’s ethos will be values-based; its culture will be ordered, disciplined and respectful; and its teachers will represent the reification of all that is noble, true, right, lovely, pure and admirable; of all that is praiseworthy and excellent. Within a life-enhancing framework of intellectual rigour, creative vision, practical dexterity and pastoral oversight, the child will flourish in academic attainment, physical prowess and spiritual intelligence.

Unless, that is, the state schools’ inspectorate decides to focus on other matters.

It is reported that two schools – two Christian schools – have been slated by Ofsted because their pupils were ignorant of matters concerning ethnic identity and exotic sexual behaviour. They might have known that some people are born black and some are born brown, but one poor boy, when quizzed by the inspectors, couldn’t explain what a Muslim was beyond an association with terrorism. What theological ignorance. What bigotry of belief. What inexcusable doctrinal disregard and social insensitivity. The lead inspector thereby concluded: “Leaders are failing to prepare students for life in modern Britain. Some students hold discriminatory views of other people who have different faiths, values or beliefs from themselves.” And so the Durham Free School – which was lauded by the Education Secretary only two years ago – must close.

And then there is the school where 10-year-old pupils were asked what lesbians did. The answers the children gave are not reported, but clearly their clitorical ignorance and masturbatory innocence failed to satisfy the perverted priorities of the inspectors. And so the Grindon Hall Christian School – which rides high in educational league tables and delivers the top school-leaving exam results in the area – has been placed in ‘special measures’.

Ever since the ‘Trojan Horse’ revelation in Birmingham, where a certain illiberal interpretation of Islamic sharia was found to constitute the ethos and pervade the culture of a number of Muslim schools, the Department for Education has decreed that all state schools must promote ‘British values’, which they define in such terms as tolerance, fairness, respect for other faiths, adherence to the rule of law and appreciation of the virtues of democracy. It isn’t clear what is peculiarly British about such values, or if, indeed, they are values at all beyond those which are common to enlightened and civilised humanity.

But there is nothing essentially wrong with requiring schools to teach such values: it must surely be a task of education to instil a sense of national identity, inculcate patriotism and propagate knowledge of associational traditions and cultural mores in the perspective of our island history.

But since when has knowing what lesbians do been a British value? Since when has knowing what a Muslim believes been a British value? If ignorance of difference or the intolerance of diversity is to trump the measure of academic attainment, how might we rate those Ofsted inspectors who are ignorant of the doctrinal tenets of Christianity or intolerant of a school’s historic freedom to manifest its faith ethos? While there may indeed have been some examples of inadequate teaching or weaknesses in aspects of structure, what teacher doesn’t have a bad-hair day? What institution is beyond measures for improvement?

Perhaps, given evidence of leadership deficiencies and pedagogical shortcomings, you might incline toward the Ofsted view that such schools are manifestly inadequate and ought to close. This is taxpayers’ money after all. And you might think this whole ‘victimised Christian’ wailing is nothing but a camouflage for academic ineptitude and an evasion of accountability. Except that in a draft report the inspectors disclosed their own bigotry: “The Christian ethos of the school permeates much of the school’s provision,” they observed. “This has restricted the development of a broad and balanced approach to the curriculum,” they judged. That last sentence, which didn’t make its way into the final report, testifies to a concerning anti-Christian agenda.

In what sense are traditional British values not Christian? What traditional Christian values are not peculiarly British? If the moral orthodoxy of our Christian expression has been irrevocably reduced to an undiscerning mush of multicultural incoherence, the acceptance of multifaith syncretism and the relativist tolerance of every human behaviour, then our British values have ceased to be recognisably British. Indeed, they have ceased to be values of any virtue at all.


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