You’re not there to get an education, though they tell you that. You’re there to make revenue for the college. You’re there to put fans in the seats. You’re there to bring prestige to the university by winning games.
— Rashad McCants, former UNC – Chapel Hill basketball player
Yes, “they” will tell you that. “They” are the people at universities who will not acknowledge the truth that revenue drives decisions, not whether students receive an education. I do not know where on the list education is, but it is unlikely in the top four or five. Prestige, as in the film by that title, is a magic show. You think you are seeing education at public universities, but it’s a trick, sleight of hand, maybe mirrors, illusion. Prestige is like “The Mansion” section of The Wall Street Journal, where people define themselves, their success, by whether they have a private plane in their garage instead of a car. It looks like a tangible thing. Others see it. “They” tell you owning a private jet means you’ve made it. They say you’re winning the game of life, as if the sayings of Charlie Sheen were part of a philosophical guidebook.
In Louie C.K.’s television show, he has written a scene between himself and his daughter. It’s a scene you won’t find mentioned in The Wall Street Journal or quoted by a public university president or chancellor.
Daughter (D): Why does she get one and not me? It’s not fair.
Louis (L): You’re never gonna get the same things as other people. It’s never gonna be equal. It’s not gonna happen ever in your life, so you must learn that now, okay?
Listen — the only time you should look in your neighbor’s bowl is to make sure that they have enough. You don’t look in your neighbor’s bowl to see if you have as much as them.
A friend of mine has been working on a blog worth viewing, for he has been thinking a great deal about what has been happening to public education. He is in the belly of the beast as an administrator. I do not envy his resulting nightmares. David is a sharp chap, as you will see by browsing his blog. He is a philosopher in a good sense. He is not simply complaining about the careerist bureaucrats, short-sighted politicians, trustees who cannot be trusted,and regents on governing boards of universities who are sometimes like this regent played by Hugh Laurie. David presents alternatives and insights while being entertaining. His blog has been added to the list of recommended sites.
Hugh Laurie as Prince Regent
As the chaos of semester’s end grips at least one institution of higher education, I took some solace in the fact that even talented people sometimes err as instructors. Here is Mark Doty making public a humbling moment that started off his semester:
Later in the day I showed up for my poetry workshop and began to teach a class while the students looked at me with rather bewildered expressions, a collective skepticism I didn’t understand until their professor walked in.
Photo by Jean-Francois Fourtou
This is the most important article in education that you will read for some time. The evidence comes from one country, but that evidence is startling. It challenges the nonsense proposed by politicians and so-called experts from professional education colleges who have convinced administrators across the United States that assessment is the panacea that will lead us away from the coming Idiocracy. Can you think of a major American university that now lacks something akin to an Office of Institutional Effectiveness (pardon the oxymoron)? By most world standards, Finnish public education (there is no private option, please note — that means no charter schools, for example) is at the top of the heap. How did they do it without interminable, mind-numbing U.S.-style assessment?
For starters, Finland has no standardized tests. The only exception is what’s called the National Matriculation Exam, which everyone takes at the end of a voluntary upper-secondary school, roughly the equivalent of American high school. Instead, the public school system’s teachers are trained to assess children in classrooms using independent tests they create themselves. All children receive a report card at the end of each semester, but these reports are based on individualized grading by each teacher. Periodically, the Ministry of Education tracks national progress by testing a few sample groups across a range of different schools.
Pasi Sahlberg, director of the Finnish Ministry of Education, is the Cassandra of this tale. He offers up a fascinating take on another educational buzzword on this side of the Atlantic: accountability.
“There’s no word for accountability in Finnish,” he later told an audience at the Teachers College of Columbia University. “Accountability is something that is left when responsibility has been subtracted.”
An article about the state of education has not been this much fun since the appearance of the works of one of my old teachers Richard Mitchell.