Saturday, December 29, 2007

Some Things Can't Be Taught At Home, part 1

There are subjects that I just can't wrap my head around. It's not the material or the standards I don't get. I don't understand how we can teach them the way we do. English lit comes to mind. Give kids a list of books to read. Give them the books to read. If the books are worth reading kids will read them. We should be done here but we're not. "The Machine" then meddles where it shouldn't. Assessment rears its ugly head. It's not enough to ask students to read a list of books chosen for vague and subjective reasons. We have to make certain that every student then takes away the correct message from the book.

We have to make sure studets understand why Tom Buchanan was a callous racist. F Scott might simply have penned in Tom's choice of books to show how he was a trend follower. However, the modern interpretation, the correct answer on the essay test is that Tom Buchanan is a racist because he reveres this book by Goddard. This would be fine except the casual reader doesn't know, without digging, that the book Fitzgerald quotes espouses restricting immigration and then inclusion for the inferior races who are already here. The character doesn't discuss the inclusionary aspect of the book probably for the simple reason that Fitzgerald hasn't actually read the book he's disparaging. Heaven help the student who isn't suitably offended by Tom Buchanan's racism. Aside from a poor grade on the assessment, racist students go to counseling. If their attitude isn't suitably re-adjusted The Machine will see to it that they suffer for having their own opinions.

There's an entire graduate thesis in there for the student who can type lots and find a committee that likes him.

There's a PhD out there for any kid who can figure out and prove the exact timeline and sequence of events in this little gem.

Did I have to sit in on hours of classes listening to an instructor and the one kid who did the reading prattle on about opinion? The Machine thinks I did. I had a class where the professor gave us 5 questions and the reading list on the first day. He told us that was the final exam. The questions were how the books on the list related to each other and the usual themes: sex, death, power, desire and so on. I made a big poster board grid with the questions on top and the books on the side. I penciled in an answer for each question as I read enough of the book to pencil in an answer to the question. Some books I didn't read. I filled in the blanks with some quotes from the professor. On the day of the final exam I arrived early enough to cram in a little more. The kids who were there were desperately discussing what one book or another was about. Some of them formed "a study group" where each read one book and at the last minute tried to tell the others what they read. I unfolded my chart with the questions and books neatly laid out. They almost crapped themselves. I read it once and then put it away. One girl asked me if she could see my chart but it was too late. The test started. The first student got up after 20 minutes. I filled two blue books and left after an hour when my hand got tired. I probably had enough to complete the exam in the first question. I left the last two questions blank. I got an A in the class. It wasn't that hard. I probably didn't need to go to class but I did for the simple reason that I had paid for it. I had money in The Machine and I didn't want to miss anything important. Nothing important really happened but it could have and if I wasn't there I would have missed it. That and I wanted the professor to know I valued his time enough to show up. I don't remember much about him but I made certain he knew my name and that I appeared to take him seriously. It was the usual game of subjective assessment. I'm expecting an A. I want you to know I'm expecting an A. Here's my work. Thanks for the A.

Could I have gotten the same education from simply reading the books on my own? Probably. I don't remember anything from that class today. I don't even remember what books were assigned. I probably have copies of the books somewhere in the house but I don't remember which book went with which course. Did I get an A because I wrote brilliant essays about the books I was to have read? I did write a lot and hit many points that I believe the professor was expecting in a winning essay. Could the course be taught online? Yes.

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