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Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Yeah, it's bad

Never mind the students and essays for the moment. The one thing that's been haunting me all day is a piece of information Cathy brought to P&B from her chairs and area meetings yesterday. It's not fait accompli just yet, but there didn't seem to be a lot of ground from which to fight the decision: the new administration have determined that the college will be best served by creation of a new area, under the aegis of a new dean, the area to be called (I think) "General Studies" and to comprise all the departments that offer any kind of remedial/developmental courses: math, communications, reading and "basic education" (our term for students who really shouldn't have gotten into high school never mind college)--and, yes, English. We would no longer be part of the humanities here on campus--because, of course, the only thing we have to offer that has any value is teaching students how to write well enough for their other courses. This begs the question, if we're not recognized as being among the humanities disciplines, what happens to the literature courses?

The mind reels. This new president and academic VP who we welcomed as signs of hope turn out to be every bit as opposed to the values of education at this institution as their predecessors: the only difference is that they are more skilled at blowing smoke. Paul's been saying it all along, and although I've deferred to his knowledge and experience with them, now I see it clearly for myself.

Oh, yes: and we all have to use the same rubrics for the "institutional learning goals"--across disciplines (even if our way of approaching critical thinking might be different from that of say, math) and across all sections of all courses. Cookie-cutter uniformity: no latitude allowed for the fact that we might get to the same end by different means. Pretty soon they'll be dictating our syllabi to us--and then this really will be 13th grade, as we'll be doing exactly what teachers in the public high schools have to do: teach the same thing, the same way, and meet arbitrary benchmarks for success.

What springs to mind is Arthur Costa's much quoted statement, "What was educationally significant and hard to measure has been replaced by what is educationally insignificant and easy to measure. So now we measure how well we taught what isn't worth learning." (I had to look around for a while to find the original source, but here it is: Strauss, Valerie. "The Important Things Standardized Tests Don't Measure." Washington Post, March 1, 2015.) But the point is that the measurement is all that matters, not what is being measured. If we have the rubrics and we all follow them, everything is grand.

We seem to be utterly, totally fucked.

I remind myself that the future is unknown: we do not know for a fact that this new arrangement will happen; if it does happen, we do not know what that will entail in terms of our work. And if the worst case I can imagine (which is bleak indeed) comes to pass, I don't yet know how I might adapt to make it something I can live with--at least until I can comfortably retire.

But--because Paul and I agree that looking for an exit hatch is sometimes important--I've just spent a little time looking for employment possibilities at colleges and universities out west. Research inconclusive.

So, I focus my attention on the here and now--and here and now (broadly speaking), my only task is to get through the semester. I had hoped to spend some time this evening getting the last bits of homework and revised essays marked for the SF students, but instead I spent time conferencing with students from the 102s (which was great) and responding to e-mails (not so great--but good to have it done). I have a few more conferences tomorrow morning before our "department meeting"--which will actually be the department's holiday party, so I think I'm going to load up a plate with food and come right back up to the office to work. I hate parties anyway (raging introvert that I am) and especially those department parties, at which I almost never get to actually sit with people I enjoy talking with. So I'll do two things that I find beneficial to my overall well-being: I'll avoid the party, and I'll do what I can to have things ready to hand back to the SF students when I collect their essays.

I hope I'm more cheery tomorrow. Even though a number of students did fall apart over the final essay, not submitting it at all, focusing on my students this semester is highly beneficial to my state of mind. A few of the ones who gutted it out clearly didn't read or understand the novel, which is discouraging, but I think I can prop them up well enough for them to stagger over the finish line. And most of the ones who made it this far actually have made real improvements--in their reading, their writing, their thinking. And that's the whole game, folks. That's the point.

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