Tuesday, April 3, 2007

The doxa usually runs something like teachers are lazy

The truth is that I don’t have the skills in quantitave social science to be able to evaluate these claims. Perhaps someone else out there has something to add on this issue? This makes me think about passages in Foucault’s Discipline and Punish where he talks about the rise of the prisons and sanatoriums where there were similar narratives that may or may not have been reflective of genuine social realities.
As a further point, my teaching experience simply isn’t extensive enough to know whether the things I’m witnessing in my classroom with regard to reading and writing skills mark a substantial change or not. I don’t see that your points about encountering such issues with marginalized students necessarily undermine my point. I’m more than happy to argue that different causes can produce one and the same effect, just as the same cause can produce different effects so long as we’re dealing with non-linear systems. Socio-economically my students tend to come from an upper middle class income and the schools around here are said to be very good, thought that all depends on how you measure. Back around 2003 the Texas state legislature lifted tuition caps on the universities which led to, from what I understand, a 25% increase in tuition within a couple of years. I bring this up because it’s difficult to make generalizations about the type of students attending my school. As a transitional school tuition is very low, so we get a good number of students coming here to fulfill requirements before going on to uni.
I find the hostility to teachers interesting. This is a narrative I’ve heard my entire life regardless of where I live. The doxa usually runs something like teachers are lazy (there’s always talk about Summer break), and are those who couldn’t do so they teach. At the legislative level (usually driven by conservatives, as you observe), this narrative seems to have implicitly functioned as a rationale for cutting educators out of the process of curriculum design as they’re seen as only promoting aims that serve their own interests, to be incompetent, and to be the source of the problem. This seems related to broader conservative aims, unconscious or not, that tellingly reveal themselves in the way that all sources of information, knowledge, critical thought, and commentary are targeted as enemies: schools, universities, scientists, and news organizations.
Universities are treated as havens of leftwing communist thought with no understanding the “real world”. Scientists are seen as beholden to leftwing propoganda to get funding for their research (at least this is how the narratives against evolution and global warming have been framed). And news is seen as having a pervasive liberal bias. In each case there’s been concerted efforts to target and neutralize these institutions. Somehow it’s difficult for me to not think there’s a conspiracy against education given the manner in which standardized testing seems so obviously misguided. larvalsubjects said this on March 28th, 2007 at 1:22 am
The truth is that I don’t have the skills in quantitave social science to be able to evaluate these claims.
Yes, well now you know why I’ve been loaded with the teaching responsibilities I have at the moment. Noting like shifting from discussions of Hegel to talking to students about how to calculate a mean… ;-P More seriously: my stats skills are in the most emphatic way possible nothing special - I’m a methods pragmatist, who at various times have turned my hand to whatever was required, and quantitative methods have occasionally been required. But, in any event, there were people working on this in a specialised way when I was working in the field, and I’m sure there must still be today… When my life is more sane, I can have a poke around and see if I can turn anything up (at the moment, though, I’ll have to apologise - if I have to learn one more new thing at the moment, my brain will literally explode…).
But the really interesting thing about all of this is that a great deal of search for causal explanations takes place without this kind of prior intensive analysis of the phenomenon itself - and yet causal-explanations-in-search-of-a-phenomenon, unfortunately, can still lead to dramatic, cascading changes in policy that may well actually be unravelling quite effective institutions. (I think I’ve had reason to mention on other occasions that much of my work specifically isn’t interested in causes ;-P - this held for my work in educational strategies, as well… ;-P I tend to focus on trying to understand what is - what to do is, by comparison, often fairly easy to figure out…)
I agree with you on the “convergent evolution” perspective about particular educational problems - apologies if I was unclear: I was actually trying to say this above. Although I was doing some work across class lines, as well… There are many kinds of experiential fragmentation happening - many social trends that reinforce this: fludity of movement, of family structures, of jobs and schools… I’m curious whether, if we are seeing a new form of subjectivity (I’m still agnostic on this, but not at all hostile to the concept), we do ourselves a disservice by focussing on the technology, rather than on the ways in which quite varied trends within the social context might cooperate or reinforce one another to make it easier to perceive the world in certain ways, and more difficult to perceive it in others… But these are really very random thoughts on my end…
The hostility to teachers is interesting - really worth a systematic analysis. So many things coalesce into this - it is, in a sense, an overdetermined phenomenon, capturing many different elements that are also directly individually at other social institutions, but that combine to exert a far greater effect on educational institutions - with teachers at lower levels more vulnerable than those in universities, but the whole sector absorbing sustained and powerful hits since at least the 1980s (arguably earlier, as the anti-technocratic critiques of the 1960s and 1970s lay some of the conceptual and cultural groundwork…) This would be worth some sustained research - for its own sake, but also as an interesting case study in how such dynamics can play out…Low laptop battery - apologies for anything truncated or non-sensical…N Pepperell said this on March 28th, 2007 at 1:48 am
I’m using all of this as a sort of case study for other issues that we’ve talked about. What sort of potentialities can be found in such a situation, etc.
I’ve noticed that you’ve expressed a lot of ambivalence towards the category of causality in the past. My knee-jerk reaction is to wonder whether the issue isn’t so much that of causality, but the need for more nuanced and complicated notions of causation… Hence the evocation of non-linearity. I am, of course, on exactly the same page as you regarding the issue on the necessity of first understanding the phenomenon. There are multiple levels at work here that make the issue very complex: the phenomenon itself and the discourse surrounding the phenomenon. To make matters worse, the discourse might be organized around a phenomenon that, as you point out, doesn’t even exist, but that nonetheless has real social effects and consequences. larvalsubjects said this on March 28th, 2007 at 3:23 am I’ve expressed very similar antipathy towards causation in the past, for very similar reasons, often finding such talk highly reductive and not pausing long enough to tarry with the phenomenon. larvalsubjects said this on March 28th, 2007 at 3:24 am
I hope I didn’t come across, in my rush, as suggesting you wouldn’t share a similar concern with grasping the phenomenon - I was poking fun at myself in those sentences, as my conversations recently in a variety of settings seem to keep tossing up this issue: I’m feeling repetitive… But I wasn’t at all thinking or trying to imply that you’d disagree (aside from perhaps what would likely be a valid disagreement with the fact that I’m not discussing the issue here in a very nuanced way…)
I obviously don’t seriously reject notions of causality - in our more nuanced discussions on the issue, I think I’ve commented that I sometimes say things like this as a polemical stance. It would be more accurate for me to say that I think it can be very tempting to rush to causation, for a whole variety of reasons - particularly when you have a discourse or a constellation of discourses constituting and reinforcing a specific “commonsense” about what “is”, about what we can take for granted or what is “self-evident”. I find “self evident” phenomena - particularly when they’ve very suddenly become self-evident - suspicion-inducing. Maybe I’m just ornery… ;-P
But I shouldn’t write on this issue - which you’ve been trying to talk about in a nuanced way - at the end of what has been a very long day for me… I’ll be too anarchic to contribute usefully. I think it would be a beautiful case study, though - perhaps more when I’ve recharged a bit…N Pepperell said this on March 28th, 2007 at 6:16 am

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