Friday, June 26, 2009

A New Future of Education?

I have been thinking a lot lately about the education system--specifically the PK-12 system--and various proposals floating out there to improve student performance. Many of the proposals are about fixing the system, yes, or "reforming" the system, and throw out ideas like pay for performance, charter schools, closing low-performing schools, increased accountability, national standards.

In a recent New Yorker article, The Cost Conundrum: What a Texas town can teach us about health care. Atul Gawande makes the argument that instead of reforming the health care system, we need a whole new model for how medicine works. To wit:

And that will mean rewarding doctors and hospitals if they band together to form...accountable-care organizations, in which doctors collaborate to increase prevention and the quality of care, while discouraging overtreatment, undertreatment, and sheer profiteering.
What if what we really need, rather than fixing or reforming the system, is a whole new system of education? One where teachers and administrators, rather than working in isolation as individual teachers, individual schools, individual districts, banded together in more cooperative ways?

I'm coming from the world of education. Virtually my entire professional life has been in education. I believe in things like experience-based learning, student-centered classrooms, assessing student progress with projects and portfolios. I believe in teacher education programs and the importance of having well-educated and well-prepared teachers in the classroom.

And yet, something is obviously going wrong--continuing to go wrong--in many schools today where far too many students are dropping out or not meeting progress standards, and the students are disproportionally from low-income or high-minority schools. And while reform in various ways is one answer, perhaps thinking critically about more comprehensive, perhaps more radical, changes to education is another answer.


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

New, New Wave Feminism?

Perhaps inspired by the election of a new president of NOW, Echidne of the Snakes wrote an interesting post about feminism and what it means.

Feminism really turns into something very different depending on what your basic definition might be, even if you are unaware of that basic definition. If you start from the ideal of equal treatment for men and women you get one set of conclusions. If you start from the ideal of supporting women you get a different set of conclusions. Sometimes. Not always.
As several of her commenters noted, supporting women as an end-goal can lead you into some pretty strange and hard-to-defend positions. If you follow the theoretical argument, you end up defending the right of an individual women to make, well, stupid decisions. For me, the key is the the word individual. I can support women in general while acknowledging that an individual woman may not always be deserving of support in doing what she wants to do. I falling into a trap whereby I am setting myself up as the superior woman, and others as...lesser?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Annoying Bookstore Managers

Background: While I am pursuing my PhD, I work as the program assistant for an academic department (unrelated to my field of study) on campus. From this job I get an unparalleled view of the workings of higher ed (snort), and free tuition. Oh, and health insurance.

So, that said, I am seriously annoyed by people today. These guys who work in the campus bookstore just came by, ostensibly to bring around a printout of what courses for fall don't have books ordered yet. The one guy acted all "hey, old friend! how are you?" I think I've met him, um, once? and he called me by a name that was not my name, not at all. Like, Yardley. YARDLEY. Because Yardly and Yancy sound so similar?? Like my name isn't WRITTEN ON MY DOORPLATE. And, of course, it turns out that they don't have the printout for me after all, but, "we'll be back!" he chirped.

This whole exchanges annoys me on several levels:

(1) WRONG NAME, asshat. If you aren't sure, don't guess on someone's name.

(2) You forgot the printout??

(3) Email the freakin' thing, for god's sake; why were you walking a copy all the way over to me anyway?

(4) DON'T email it, because if the book order for a certain course wasn't turned in back in May, it's not going to be ready until August with the profs come back. Yes, that's late. But making all kinds of changes to how books are ordered, like moving the deadlines up into MARCH for fall semester courses, is OBVIOUSLY not making any difference to the profs who select the books. All I can do is pass on the orders, and harass the profs to get them in sooner. Which, we all know isn't going to happen. Multiple emails a week, several phone calls & a personal visit isn't going to make it happen faster. You are not going to change the culture of the faculty members who just do not get their sh*t together in time to order books in March. Let's just agree that that is NOT going to happen and save me AND YOU a bunch of wasted effort, and instead concentrate on getting a book supply system where 3 weeks is enough time to order books. Cause, hey, if Amazon can get me and 50 gazillion other customers our book order in under 3 weeks, for less money than the bookstore charges, then you should be able to handle getting book orders done in August.

I just keep telling myself that my time spent here will be incredibly valuable once I'm a professor, as I'll have first-hand knowledge of the trials that administrative staff go through. And, once I'm in a position of power, I will be able to tell the faculty to do their own freakin' travel reimbursements, because "program assistant" does not mean "your personal secretary." I'll also tell them that if they use the term secretary one more time, I'll shove a giant 2009 calendar up their arse, because it's not 1959 anymore.

Money Shenanigans

An article posted today to the Chronicle of Higher Education reports on financial misdoings at Kansas State. Evidently a VP there, Robert Krause, got involved in moving money around in creative ways within different departments he was in charge of. Not surprising, the athletics department was a large part of the problems. Is it my personal bias showing here, or is it not almost always the athletics folks doing the hanky-panky or playing fast-and-loose with the rules?

However, in this case it was not only the athletics department, but several others with whom Mr. Krause had dealings. The article concludes with a lovely quote from one of Mr. Krause's colleagues, who evidently said something along the lines of:
(I)n a small town like Manhattan, Kan., it's nearly impossible to avoid the appearance of conflicts of interest because the people with the money to invest often also happen to be the ones with enough knowledge to serve on a governing board. "You can't avoid conflicts in these kinds of situations, you can only manage them."
Really? That's the explanation? We live in a small town with only a handful of capable people, and they just happen also the be the wealthy ones, so, we're stuck with at least the appearance of impropriety just to get capable people to help us run things? Not to mention the fact that it seems pretty fairly well clear that the facts in this case go a wee bit beyond the mere appearance of conflicts of interest, right smack dab into actual, honest-to-goodness, improper acts. I don't get it. Am I misunderstanding what this fellow is trying to say?

And, back to athletics. Is it as simple as, where there is money, there is wrong-doing? You don't often hear about rogue French lit professors luring hot young French stars into the department with promises of free brie. Of course, I can't imagine thousands of people paying to come and see a play-off that pits French majors against Spanish majors, either. Or whatever the equivalent to a big ol'American football game would be.

Please, enlighten me. What is it about sports that prompts us (as a country) to give so much money towards seeing other people play them? Why do we give so much assistance to college athletes, helping them get in where maybe they shouldn't, helping them stay in, and, of course, all the money and other perks? Is it that college sports are one of the last male bastions on campus, one of the last places where men, largely, rule the roost? Or do I have an over-inflated sense of what college athletes really get out of a university?

Monday, June 22, 2009

Roll up your sleeves

Welcome to Yancy land! I'm obviously a fan of cutesey rhymes. I'm also a Ph.D. student (ooooooohhhh!) which mostly just means that I sit around reading obscure journal articles and the occasional text, just for kicks. And grades. Oh, wait, and intellectual challenge as well--can't forget that one.

I have two kids, a husband, a too-big house that I alternately love and want to raze, and too little free time to do anything productive but plenty to spend countless hours reading blogs.