I tried to write a bit about "Criteria" a while ago, but I stopped short. My head was full and I just wanted to publish the post and put it behind me. I couldn't seem to put my thoughts into words. But it's still on my mind so I'm going to give it a shot again.
The criteria line-of-thought is largely to do with my thoughts in response to Peter Coffin's "Meritocracy" video, embedded below.
The video generally highlights the arbitrary nature of "criteria" and the ways we arbitrarily create criteria and credit those who subsequently meet said criteria. In that video, he works carefully around politics and popular culture.
But when I think about criteria, I think about education. I've been teaching for... 13 years or so now, largely in English. Despite most people's impression of English as a "literature" and "composition" field, ultimately English courses are literacy courses, no matter what level we're working at. One's ability to be literate dictates their success in English.
But literacy, on its own, is not easy to assess. I tend to say it's "slushy," insofar as there's something thick and murky about pinning a number to one's ability to read and write. This creates the classic English problem: there's no simple "right or wrong answer" in most of what we do in an English class. So how do we assess and evaluate something so slushy?
We use criteria. Whenever I've attended a professional development workshop, or taken a pedagogy course, they've drilled the need to "make criteria clear" in order to make it "authentic." "Make it clear to your students how you intend to mark them, and the specific things you'll look for in your assessment and evaluation. Then students will know what they need to do to succeed." And for years I've stood by this. I've done my best to make my criteria clear.
Oftentimes, I use rubrics. Some rubrics are charts that describe different aspects of something and allow a teacher to easily tally a score—3/4 for style, 2/4 for content, etc.; some rubrics are simple numbers with explanations, like the BC Ministry of Education's 6-point scoring guide for the recently abandoned English final examinations. I often adapt these official rubrics for my own assignments in an effort to "standardize" my evaluation. In the words of some of the courses I took for education in University, this helps make evaluation more "authentic." I have spent countless hours creating rubrics over the years, just trying, trying to make them work.
But no matter how "authentic" and "standardized" I try to make my evaluation, no matter how much time I put into it, "authentic" marking is a myth. The appeal to authenticity is always problematic and does not stand up to scrutiny. And if the foundation of authenticity is problematic, the scaffolding—rubrics, criteria, etc.—crumbles. If authenticity doesn't work, neither do the rubrics and methods that we've used to achieve that authenticity.
Authenticity is a myth that most of us educators fall for because it's easy. Rubrics, under the guise of authenticity, cover our butts from scrutiny. When we use a rubric and share it with the students, it decreases the chance that people will question what we're doing. Students will feel stupid if they don't get it, and parents will feel justified in blaming the student for not meeting expectations. "They gave you the criteria! Why didn't you succeed? What are you, lazy?" No one has the time or will to go through a rubric and see whether it works, so we can lean heavily on them.
Recently, there's been a drive to make sure student expectations are written in student-friendly language. Fair enough. It's good when students can understand what they're doing, But student-friendly language doesn't make marking more legitimate. If we're assessing something artificial, the results will be artificial as well. Education gurus say "don't just give the rubric—give feedback," because feedback is what helps students move forward.
So why do the rubric at all? Why create a bunch of criteria that will create artificial results? I don't see the reason for all this criteria anymore. In English class, I don't see any evidence that students learn from it. Why bother then?
This year, despite the amount of work it leaves me, I've moved away from rubrics. I'm getting students to write in MLA format so I can write all over their work, and I'm giving written comments at the end. My assessment for larger, edited assignments is essentially some comments and a general letter grade, a letter I can translate to a number in the marks. I feel like I'm remembering more about the students' writing and thinking, and they have a little more to respond to. And the unity in using MLA format for submissions works as the levelled playing field. I don't have to play the authenticity card anymore because there's no rubric to appeal to: what matters is "did your work improve" and "what can you do o make it better." That's it.
No more artificial, mythical criteria; no more box-creating, ridiculous rubrics.
For now. Until I need to cover my butt.
By the way, I think a lot of the drive towards rubrics and whatnot stems from the forces of "21st Century Education," which essentially posits that students will need to be creative tech users in order to succeed in the future we're creating. I've often liked the incentives of 21st Century Education—the job skills, the focus on creativity, the praise of malleability—but I've often found it problematic as well.
21st Century Learning is a corporate-capital-driven program that has perpetuated itself under the banner of "preparing young people for an uncertain future." But it's always, always a corporate future. But I've never been able to put my concerns into words.
I started reading B.J. Mendelson's Privacy. He's got the beginnings of it in a throwaway line right near the beginning of the book:
Corporations have snuck their way into education up here in Canada too.
What I find most insidious about it is this: they've been able to sneak in by rebuilding the framework altogether through all this 21st Century Education stuff. And here we are, trying to make an assembly line that will essentially feed the pop Capitalist system.
And in that system, the Silicon Valley tech leader is king. And the more we lean in this direction, the more we cater to those Silicon Valley Values.
Just look through the "Framework for 21st Century Education." It's essentially a Silicon Valley resumé.
Just some food for thought.
In order to help with "recon" for a couple school hikes, I jumped on the opportunity to go on a couple hikes, one up to Zoa Peak (September 28) and one up the Tikwalus Trail (October 6). I haven't gone on hikes like this for the last few years, so it felt good to get outside and explore some local terrain.
Here are a few of the photos from those hikes. There will be a few more upcoming once the film gets developed, but I think this is pretty cool overall. It's unfortuante that I had used old film and wound-up with a bunch of double-exposures for the Zoa Peak hike. Hopefully I've learned my lesson about thrift store film and labelling a camera, and hopefully it will give me an excuse to head back up there soon. The weather is projected to be spectacular this week, so I might be able to try it again this weekend.
In addition to my own photos, I've actually appeared in a couple of other people's photos too. This is rare. For the last couple years, I mainly taken the photos, not been a subject. So here's some evidence that I still exist in real life, even to other people.
Zoa Peak (September 28)
Tikwalus Trail (October 6)
Tim Wu's recent New York Times article, "In Praise of Mediocrity," kinda' hit home for me. In it, he praises the practice of having a hobby, of doing something for the joy of it. I can appreciate that.
I may have a list of things on my profiles that describe the different things I do "Teacher, Musician, Photographer, etc...," but am I really good at any of them? Not really. And do I make money from any of them but being a teacher? Nope. Do I do any of them to the degree that people seek em out to hire me to do them? Nope.
[T]here’s a deeper reason, I’ve come to think, that so many people don’t have hobbies: We’re afraid of being bad at them. Or rather, we are intimidated by the expectation — itself a hallmark of our intensely public, performative age — that we must actually be skilled at what we do in our free time. Our “hobbies,” if that’s even the word for them anymore, have become too serious, too demanding, too much an occasion to become anxious about whether you are really the person you claim to be.
I've experienced this before. Many people seem to expect me to be a super-professional of sorts with my music and photography. They ask when I'm going to put together a gallery show, finish my album, or start a band.
And, to a point, that makes sense. I should get a band going and I'm sure I'd find joy in it; I should learn how to do all the darkroom stuff in order to justify all my darkroom equipment; I've written a bunch of songs, so I should release them to the public. And I feel that sort of pressure... to publicize my skills in a way that I can gain acknowledgement and deserve the titles I put on my business card, or in the right column of this website, or on all of my social media profiles.
However, I don't seem to have that drive. I've tried making the music more professional before, but I keep putting it off and I'm kinda' ok with it. The older I get, the less I feel like I need to share my emotions with people; my drive to share my music in a professional context has faded with that. I've been enjoying making photographs as of late, but I'm not out there hiring models in order to show off my skills. I'm quite happy to keep my photos "in-house." The article mentions running. I like running, enough that I push myself to run kinda' far now and then, but I'm not "in training." Lately I've been going down to the weight room and trying to stay fit, but I'm not really bodybuilding.
In all these things, I'm a hobbyist. I don't do any of them with a passion that creates cash for myself, and cash is the only real currency of capitalism. I don't have much desire to mix Capitalism with my hobbies. So I keep them with myself.
It makes me wonder how I'd even jump on anything if I had the chance. How would I jump on a bona fide music career? Or photography gig? I have no idea. And with the need to pay for child support, lawyers, and all that separation-related stuff, I can't really abandon my job these days.
So I'll keep up with my hobbying and maybe I can bring in a few bucks as some hobbyist side hustle.
And I'll take more pride in keeping "Musician" and "Photographer" in my profiles, even if they are just a hobby, and even if Capital doesn't recognize my accomplishments.
This article showed up in my Twitter feed:
I like a bunch of it. Bezos' success in business shows that he's likely set up some good practices over at Amazon. Most of the article seems to work for the Amazon context. I like it. I'd love to work in an environment that moved that quickly.
As an English teacher, I appreciated his logic behind the 6-page narrative memo: it adds clarity, far more than bullet-point Powerpoint presentations. The article explains,
"The narrative structure of a good memo forces better thought and better understanding of what's more important than what, and how, things are related," Bezos wrote. "PowerPoint-style presentations somehow give permission to gloss over ideas, flatten out any sense of relative importance, and ignore the interconnectedness of ideas."
Sounds good to me. Over the years, I've moved away from Power point presentations and the like because I feel I have no evidence that they're effective. I can sympathize with 6 pages of memo that help put something in context and clarify vision. When students ask, "can I write in notes form?" I tend to say "No." Notes need too much context. Just use full sentences whenever possible so your ideas are as clear as possible.
Later in the article, the writer describes Bezos' "Disagree and commit" style of decision-making:
Bezos understands the common desire to get more data but says there is an obvious problem with that approach. "If you wait for 90%, in most cases, you're probably being slow," he wrote in his 2016 letter to shareholders.
Not bad. I like that way of working through things too, of being willing to change course as you go in order to maximize the possibilities available to you.
This works in the big-ol' orporate world, but I don't think this way-of-thinking works in politics. Reading the article reminded me of this excellent episode of BBC4's Seriously podcast. In it, they interview politicians as they consider the decisions they've made, the ones they've made in a rush and the ones they've taken their time with.
One of the tensions we're feeling in the world right now stems from Donald Trump's corporate background. He's used to being making rash decisions and keeping things mercurial. But in politics, that sort of corporate innovation thinking doesn't necessarily lead to good outcomes.
Of course, we'll have to wait and see what some of Trump's outcomes are. But for the time being his rash decisions don't seem to be working effectively in the political market, no matter what he tells us.
Matthew Hawkins at Around Chilliwack featured some of my photographs and a few written interview answers. I feel truly honoured that he approached me at all.
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