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.
I can think of a few times over the last few years when I've felt uncomfortable with the ways people "call out" each other. My impression is that the person who "calls out" injustice feels their explanation is witty and useful, but it can often come-off as a conversation-closer. Despite this, I usually try to give the call-out a serious listen, even if I can't do it on the day of confrontation. If I'm uncomfortable with an idea, I like to try to get to the core of my discomfort.
A few weeks ago, I came across this article, "A Note on Call-Out Culture," by Asam Ahmad after somebody posted it to their Twitter feed. I didn't read it for a few days, but when I did I found a couple touching passages.
Here's the article:
I think the article brings up some valid concerns, namely that "Calling-Out" is a performative act. When we call-out, the calling-out itself becomes the issue of importance. It's hard to keep one's aim straight on the content when the calling-out is so attractive in and of itself.
Most importantly to me, Ahmad writes,
There are ways of calling people out that are compassionate and creative, and that recognize the whole individual instead of viewing them simply as representations of the systems from which they benefit. Paying attention to these other contexts will mean refusing to unleash all of our very real trauma onto the psyches of those we imagine to only represent the systems that oppress us.
I believe in calling-out injustice, but I also believe that there are ways to do so that decrease damage and increase relationship. When we can confront people in ways that don't jade them or shift the focus of their concern, people have a chance to feel legitimized, even if their in the wrong camp. A successful call-out should allow the receiver of the call-out to feel as human as the person who performs the call-out themselves.
On October 24, The School of Life published this video, "Is It Better To Be Polite Or Frank?" which seemed to address some of my call-out concerns that day. The video compares "frank: and "polite" behaviours and evaluates their efficacy in different contexts. If you have 10 minutes, I highly recommend viewing it.
In relation to the video above, I would argue that "calling out" is almost always an act of frankness: the person wants to bring something to the surface and "tell it as it is." However, the combination of performance and frankness shuts down nuance. Once the performance of calling-out begins, once somebody highlights somebody's apparent indiscretion. Calling out creates opposition and debate where nuance might fit better.
When I was searching for the first article in this blog entry, I came across a second article with a different focus. Kitty Striker wrote this article for The Walrus: "The Problem with Callout Culture."
For my purposes, the most pertinent part of this article reads,
For some critics, it feels safer, and more cut and dried, to call out an individual for saying something racist, for example, than to dig into the root of why they felt it was okay to say it in the first place. It’s less overwhelming to yell at one person than to, say, go after institutional oppression.
Calling out is fine if you want to frankly bring something to the surface, but terrible at identifying the root problems that maintain injustice. If anything, I would think that effective call-outs would immediately be followed by some empathic conversation between both parties. Call-outs draw attention to a problem, but may be a bad method for changing the systems they confront.
I'm all for changing the system; I'm all for calling out injustice. However, I'm more interested in workable ways to change the system than I am in forcing myself into a position where my frankness and performance force me to try to be "right" when I could very well be wrong, or missing the target altogether.
British Columbia has declared a public health emergency over the recent rise in fentanyl-related deaths. Good on 'em.
The numbers themselves are harrowing. The Globe and Mail wrote,
B.C. had 76 illicit drug overdose deaths in January, the highest total in a single month since at least 2007. At its current rate, the province could have 600 to 800 overdose deaths this year, Dr. Kendall said in a news conference on Thursday. B.C. had 474 such deaths last year, a significant increase from 211 in 2010.
It seems to me that "state of emergency" is an appropriate term to use, considering those statistics.
I think it's shameful that anybody needs to die due to poor public policy. I believe these deaths stem from a refusal to educate people due to matters of criminalization, which creates an abusive black market.
I don't know how to write about this as a coherent post with a beginning, middle, and end. So here's a bulleted list:
The following podcast with Johann Hari discusses an upcoming UN summit on worldwide drug policy:
Hari made this succinct thesis, paraphrasing Ruth Dreifuss, who legalized heroin in Switzerland:
When you hear the phrase "legalization" what you picture is violence and anarchy. What we have right now with the Drug War is violence and anarchy. We have unknown criminals selling unknown chemicals to unknown drug users—all in the dark, all filled with violence and disease. Legalization is the way you restore order to that violence and chaos.
I agree. Bring it out in the open and regulate it for safety's sake. Let's stop this prudish silliness and learn how to deal with culture without criminalization.
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