Category Archives: General Educational Topics

Discussions about education in general including issues of Academic Freedom, educational bias, philosophies of education and methodology/pedagogy, etc.

Start of New Things

San Diego – Today is the first day of classes at City College for Fall 2011.  Getting ready for it and all it encompasses and includes has taken pretty much my full attention over the last week so I’ve not had time to write.

Not that fun stuff isn’t happening.  In California, the poster child for a cradle to grave nanny-state, where education is in shambles, schools are scrambling just to keep doors open and teachers hired, the state legislature is considering a critical new bill.  No, it is not about the budget idiocy; it is about banning flat sheets from hotels.  Additionally I have learned, in a dressing down from my dean, that playing nice in the sandbox and acting like non-performers are to be respected is more important than the success of our educational mission (which explains an enormous amount to me), and during the convocation we had the union rep give an openly, overtly political speech far beyond even some of his screeds to the email distribution list.  All fodder for comment to be sure.

But this semester is not only about to start with an interesting load of classes, it also marks a turning point in my attitude.  The program has been my life since 2005.  Dave (my fellow full time faculty member) have sacrificed breaks, paid for supplies from our own pocket, provided our own time to work on equipment and systems and he even taught a class for free because the administration stabbed students int he back and he felt it important to keep his promise to them.  While my respect for some of our internal vendors, and those who think turning away from the truth of their (or anyone’s) incompetence is a good thing,  plummeted, my respect for him rose enormously.

But with such administrative attitudes now holding sway and in the process, in my opinion, facilitating and perpetuating the very problems that have made California an educational laughing stock, it is time to seek to close out this plateau and seek a route up to the next one.  By the end of this school year Dave and I thought perhaps we would have things running smoothly and could reclaim some of our “off” time for ourselves.  Now instead of a hope and expectation, that, for me, has become a mission.  And with it has come a vision for how to use some of that regained off time.

I intend to revisit and revitalize the concept of location workshops and use City College as the host for San Diego’s own growing version of the Santa Fe Workshops initially run by The College of Santa Fe.  This will not only bring exposure to our photo program but will allow me to expand my energies to a new project as the project of the new building and new program come full circle.

i have several ideas for making the workshops, at least the location-based ones I run, into something unique and special taking a lesson from the many white water trips i used to enjoy.  I’m working on a list of sites, topics, and times and will post those as soon as something is permanent.  In addition I have encouraged faculty members to create workshop topics to be hosted by City and by combining all of these we may be able to not only create something new and wonderful, we may be able to use the facilities hosting as a way of pumping some much needed funding back into the photo program at city.

It is all still in the early thinking stages but as it becomes more tangible I’ll start to roll it out here.  So stand by.  The first week of every semester is filled with chaos so i may not be able to add anything for a number of days but do stand by.  Hopefully we will have some very exciting data to follow soon.


Back from the Imaging DNA Conference at Art Center

San Diego –  This past weekend I attended the Imaging DNA Conference held at Art Center in Pasadena.  It was a great experience and presented some very challenging concepts for education in the digital world.  It also previewed the Raytrix Plenoptic Lightfield camera. That technology is very new and still under development but the possibilities are amazing.  Enough data is captured from the incoming light rays that focus can be recalculated in post production and 3D images can be made from the data.  The version of the camera we saw was for industrial use on very small objects but it certainly proved the concept works.

The major challenge came in the presentations which built on a recurrent concept that achieving the “possible” is no big deal, anyone can do it because it is, well, possible.  But aiming for the “impossible” is the path from which growth stems in all areas. We need to learn to interrogate the possibilities but not to achieve them so much as to point to the IMpossibilities we need to achieve.  And education is where that habit can start.  We talk about various learning styles among individuals but all of those are, in fact, LEARNED.  Based on our culture, history, associations, habits, etc. we have “learned” to learn in a particular way.  But for given material that may not be the most efficient or optimal way.  The data is out there, and it exists in a wide variety of forms.  If we want our students to succeed, we need to concentrate as much on teaching them how to learn our material optimally as we do on the material itself.

That is a bold view and flies in the face of political correctness and the adherence to diversity especially in academia by those who have taken tolerance to the point of cowardice.  But it is backed up by experience and practice.  But it means we, as educators need to know that in the first place and Im not sure we all do… I’m not sure I do.  But you can bet I’m going to be working on it.


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Scorn for Teachers, etc.

San Diego – These are really interesting times.  With the broohaha in Wisconsin and Ohio my email has been inundated by political offal from the union but that is normal for them.  Thinking is not required beyond memorizing the talking points and screed demanded.  But then, a couple of emails appeared from an instructor in our political science department.  Of course he is liberal but we are not supposed to be using our district email for political diatribes (unless they are properly liberal, of course, in which case it is OK) and I am used to that too and try to ignore or summarily delete them.  But he reprinted an article from the NY Times which touched on a point I think is incredibly important; the growing scorn for teachers in general.  Plus he could not resist at dig at a new make-work effort now going through our state’s system called “SLO” where we define our expected student learning outcomes and how we will measure success.  It is important for you readers that are not in the system to know that our faculty are nearly unanimously opposed to these.  Below is a reaction to his note and the article…

I have really wanted to stay out of this debate knowing I am not part of the choir to which the NY Times article the professor copied is preaching.  And I am certainly not part of the choir for which the unending litany of claptrap from the union bombing our email is directed either.  I would prefer, generally, to simply watch and chuckle from afar and not, once again, open myself for the ad hominem flame wars that seem always to flow in response from people I would rather continue to believe are better than that.  But sometimes the disconnection between rhetoric and behavior is too great to ignore.

We teachers talk a great line about being most interested in the students’ well being and success yet adamantly refuse to even admit a problem we all know exists: dead wood teachers protected from all attack or removal for no reason other than time in grade or personal friendships. 

Oh yes, I know the line about how they can still be removed for good cause;  but let’s get real, when was the last time that happened?

How are we evaluated anyway?  By student evaluations which are a popularity contest and by so-called peers that know nothing about the specifics of our unique disciplines and often give little more than a perfunctory visit because they already know they are not going to rock any boat by suggesting, god forbid, things might not be going well.  And even if it is not the best of class presentations during that visit, a single visit does not a trend make so, for good or ill it is purely for the image of it and has nothing to do with a teacher’s real skills at leading students to success in their fields of study.   Unless done for acceptable political reasons it is generally a toothless system putting instructors in thrall to the union.

And the de facto bottom line result is that tenure virtually assures that dead wood accumulates and the union seems more interested in dues and self- perpetuation than in truly helping to improve the educational system by some dead wood clearing.  So unless a teacher beats or assaults a student in front of the class, and continues such behavior after repeated warnings, they are nearly bullet proof so long as they are sufficiently politically correct and echo the line of the choir’s thinking at least in public.

And yet we wonder why we are scorned?   Really?  Not unless we are willfully blind to reality we don’t.  And if we truly are clueless then we have no claim on any authority based in intelligence and insight to call ourselves fit teachers for anyone.

Meantime, out of the blue and down the pike comes SLOs – Student Learning Outcomes/Objectives.  A murky rehash of the MBO (Management By Objective) craze that made it through the corporate world a number of years ago and now dressed up in new edu-jargon and targeted at the educational field to give some new doctoral thesis a semblance of credibility.  In the end it will prove as elusive a progenitor of quality in our workplace as MBOs were in that world.  And like there, the failure will happen for all the wrong reasons, chief of which is that workers there and workers here often seem more interested in security than growth so the defined “outcomes and objectives” in both get successively downsized to fit not a real standard but based on the efforts the workers are willing to apply.

But on the other hand, we have, with the SLO concept, flawed as it is and open to abuse as it is, an instrument by which we, the teachers, could demonstrate our own commitment to the improvement of an obviously broken education system, starting where we need to start, with ourselves.

We cannot legitimately point the finger at other issues to explain the failures of education if we are not willing to look internally and make sure our own house is in order before casting stones at another house.  After all, there was a time when it DID work and remarkably well at that.  So what has changed?

It is not just the top heavy system that skims money off long before it get s to the classroom though that is a factor.

It is not just the acceptance of programs more concerned with feelings than success; programs that seem to ignore that to make a student feel good about themselves all you have to do is to help them become truly good at it and scorn the students by acting as if they are not smart enough to not know when we are flim-flamming them by pretending mediocre performance is just fine if they feel that it is.

It is not just the development of a system that protects its own deadwood and hides its own failures.

It is all of those things and some of them fall squarely into our own laps.  So where can SLO’s help us instead of hurt us?  It depends entirely on how we teachers chose to use them.  Assuming we have enough of a grasp of real world needs (which in my world of vocational topics and advisory committees is our Bible) then determining and quantifying the objectives a student needs to be successful therein is not a difficult or arduous task.  And if we do not have such a grasp then I’m sorry, but we are in the wrong job and have no business in this one.

Once we have defined those objectives/outcomes then by our own hand we have created the precisely proper criteria for our own evaluations.  This criteria doesn’t depend on outside influences, conclusions by people  who know nothing about our discipline’s needs, or subjective conclusions by people who personally like or dislike us or our beliefs.  Success is not to be measured by how long one has been teaching but by whether or not the student’s are measurably learning and accomplishing what the teachers themselves said was proper.

If we cannot meet our own standards of success how dare we claim that we should continue to inflict ourselves on our students solely due to seniority while at the same time we offer flowing rhetoric about how the future of our country, state, culture, society, depends on high quality education?  Do we assume parents and others not in the profession do not notice?

I know that we are in a culture here increasingly interested in avoiding consequences for choices, responsibility for behavior, and freedom from any sort of constraints on our desires.  I know we wish to turn every desire into some sort of “right” until the term becomes meaningless.  But at some point it has to stop.  If the people claiming to be able to educate — teach — the rest of the populace what they need to know to grow as a human beings, succeed in their lives and careers, understand their real place in society and the universe, play nice in the social sandbox, but cannot themselves even accept being held accountable for the very standards they set for themselves, then scorn is the least form of derision they deserve.

If we want to get the public to see us as the keepers of the future we see ourselves as being, to view us as a class of workers worthy of our pay and status, to hold us out as professionals in the field of human endeavor, then we have to act like it and openly perform like it and openly work to clean our own house and harvest our own deadwood.  Or the assaults will simply continue and escalate until there is no place to hide and the mob of angry voters and tax payers ends up throwing the proverbial baby out with the bath water.

If we continue to look down on them intellectually as if we actualy occupy the intellectual high grown and continue to view those who see us as less than god-like as all morons and troglodytes, then we cannot complain too much because they have resulted from our own care… they are what the educational system we hide behind have managed to produce.  As a friend of mine once asserted; he had gotten his education in spite of his schooling.  If we wish to see the success of our current efforts we need look no further than the people howling for our heads.

Arthur C. Clark, the futurist, science, and sci-fi writer, once wrote that the problem with academia and the intelligentsia was that their education had surpassed their intellects.  I never understood that assertion until now. I
i would propose that instead looking down from our ivory towers at the evil other side; instead of trying to join in the hunt for simple easy solutions (like throwing more money at a problem) to incredibly complex issues; that instead we start to act as if we really WERE intellectuals and begin by searching for real solutions, starting with healing our own obviously failed system by being honest about the fact that some of that failure is on our heads.

If we did that, and did it openly, I think we would see that scorn start to fall away and turn to admiration once again.

  I believe this: we are being scorned because we have been scornful of those who actually pay us.  We act as if the money comes from the great anonymous “state” instead of realizing the state just filters money it has taken from the people and doles out some of it back to us.  But that is not state money, it is taxpayer money.

We are scornful of those who actually depend on us because we sit in our isolated halls of academia and seem to think that hearing seminars from other isolated individuals and reading papers by other isolated individuals gives us an insight into the functioning of a real world that we have known, at best, second hand.

We are being looked down upon because we too often look down ourselves upon others from different perspectives as if we somehow have a pipeline to eternal truth.  We read a long list of like-minded people and reach conclusions reinforced by others in our safe and hallowed halls and cannot fathom that someone with different experiences could possibly reach different conclusions without being, well, stupid.

We are the authors of the very attitudes now arrayed against us.  And the only ones who can ever make it better, who can ever make our system work again and become, once again, the beacon of the world rather than the laughingstock of it, is us.   But we can’t do it by continuing business as usual. 

When one finds themselves in a hole the first thing to do is stop digging.  Our approach, rather, as displayed by that article, is to ask for a bigger shovel.


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Who Cares About Education?

San Diego – What a wild week this first week of the Spring semester has been.  Our classes are ALL full to overflowing, especially the foundational ones.  Hopefully attrition will happen fairly quickly because, as usual, I let in far too many crashers and even at the end of the week I was getting requests to add.  The system is seriously out of synch with the realities here on the ground.  If we hold to our student number caps as we are instructed to do then by mid terms we will have empty seats as the toll of real work starts to filter out students.  But if we do as many of teachers do and let in extra students, the state does not pay the school back for those over cap even though they happily take the fees.  Of course since we are generally on deferral payments anyway I’m not sure it is all that big a hit on the district.

But we could easily have run one or two more sections of the basic classes and filled them but the budget will not let us hire the instructors to do that so we would have to swap for upper level classes that need to be run.  It is a real dilemma.  Poor Dave, who does the heavy lifting for scheduling classes is always caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place over it.  The losers, as always, are the students.

The State and Federal politicians all sing a happy tune about how important education is to the future.  And I think that is exactly the right melody.  Without educated citizenry not only does the country falter in a democracy, but its productivity falters as well.  And also its economy suffers and that in turn impacts education in a vicious circle.  But despite all of that nice singing going on, their actions tell of a very different belief system.

It is a sad if not pathetic truth that we as a country and as a State spend more money per student than anywhere else in the world and yet have ridiculously low comparisons based on student achievements.  The U.S. is no longer anywhere near the top of educational achievement scale world wide and California has now dropped to 45th in the country… so where does that leave our students?  And where does all that money go anyway since it does not appear in the classroom?  And what impact does that have on our future when several generations of the warm and fuzzy curricula that passes for education leaves kids coming into our college classrooms unable to form a simple declarative sentence, do the simplest math or even count change without a calculator, and cognitive skills likely to lose a checkers game to the nearest potted plant.

In my opinion the piles of money we already put into education go to all the wrong places in a ferociously top-heavy system.  When new full time classroom teachers devoting themselves to educating our future citizens are paid $50K or less and are lacking basics like textbooks for the classrooms while top administrators are making hefty 6-figure salaries, things are out of whack.  It is a typical, perhaps stereotypical, bureaucracy which at is best is inefficient and at its worst is simply blindly self-serving while its actual reason for its existence, the students it exists to serve, are the constant losers.  i won’t even get into the distorted cultural mind set that sees nothing wrong with football players and play actors making millions while educators struggle to pay basic mortgages.

The question for us would appear to be a simple one:  if you were part of  the leadership of some political entity such as a State or Country, and you were honestly truly primarily interested not in your own re-election but in the future of the prosperity of your constituents, then…

  • Which do you think would better serve that goal?  Higher paid teachers or higher paid prison guards?
  • Which structures have more lasting value to a state or country?  Better school and teaching facilities or more modern prisons?  Better, safer better equipped campuses or bigger sports arenas?
  • Which segment of your population would deserve more consideration?  Students or convicts?  Individuals trying to learn how to be good citizens or individuals who have demonstrated blatant disregard for the rights of other citizens?  Real citizens or non-citizens?
  • What demographic will likely better increase productivity and thereby raise all levels?  Entrepreneurs and business people who risk all to start and maintain companies that hire people and produce things or  people who want to feel victimized and entitled and live off of the public feed trough?  Scientists in spending long hours in research labs who seek solutions for life and death issues or people living in boxes and out of  stolen grocery carts whose choice was to give up the fight and seek refuge in a bottle or needle or rolled up C-note?
  • And who is more likely going to create a better tax base to provide money to keep the state running?  Employees of those businesses or the homeless people on the streets?

While I would personally chose the first category in each instance it would appear that the State politicians and now our Federal leaders have consistently and continually chosen the second.  And because those second choices cannot provide the taxes the State needs in order to coddle even themselves,  the State has had to borrow the money to pay for their welfare and even more similar programs to where important infrastructure needs such as roads lose out to welfare and education loses out to political and government bureaucracies which produce little more than more bureaucrats scratching for their place at the trough.  And now it has decided it is “fair” to take from those who are doing the hard work of building and maintaining society and give to those who are not.  The problem is pretty soon the government will run out of other people’s money and have to admit it truly has none of its own.

I don’t believe that can be sustained for long without collapsing of its own poor construction.  Just like the Feds, we are trying to borrow our way out of a debt crisis while “investing” (read: spending) more toward the least likely productive ends.  We want, for example, to spend money on high speed rail when state and federal railroads have always been models of inefficiency and lost dollars because they are built for a different culture and a different time.  if you want to see the future success of government-run high speed rail then look no further than Amtrak.   We clamor for alternative energy sources despite the stats that the costs per energy unit are up to 10 times (and sometimes more) the costs per unit derived from fossil fuel and then we shaft the University labs and energy company research facilities that might actually find a way to make it more affordable and maybe even profitable.

Don’t misunderstand me, I am really in favor of pursuing alternative energy research and finding ways to make it more efficient and less expensive.  But that means not only funding the places that can do it but also in the meantime realizing we have lots of domestic reserves of oil and gas but are blocked from accessing them and then blocked from refining them.  Is that a finite resource that is running out?  Of course it is, and I actually think it will do so long before we are told giving even more impetus to seek alternative solutions.  But rather than present to the people an objective fact-based workable narrative to explain that impending and catastrophic situation along with the potential national crisis of dependence on a foreign resource provided by people who detest us (or, as in the case of Canada who provides most of our actual oil imports, who will soon realize they need it themselves), and get the nation on board to buy into a workable plan, our leaders try to sell it based on still controversial (despite the true believers’ cry that it is beyond debate) concepts of anthropogenic global warming to scare us and alienate as many as they convert.

Let me be clear: I think we need to be scared, very scared.  But we need to be scared of the real dangers not of cash-cow theories designed for pocket lining far more than planet survival.  And the truth is, there are things out there, events and trends already underway, that will potentially do us in long before the sea levels flood Manhattan.  But those are being ignored because so far no one has figured out how to make money off of the panic that will ensue when people get scared about it.

So what does that have to do with education?  Everything.

  • A well educated and scientifically skeptical perspective would lead to a population more analytical and less susceptible to theoretical long term terrors and perhaps more aware of the really scary short term ones.
  • A better educated citizenry would be sufficiently endowed with enlightened self-interest to understand what types of individuals and enterprises are more likely to lift ALL boats if supported as opposed to supporting those that perhaps simply have the squeakiest of wheels and the most pathetic of stories.
  • A better-educated population might be better able to distinguish between rhetoric and action and thereby identify when cheap political talk has not been put into any meaningful action.
  • A better educated populace would know that a government, like an individual or family, that spends more than it takes in and borrows to make ends meet will sooner or later have to start defaulting on the loans and when that happens it is s swift spiral into disaster.
  • And while they were at it, a better education population would also more likely provide the talent, creativity, initiative, and inspiration to return us, as a country, to the truly exceptional place we once were and make of us once more the true leaders – not dictators or tyrants, but real leaders – of a free world and its economy.

Despite how hard edged this sounds, I do have every sympathy for the poor homeless wretch sleeping on a grate.   But when we are functionally bankrupt and out of money, I think we first need to help the people who can work us out of our mess and THEN deal with the others.  if we cannot help ourselves and survive we will never be able to help those others that need and deserve some help.   We will not be able to help anyone when the whole system craters.   And besides how many historical instances does it take to demonstrate pretty conclusively that private charity is far more efficient and useful to the recipients than the public dole.

I believe further that people are generally not sent to prison for being pillars of the community and that they do not deserve to be housed in such a manner as to cost enough per bed to provide very workable shelters and help for those homeless people who are in that state because they were blindsided by life and a failing economy.  And I think a better educated populace would, when presented with the truth, hard as it may be, about the choices and budget options, tend to agree with that.

But, alas, what do I know?  I’m just a teacher.  And our State has just made it clear how much credence they give to my kind, my colleagues, and our contributions.  In a society that shows its valuation of things monetarily, we have less value than actors and sports figures.  So we cannot, by definition, know all that much…


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Discussions on general Educational Topics

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Posted by on November 13, 2010 in General Educational Topics