Whenever someone you don’t really know tells you that you must not do such and such, it often provokes a desire to do that very same such and such. It’s like an itch on a random body-spot that must needs scratching. You try to overcome such a base urge, but scratching it is only solution in the end. To be sure, you must beware of scratching the itch until it bleeds, as St. Thomas warns against blowing your nose until it bleeds. But, then you know that in this case scratching is the only way to relieve this singular itch.
Commenter Art Deco said that I should never publish my diary. I agree with him in this judgment, but then again I never thought I was publishing my diary in my PERSONAL posts. Trust me, you don’t want to know the day-to-day life of John Presnall, unless you want the effects of a tranquilizer, or unless you want to read a parody of the DMS-5 (or 4 or 3 or 2 or 1). Such a story could be done, but I’ll spare the reader the details. Besides, I’m not that good a writer or thinker. Let me say at least that I have not yet willingly entered myself into the madhouse.
So, what could only be to Art Deco’s delight, these posts do not make up the diary of my life. Rather, they make up a random collection of personal recollections of and insights into public policies experienced. These were policies that were noticed as they were authoritatively implemented into the everyday workings of the ordinary life of a simple teacher teaching government. In other words, mistakes were made on the public part of those regulating education, and these mistakes were then dealt with as they were implemented into the details of the day-to-day life of teaching as it exists in the various classrooms that this particular teacher has had to deal with. How ‘bout that passive voice!
But other than Henry Adams, who writes autobiographically (diaretically?) in the passive voice? I suppose there are many other literary examples. So be it! I wont be Henry Adams here.
To the point–
Today’s lesson is on the educational emphasis on core competencies—competencies like “critical thinking,” “communication,” “personal” and “social responsibility.” Ask any administrator what these terms mean, and they will be as dumbfounded as the teacher. They can parrot what the law or policy says, but the teacher is obligated nonetheless to show that the objectives have been addressed and assessed in his classroom. And, by the way, this policy of core competencies has the effect of law, with which the accrediting agencies and their accreditation power are in concert. So these things must be taught, even if they are as abstract and as empty of content as they are as stated and defined.
You might say, then teach Plato or Aristotle or Locke, but this particular course is defined by law as American Government. You might then say, well teach the Declaration, the Constitution, the Federalist, but you are required to have to have a textbook. You might then say, use the Bessette and Pitney text, but as good as that book is, it still doesn’t meet the designated and legally defined student learner outcomes. Besides you’ve been teaching this course so long that you don’t want to teach a textbook. So you supplement the textbook with original primary source readings from Thomas Jefferson to Woodrow Wilson, but this still doesn’t meet the core competencies. After all, how can you separate personal responsibility and social responsibility as discrete items that must be measured and assessed each in their own way? It’s a big mess as you present data that is inevitably fudged. In shame, you remember that it’s just like when you fudged your high school chemistry lab data. But unlike chemistry, you’re dealing with the education of the youth.
So these core competencies need to be overcome in terms of the particular siutation. But this is easier said than done.
You can overcome the shame of fudging data when you remember that you’re smarter than all this, but the law refuses such an education to exist.
Regardless of whether one teaches fine arts, political science, chemistry, or humanities—one must by law teach these core competencies. As I mentioned in an earlier post, administrators tell us that these core competencies can be defined and measured for the sake of future improvement in instruction. They provide the basis from which then we can decide whether or not we are being “successful” in our education. The teacher can be held measurably accountable in terms whether or not the student exhibits “personal responsibility” say, regardless of the family, church, and cultural situations outside of the control of the teacher. Whether or not “personal responsibility” can exist outside of a concept of the common good is not considered. As a measurable quantity, “personal responsibility” seems to be outside of the control of the institutions of government, culture, and education in general. But the teacher must measure it nonetheless.
Teaching in terms of core competencies, education becomes an abstraction apart from the content of what ought to be taught, or rather what used to be thought was worthy of being taught. Apparently the teacher function can teach anything as long as it fills in the empty vessel of “critical thinking” or any other such similar abstract objective.
The late, great Elmore Leonard, for instance, taught critical thinking in terms of many colorful, albeit, criminal characters. So I’m thinking—for the sake of critical thinking—of replacing the Federalist Papers with Elmore Leonard. Why not? Of course this would be irresponsible on my part.
So what must be done about the mercury ball of assessable competency called critical thinking?
Since there seems to be no settled, stable and agreed upon criteria of what “critical thinking” means nowadays in terms of the common good, I tell my students that in my classes we will first learn how to think before we learn how to critically think. Otherwise, if I don’t do this, then critical thinking makes me want to ask Kantian questions about the limits of reason. Does critical thinking involve a critique of what used to be called “metaphysical thinking” in favor of the primacy of practical reasoning? You can see why I’m against critical thinking, not only as an abstract concept, but as one that touches upon the most important aspects of what it means to be human right now in an ordinary sense.
I didn’t choose this term “critical thinking” that I’m supposed to teach.
In sum, I noticed a commonality between my earlier post on the education of failure and this one on the idea of BLOOD, i.e., the blood of the man who cried tears of blood and Thomas’ warning against blowing your nose until it bleeds.
In the next post I’ll try to tie the educational demands of student success in terms of core competencies to Brian De Palma’s rendition of high school in Stephen King’s novel CARRIE. I just recently re-watched it and I must say that for all the easy intellectual criticism it’s a brilliant movie. Apart from following a “HALLOWEEN” horror theme, in its obvious exaggeration, Carrie may yet be the best filmic rendition of the problem of modern public education in a liberal democracy. So I’ll write on Carrie soon. It’s a great De Palma film, but not his best. That’s another discussion.
BTW, these issues are not about high school education, but what counts for college credit in Texas today.