Ask a stupid question, get a stupid educational system

I’ve spent the past few days reading Clifford Hill’s work on how children interpret questions on reading tests, and I can’t help but be struck by the comparisons to what Ethan is writing about his students in Cameroon.

Hill demonstrates again and again that children generate their answers not just from the text of the very brief, decontextualized passages which show up on the tests, but from a good deal of extra cognitive work they do in order to generate a mental system in which the passages make sense, or connect these passages to the world they know. Here is one of his examples of a test passage and questions, from the Lawrence Cremin Lecture he delivered at Teachers College this past March:

Raisins are made from sweet varieties of grapes. The ripe fruit is usually placed on trays right in the vineyard. There, it dries in the sun. Drying may take several weeks.

A. Raisins are made from grapes that have a lot of
water     varieties
skin        sugar
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A thought about core curricula

The genetic biologist who has written an open letter to the head of SUNY Albany, on the occasion of his cutting of their French, Italian, Russian, theater, and classics departments, has gotten attention from a number of my friends today. He argues eloquently that science without the humanities becomes soulless and misguided; he illustrates with a number of parables from European literature. He argues also that the president might have gone to the faculty to ask where they were able to cut costs. With both points, I agree.

But early on, he makes one point with which I take issue. He almost lost my support here:

the reason that humanities classes have low enrollment is not because students these days are clamoring for more relevant courses; it’s because administrators like you, and spineless faculty, have stopped setting distribution requirements and started allowing students to choose their own academic programs – something I feel is a complete abrogation of the duty of university faculty as teachers and mentors. You could fix the enrollment problem tomorrow by instituting a mandatory core curriculum that included a wide range of courses.

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ProQuest, Dissertations, and Creative Commons Licensing: An Open Letter

I finally deposited my dissertation today, after the usual rounds of insanely nitpicky formatting revisions and some not-so-usual delays due to months of being utterly heads-down on grantwriting, an intervening summer, and the doctoral studies office’s reader being out for personal reasons. Depositing is not so simple as it seems. Among other things, at Teachers College you have to pay to get it printed, and then pay to get it in to ProQuest, the database of dissertations.

If you’re at all into Creative Commons licensing, the latter is exceedingly problematic. I’ve just written a letter to our vice provost’s office, trying to explain why. Continue Reading »

Publicly Available Documents

In the final hours of revisions to my dissertation, it occurred to me that I probably really needed to check with the blogger whose site name I was using in my title, to make sure that was OK with him. I did, and he said yes, he was flattered. Continue Reading »

The URL Problem

Internet literate people use URLs to figure out where they are online. They use them to judge the accuracy of a website, figure out who is probably writing it, and determine how to interpret the discussion on it.

Internet illiterate people, by contrast, don’t make use of URLs, much less understand what “URL” means or refers to. Give them a text box marked “URL” on a blog comment form, and they’ll fill it with something else (which the blog comment software will dutifully but distastefully mix with hexadecimal encodings). Continue Reading »