When the World Becomes Standard, I Will Start Caring About Standards.*

January 23, 2010

A poet’s work is to name the unnameable, to point at frauds, to take sides,
start arguments, shape the world, and stop it going to sleep.
• Salman Rushdie

I do care about standards. I care about the standards I set for myself. I care that my students set standards for themselves. And I care that the standards each of us sets represent our attempts to produce work that is meaningful and of high quality. Although I understand the need for standardized tests, particularly in courses where it’s necessary to demonstrate knowledge of essential information, and while I also live with the reality of my own somewhat looser attempts to standardize assignments so that I will be able to complete the assessment process while also staying sane, it is always my dream that I will remain open to the possibilities of creative response and leave room for the unexpected in assignments where it is appropriate. For the learner, the ability to articulate her or his intentions in creative work is crucial and is an essential standard for non-standard work submitted to meet standards!

Another kind of standardization I cannot support is the tyranny of the majority, the idea that the majority rules. If a thousand people believe something that I do not believe, their belief does not make it true for me. There is far too much of this kind of talk from media pontificators. Listen long enough and you might believe that in a democracy, once a vote is taken, everyone, regardless of her or his  beliefs, should shut up and go along. I wrote this poem in response to such talk, framing it with quotations from Charles’ Dickens (1854) book, Hard Times. Dickens’ fears that the utilitarian values of his time could emphasize facts over imagination in education are certainly relevant today.

Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts; nothing else will be of any service to them.
• Mr. Thomas Gradgrind, explaining his teaching methods, Charles Dickens (1854),
Hard Times

Just the Facts, M’am
Wlikins-O’Riley Zinn
West Wind Review (2006)

Show me the data.
Show me the numbers.
Show me the chart the graph the quadrangle of meaning so I’ll know
what to think what to do who I am. Why.
Show me the data.
Crunch ’em grind ’em wheedle ’em.
Churn out the facts, the truth, the real stuff.
Show me the data.
Tell me how many people hate to eat rats,
and if it’s not the majority,
why I’ll saute some for supper.
Show me the data.
Let’s see what we know about whether people like
being tied to posts in the desert while being bitten
by small furry mammals flung at them
by chanting crowds of arthritic tap dancers.
Show me the data.
It isn’t clear to me if we should consider requiring all drivers
to affix rhinestone buckles to their foreheads
to reflect the glare of oncoming headlights.
Show me the data.
I’m wondering if students would opt for being
superglued to their desks during tests
or if I should simply tie them down
with ropes braided from the hair of Venusian virgins.
Show me the data.
I’m not sure whether I’d prefer eating Spaghettios directly from the can while having my toenails pierced by ten-inch nails
or eating a quiet meal of Indonesian curry
with a few close friends and a good yet inexpensive bottle
of California chardonnay.

Show me the data so I can decide if I should
get out of bed brush my teeth eat breakfast drive my car go to work fall in love.

Show me the data.
So I can know.
Who to be.

You are to be in all things regulated and governed by Fact. We hope to have, before long, a Board of Fact, composed of Commissioners of Fact, who will force the people to be a people of Fact, and of nothing but Fact.
• Gentleman, Charles Dickens (1954)
, Hard Times

I write down quotations in the movies. Here’s one from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets: “It is not our abilities that tell us who we truly are. . .it is our choices.” Choosing for yourself does not mean taking a vote among friends and family and advisors, no matter how tempting it might be to listen to other voices to find direction for your life. Having standards does not mean relying solely on outside guidelines to determine if your work is of high quality. The world is not standard. It never will be. The standards we set for ourselves are the standards that matter.

What standards have you set for yourself? What standards have you set for your work?

We should be seeking diversity, not proficient mediocrity.
• Donald M. Murray

* Rasmus Ledort


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