Archive for the ‘standards/standardization’ Category


If Only I Were Prefect And Never Maid A Mistak

July 23, 2010

For July 16, 2010

To err is human, to forgive divine. • Alexander Pope

As we travel by car from Oregon to Las Vegas, a drive that includes endless miles through desert and deserted country, I go over the presentation I’ll be giving and almost immediately find a mistake in my printed materials. This must be someone’s law: it’s impossible to proofread anything to perfection. I try, but I seldom succeed.

When I was a high school teacher, I promised a prize from the Chest o’ Treasures—a box decorated with faux jewels and filled with newspaper-wrapped toys and treats—to the first person in each class who found an error in any of my handouts. I did this to encourage students to actually read these printed materials.

Sometimes I deliberately included errors because I didn’t want students to be demotivated by the perfection of my offerings, but usually what those sharp-eyed teens found was something I’d overlooked. It’s a good thing I had lots of prizes. Perfect isn’t possible. I strive for it because I’m hoping I’ll produce high quality work, but even with something as short and simple as this blog, I find errors months later.

When I read student work, I generally have a three-errors-before-they-begin-to-count policy to allow a bit of room to be human. Since I’m not perfect, I try not to expect others to be. I love this quotation excerpted from Stephen Manes (1982), Be a Perfect Person in Just Three Days!

Congratulations! You’re not perfect! It’s ridiculous to want to be perfect anyway.  But then, everybody’s ridiculous sometimes, except perfect people. You know what perfect is? Perfect is not eating or drinking or talking or moving a muscle or making even the teensiest mistake. Perfect is never doing anything wrong – which means never doing anything at all. Perfect is boring! So you’re not perfect!  Wonderful! Have fun! Eat things that give you bad breath! Trip over your own shoelaces! Laugh! Let somebody else laugh at you! Perfect people never do any of those things. All they do is sit around and sip weak tea and think about how perfect they are. But they’re really not one-hundred-percent perfect anyway. You should see them when they get the hiccups! Phooey! Who needs ’em? You can drink pickle juice and imitate gorillas and do silly dances and sing stupid songs and wear funny hats and be as imperfect as you please and still be a good person. Good people are hard to find nowadays. And they’re a lot more fun than perfect people any day of the week.

It isn’t always fun being imperfect, but it is inevitable, at least in my world. Sometimes, you just have to laugh about it. Sometimes you can ignore it. Sometimes you have to apologize for your humanity.

What was the last mistake you made and what did you do about it?

They say that nobody is perfect.  Then they tell you practice makes perfect.  I wish they’d make up their minds. • Wilt Chamberlain


The Worst Form Of Inequality Is To Try To Make Unequal Things Equal. • Aristotle

May 20, 2010

All this talk about equality. The only thing that people really have in common is that they are all going to die. • Bob Dylan

Yse, I know you already saw the title quotation in yesterday’s post, but it’s important enough to use twice.

I do not like the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” I like the part about having others do unto me as I would like to have them do, but I’m pretty sure that they would also like to have me do unto them as they would like to have done, not as I would like to have done unto me. This is where the whole thing gets sticky and unworkable and this is where the unequal stuff enters into the picture too.

When you’re a teacher of teachers, you hear a lot about treating students fairly, and for some folks, this translates into equal treatment: “Of course, I never take late work.” “No tardies. No excuses. That’s my policy and I think it’s fair because it allows me to treat everyone the same way.” “Everyone has to [do whatever] in the very same way. That’s fair.” These are quotations from papers my students have handed in to me related to their classroom management plans.

The equality they speak of is a social and cultural construct as well, but it’s not one that works very well in practice most of the time.

Imagine that I have a classroom tree with golden apples growing on it and that the standardization and accountability folks have determined that all my students must get a golden apple as proof of my excellent tree-climbing teaching. Then imagine that I have a diverse student population of snakes and dogs and elephants. Please bear with me. I know that this is a somewhat lame imagining, but still, you’ll get the point.

The snakes can slither up the tree quite speedily, but they cannot grab an apple and bring it down. They don’t like apples anyway and slither off in search of something else to eat. The dogs have better luck. They jump for the low-hanging fruit, grab it, and proudly lay their apples at my feet (okay—this is a fantasy, but you get the picture), but they would rather have been barking up a Milkbone® tree. The elephants are impatient with the whole thing. They pull the trees up by their roots.

The platinum rule asks that we treat others as they would like to be treated. I don’t know the origin of this rule, although it’s been around in educational circles for a while. The platinum rule requires that you get to know other people. The golden rule only requires you to know yourself.

Is there a time when you were treated fairly, but it wasn’t fair at all? Take this opportunity to rant.

The doctrine of equality! There exists no more poisonous poison; for it seems to be preached by justice itself, while it is the end of justice. • Friedrich Nietsczhe


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