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Showing posts from April 22, 2012

What the Hell Is Quality? -- Writer's Poke #386

We act like we can measure quality. In the game of education, we develop “rubrics” and then we measure performance by how well students measure up.This is somehow supposed to be different from just giving out letter grades. Sure, an A can tell a student that she’s doing quality work, but it doesn’t explain why. The Rubric is supposed to break it down so that the student can see where quality lives.
But can the Rubric be used to help a student achieve quality? Accrediting agencies and politicians, and therefore school administrators, seem to have a fanatical appreciation for Rubrics. At Rochester Community and Technical College, for example, the Rubrics for Aesthetic Response, Civic Responsibility, Communication, Critical Thinking, and Global Awareness/Diversity are all available on the Faculty homepage. Anytime I wish, I can click on a Rubric, access a specific class that I am teaching, and rate a student’s performance in a number of subcategories on a 1 (Unsatisfactory) to 4 (Above Av…

The Passion of Uncertainty -- Writer's Poke #385

Why are there so many books written about Alexander the Great? I have at least eleven in my personal library, and I’m sure that I will end up buying even more.
In Paul Cartledge’s introduction to his 2005 biography, he offers what sounds to me like a preemptive apology when he writes that “no explanation is necessary” for why he decided to offer the world another biography on Alexander the Great. While that may be true, it does seem as though the thought crossed his mind, or that at the very least, he knew the thought would cross the minds of others.
Yes, Alexander the Great was, at least for a brief moment in time, King of the World, but how important is he really in the grand scheme of things? His empire, after all, fragmented almost immediately upon his death. On the other hand, his influence on the so-called “known world” was everlasting.
Most modern historians rely on three ancient texts when writing about Alexander: Curtius Rufus’ The History of Alexander, Plutarch’s Nine Lives, …

The Center of the Universe -- Writer's Poke #384

Ptolemy believed that the Earth was the center of the universe. This view was the “truth” for hundreds of years. Only in the 16th century did Copernicus challenge the truth and suggest otherwise.

Today, of course, we can look back on Ptolemy’s beliefs and laugh, but as Robert Pirsig notes, it took Copernicus to help us fundamentally change the way we understand the truth of our universe. People simply are not generally willing to question the established truth. Perhaps, as Pirsig suggests, this is because institutions in control of “truth” are more interested in perpetuating themselves than they are in questioning the fundamentals. Why should anyone be so worried about protecting ideas from scrutiny? One reason may be that ideas define who we are. Maybe they shouldn’t, but there is fear of change and security in stability, even if the stable foundation is incorrect. How do we really know if our perspective is “incorrect”? After all, we cannot look outside ourselves. We are locked wit…