Giving up on communication with the irredeemably useless

Sometimes interactions with large organizations go wrong. On occasion they will communicate in a way that resolves problems. Sometimes (like with UPS) they dig their heels into the ground and accuse everyone else of wrongdoing, including parties not involved. And in this week’s case, the USPS has been unresponsive, both locally and nonlocally.

I’m not sure if anyone reads these, but I’ve decided to just have fun with the ones that are irredeemably useless. Let the fun begin:

 

USPS Message

Contradiction: Democracy and business

Another contradiction I noticed (five years ago, forgot, and was reminded of today): Some people say we should run the government like a business. They often say voting for a certain person for political office is good because the person has experience in business. At the same time, many of these people will express adoration for democracy. And, no, they are not suggesting business ought to be democratized. (For leftists who want to democratize the workplace, there’s no contradiction here.)

Running the government like a business is silly enough on its own. States have many purposes. Ideally the well-being of the population is high on the list. For most people, that’s at least an ideal to aim for. Businesses aim to profit. Some have subsidiary aims, but monetary or capital gain is the primary aim. (There are some businesses, like Sears, that have been seized and abused for personal gain, but that’s even further from what we want from a state.)

Inherent silliness aside, extoling democracy (and equality) at the same time is paradoxical. Businesses are almost all run in a very hierarchical model. And in practice you usually see them ignoring democratic ideals for the sake of reverence to the structural hierarchy. (But you also see the opposite—like many of these paradoxical pairs of beliefs, usually the convenient one for the moment is the one that comes out. If the structural authorities are in their favor, the respect for structural authority comes out. If not, suddenly a need for more democratic freedom is needed. There is, at bottom, no principle.)

TBT: More of people trying to replace education with gatekeeping for employers

This article is pretty good. A few comments, mostly echoing Strauss, though my own thoughts are intertwined:

1-Perhaps the most disturbing issue at play here is the profit motives driving educational reform at the moment. Yes, K-12 education could be done better. However, looking at the material associated with the Common Core as well as the people advocating it at the highest level, the companies making tests have a lot to gain. More tests means money is being spent padding their pockets rather than educating children.

2-Related to the above is the distressing tendency for learning to be quantified. A teacher reading a student’s work will know much better what needs to happen than any number can express. I wrote down my SAT scores on some college applications, but the test itself was entirely useless. Likewise, my modus operandi with ECA and ISTEP+ results was to light them on fire. (Not really. But where they are is beyond me.) Telling me I got a 654/800 or whatever other score tells me approximately nothing. Was my reasoning not solid? Was my grammar poor? Was the grader intoxicated? Did I fill up every single line and use no punctuation but still get a perfect because OMG SO MCH WRITING (yes, that happened to someone on the ISTEP+)?

I don’t know. I’ll never know. Quizzes here and there, along with chapter or unit tests with individual feedback is pretty useful; don’t get me wrong. Feedback is always critical (except apparently in MOOCs), but numbers are not feedback. Hell, Finland seems to do fine when they throw numerical grades out entirely and just focus on teachers and students communicating what’s going on. “This essay would work better if…” or “You need to use this formula here…” is a lot more useful than “4/5 B-“. What the hell does that even mean?

Of course, to, say, the profit-minded who are purely interested in who can churn out the best numerical results? Perhaps corporate employers who need a quick, easy method of whacking thousands of applications away without any work? Tests might aid them a bit. Human interaction isn’t as profitable. For those who care most for profit, anyhow. Anyone who’s looking to move up or focus on learning has an obstacle in their way.

Can’t get more money to seek more education because scores are too low.
Can’t focus on learning because the test is more important.

3-The idea of nationwide consistency is nice. Why Maryland is a year ahead of Indiana in Mathematics is beyond me. Why English curricula, as far as I know, is completely different state-to-state is also beyond me. (Well, it’s not beyond me; Jeffersonianism is entirely to blame.) CCSS is also not the solution because it doesn’t even work on the school level. Saying “9th grade students should generally learn algebra to some degree of depth based on ability” is one thing. “All 9th grade students must know how to solve two-variable systems of equations via substitution by October 18th”, or something to said effect, is an entirely different thing. While, as far as I know the latter case is not CCSS, the idea that completely uniform education is going to happen, especially with funds being siphoned to testing, is not particularly convincing.

The article notes several other issues, and I do recommend reading it. Another notable aspect is the lack of educators involved in the design of Common Core. When one K-12 teacher is involved, no professors, and no parents, but a solid 300 non-educators, primarily politicians and businesspeople, there’s probably an issue. I’m no expert in pedagogy, and thus my comments ought to come with a grain of salt, but neither are the vast majority of the people designing the educational reform. Maybe when we get the money and numbers off the table and let teachers who, you know, actually know how teaching works do their jobs, we might see better results.

Yes, there are equality problems. Solutions beyond “Seek revenge on schools that fail our standards,” exist. They’re also actually solutions. My preferred plan would be to have funding based on the national level, thus making each student able to have equal funding regardless of district, but other solutions, of course, exist. I’d also advocate for smaller classes and longer school days, but that’s, of course, getting off-topic.