Friday, December 05, 2008


This is an article recently published in the FACCC Journal.

Imagine the instability at the point of the big bang -- transition at the speed of light.

I have been at smaller big bang moments in which an idea gives birth to a new endeavor that requires a new process. Over time as the process grows and thrives I've watched the progenitors gradually pushed aside because of their creative sloppiness and replaced by those who feel they can leverage the success with better management. The managing process then begins to lose sight of the original idea replacing it with a concern for self sustainability through standardized, neat, and orderly processes. The last step is the calcification of the routinized process, calcified in its own procedural gridlock. I then find little interest in the current expression of our original big bang and slip away.

Can you imagine what it was like at that primordial meeting of service oriented individuals as they banged into the idea of having everyone in our society educated? Can you image their first attempts (one teacher on one end of a log and student on the other)? Pretty inefficient. It could be made so much better. We could teach students just like we make widgets. Mass production. Let's put them all in a room and push standardized content at them and then assess them all in the same way. We could then have cloned thinkers who will move society forward in lock step.

But those of us who still feel the power of the bang find that students are constantly and perhaps fortunately left behind to find their own personal bangs. In fact, those who are successfully extruded from our mass education machine might at best only be capable of service to the banging of others. I think of all the institutional meetings I took part in that had way more than six degrees of separation from the bang's prime directive, student learning--remember the student?

I have just recently retired and made the reverse move of full time to part time teaching. I now have the pleasure of shrugging off all those meetings and simply teaching. I leave just as we are assimilating the no-child-left-behind extension of SLOs. Why in the world have we not stood up to such naive impositions? We all know there are no two students alike. Why do we accommodate such directives that violate our understandings of the diversity of students and the way they learn? We know better yet we rationalize their worth.

The opposite of the dynamic transition of our big bangs is the stasis of procedural conformity. Cults conform, educated minds thrive in the transitional milieu of ambiguity. How do we encourage students to ask the questions important to their lives when we have standardized tests? Life is not standard! Life has no answer book. We are intellectually dishonest when we intimate through our overly specific syllabi that life, like our courses, has specific and known expectations. We should worry less that students know soon to be forgotten obscure details and more that we don't have the tools to rate their ambiguity factors. Instead we should want students, unlike our politicians, to understand why it is important to change your mind in the transitional throws of life.

Rapid transition is exciting and scary. Stasis sucks.