As any teacher knows, the so-called ‘breaks’ that dot the educational year are there to pack with urgent reviews, meetings and ‘professional development’. The only chance to get people all in a room at the one time and thus an exhausting and sometimes infuriating race to complete a forest of competing agendas. This last week was a ‘break from teaching’ which left me with a piercing headache as if belted in the forehead with a claw hammer.
Australia is going through a ‘modernisation’ of the education system. As with all things ‘modern’ it must be made measurable, homogenised, ‘open’ and entirely filtered of flashes of brilliance. It is the best of ideas, it is the worst of ideas.
I agree that every student deserves to be measured by the same rubric, that a distinction is a distinction no matter who does the marking. I think it’s fair that you be able to look up what the criteria are, and not be mislead. In principle it’s a fine idea which is to be expected as most fine ideas work in principle. The details are not as well behaved.
A high distinction in mathematics means that you have solved all the puzzles on the paper. That’s to be respected. A high distinction in art means … what? We were provided with a table of definitions which were sensible, no dispute there, just that everyone in the room struggled with their ghosts – the student that said very little but painted dreams, the low effort big talker that ended up in feature films, the smart one that never graduated – you know – people, individuals – that you struggled to place on any grid. The convener was firm. No. No intuition, no bargaining between opinions. You can write the grid, but there is a grid.
I looked at what a ‘fail’ means. In Australia, below 50 is a fail and it’s a pain to be only able to mark within the region between 50 and 85, with most students horrified to ever go less than credits. The grid elaborated that 50 percent, it expanded on all the ways you could fill that abyss – like Dante’s Inferno in Excel. I thought the vast majority of students would end up in there. And then there would be the inevitable investigation, firings and adjustment to bump everyone over the threshold. The headache started.
How do we assess? We assess on what we think they should become. Everything is tailored to fitting the criteria. The current jargon is about ‘Global Citizens’, which I can’t help think is ‘we are only impressed by people who leave’. I imagine some Gilgamesh in a suit striding through airports, shaking hands and hiring 1000 workers to mass produce jewelled skulls.
Really we’re back into the whole game of worker’s uniforms and idealised architecture that the post-modernists had to crush underfoot years ago. Instead of endless regimented housing and clothing we have regimented identities and aspirations: having to join Facebook gave me a chance to see what so many people choose as their home – an identikit worker’s cottage that you can accessorise with a few family photographs. They will live in these cottages and dream of being a CEO or at least a celebrity on YouTube. Whatever force was thwarted in the late 20th century bided its time and climbed in another window.
There’s a pile of paperwork in front of me, to be absorbed into my thinking so I can produce measurable and accurately boxed ‘artists’. The headache is intense.
Bradbury rang up on the Friday. We talked shit for a long while as per usual, part of which was trying to figure out what ‘school’ ever got us started on our ways. It just seemed so obvious at the time and both of us still create as ‘the birds’ require. For my part I was stupid and ignorant enough to be impressed by everything and angry enough that I wanted to better it all. The notion that this grid will produce a nation of artists seems a vanity. Better this – to throw out ninety percent of them and beat the remainders into the scourges of society. Of course there’s no money in that, is there.
The temptation is to do what they ask, but ferociously, without mercy. Apply the rubric, mark like a machine. They will be horrified to see their monster unleashed, and will all the sooner come to see the folly in it all.