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The Gift That Keeps Giving November 22, 2009

Posted by monty in education.
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If there’s one thing I learned from this weekend’s debacle (and you can read about it here, if you’re so inclined), it’s that hitching yourself to a research topic is just as much a leap of faith as embarking on a novel-writing project or deciding to audition for a play or any number of other creative acts.  I know it’s not conventional to think of research as an act of creativity, but I think it is, especially when you’re working in a largely untraveled area.  To take up a research interest is to make a commitment, and when it doesn’t come to fruition – despite your best efforts – it’s every bit as disillusioning and disappointing as getting that rejection letter from a publishing house or not seeing your name on the cast list for that play.

For the last three years I’ve practically lived and breathed California’s educational content standards at the high school level.  I know these suckers inside and out.  I’ve examined them, analyzed them, unpacked them; looked at how they’re assessed by state tests; spent hours interviewing teachers about them, and more hours transcribing those interviews; compared them to the standards of another state, which meant immersing myself in those standards for a couple months; read dozens of books and articles about the development of standards at the state and national level; and then, at the end of it all, wrote a 350-page dissertation that I was led to believe was ground-breaking work.

Turns out that either it isn’t, or it is, and nobody cares.

That’s the biggest kick in the teeth about the weekend, really.  Yes, there were other disappointments, but there’s nothing quite like pouring your life into something and having it roundly dismissed.  And what’s worse, it’s something in which I strongly believe.  State departments of education around the country are doing their damnedest to reduce public education to its lowest common denominator, to dumb it down so that it can be easily assessed and quantified by multiple-choice tests.  One of the primary ways it does this is through curricular standards documents that represent jargon-filled, but ultimately meaningless, statements of instructional purpose, often written by people with minimal (or no) classroom experience.  And yet these statements dictate what gets taught, regardless of how nonsensical they might actually be.

My presentation this weekend was going to unveil a good chunk of this analysis, as well as some important data from my teacher interviews – data which reveals exactly what a group of teachers (the people most beholden to the standards) thinks of them.  I spent time developing research I believed in, and more time preparing a presentation that represented this research in what I hoped to be an engaging, provocative way.

And no one showed up.

It kinda hurts.

The big implication for me and my chosen career path (chosen for the moment, that is; we’ll see if it sticks), is that I don’t have the faith in my research, my writing, or myself to soldier on in the face of indifference.  I’d love to think I could be one of those guys who just hunkers down, puts on his blinders, and ignores the world outside in favor of something about which he’s passionate.

But I’m not one of those guys.  I don’t believe in a lot of things, and I put myself at the top of the list.

And I’m not sure what that means for my future in this profession.

*****

Current listening:

Animal Collective – Fall Be Kind EP (2009)

Current reading:

Stephen King – Everything’s Eventual (2002)

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Comments»

1. Katie Reed - November 22, 2009

Let’s race each other across the globe in hot air balloons. Loser buys the winner ice cream.

Unless, of course, you’re what the French call “le poulet.”

2. thoreauly77 - November 22, 2009

people have a tendency to eventually catch up; just be patient.

3. Fred M - November 22, 2009

I won’t pretend to know much about your profession, but I do know that the overall education system in this country is in trouble. Math and Science, Math and Science, Math and Science….not good.

Because some idiots can’t be bothered to attend your presentation doesn’t make them right and you wrong. People who are comfortable being mediocre and going with the flow, they’re the last ones who want to think about anything.

I’d like to read your dissertation. Does it have stats? Interviews? I can follow along.

Come to Chicago. We’ll shoot the shit. Or I’ll scounge up some vacation time in the spring and come to Atlanta.

4. laura - November 24, 2009

I’d be seriously hurt if that happened to me. Bully to you for soldiering on…
My (cynical) assessment (without reading your paper) is that your research needs a corporate goon with lobbyists (even at the local & state level) to get noticed or to form any sort of trend.
That said….I have a friend here in WI that is fairly high in the public school system, he might be interested in your paper 🙂

rcm - November 24, 2009

Thanks, Laura. As is usually the case, I take it extremely (and unreasonably) personally for a couple days and then completely get over it. Life goes on.


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