Differentiation

A former student of mine, now grown-up and teaching, tells me that her school’s accountability policy involves determining standards to prove that one is “differentiating,” or “presenting the same information in different ways to meet the needs of learners who aren’t good at reading and listening.” I’ve just marked a paper premised on the fact that Matthew and Galatians are books of the Hebrew Bible (representing the religion of the Jews), while Genesis is part of the Old Testament (i.e. the bible of the Christians). My heart sinks. I should have differentiated! But on second thought no. One of our course texts was Nietzsche’s Antichrist, and it’s pretty much impossible for anyone to read that with care and continue thinking that Jesus is the god of the Jews. Not my fault; not this time anyway.

I’ve been thinking a bit more about why the new drive to accountability bothers me so much. The clearest (or most honest) statement I can make is that I believe the people who are judging us are not qualified to do so. My area is ethical philosophy.  I think and write about the nature of goodness or responsibility – of accountability if you like. This means that the accountability people are on my turf;  lacking training in the history of ethical philosophy — in the history of thought about the nature of response, responsibility, accounts, and accounting for things — they are nevertheless the ones making the ethical judgments. Not, granted, that they insist on making the decisions all by themselves.  They haven’t gone that far yet.  But what they do insist on is almost as bad, namely, that I provide an account of myself that can be understood by people who have read neither my work, nor the thinkers I work on, nor necessarily any thinker I regard as worthwhile.  I am expected to lay out my standards and then to judge myself on them in the space of a few pages. Such an endeavour necessarily omits everything important. Because here’s the thing.  The worth of my teaching and research (which deals, in its entirely, with the subject of “worth”) is complex.  If it weren’t complex I’d be out of a job, and rightly so.

So it’s actually a Catch-22. If I could defend, say, my Religious Ethics class in two pages, then the class wouldn’t be defensible.

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5 thoughts on “Differentiation

  1. I recall doing rather poorly in your religious ethics class and I came out fine. Just tell them that. Or, if it comes to it, give them one of my papers. If would fit the criteria of both intending to defend and being indefensible. That’s what you are going for, right? Maybe you need to differentiate in your blogging for us non-readers.

  2. Only if she promises to further her education by not paying rent for two years after she graduates. And to not be a “do-gooder”. And to take another class in an effort to actually get it. And to bake you a cake.

    But a B- would do.

  3. “But what they do insist on is almost as bad, namely, that I provide an account of myself that can be understood by people who have read neither my work, nor the thinkers I work on, nor necessarily any thinker I regard as worthwhile. I am expected to lay out my standards and then to judge myself on them in the space of a few pages. Such an endeavour necessarily omits everything important.”

    My question then, is this: are the things that educators are being asked to do: provide an account of themselves that can be understood by people who are not fluent in the subject matter, and to judge themselves based on the standards that were laid out, necessarily bad? Or is it only when they are asked to do it by individuals who do not, themselves, understand the content that it is bad?

    For example, when my department chair asks me to undergo an evaluative process, I am less resistant to that sort of evaluation because she has familiarity with the content taught. When the head of school asks our department to undergo an evaluative process, we all balk.

  4. Or, for another example, when a journal sends my work out for peer review, I am thrilled. But if the editor were to send it out to governmental committee for review, I would balk.

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