Archive for June, 2011

Irrational Metrics: Quanity Over Quality

June 27, 2011 Leave a comment

Graduation rate is the least accurate measure of an institution’s success. Basing one’s evaluation on the count of bodies to pass through a school is equivalent to evaluating a baker on the basis of cookies created- the metrics just don’t make sense. As with the school, our baker will reject notions of quality in order to increase the number of items he or she creates. In situations where quantity is the measure of success, quality is a feature working against the common goal. Likewise, if we evaluate our schools (or any other institution) on the basis of quantity we disregard the only thing that matters: quality of service.

The popularity of measuring on the basis of “number served” likely comes from the ease of data collection. How many students graduated this year? How does this number compare to other years? Other schools? Other states? On the basis of simplicity the simple process of addition and comparison provides a nice collection of talking points. Yes, we do see data with value but when considering this information in relation to the initial goal or, dare we say, purpose of an institution there is nothing of value present.

Measuring on the basis of quality is unpopular because it is difficult to do. How do we measure the value of a degree? How can one consider the value of an education from one school in comparison to another? The common data point is income generated: After graduating from School X how does the income of Student X change? When comparing Student X and Y from School X and Y how do the incomes compare? Comparison is the common game but we are not limited to these dimensions. What do the students think? The best person to evaluate an education is the student who pursued it. Does Student X feel School X prepared him/her for the job acquired upon graduation? Questions like this establish the qualitative level of information to enliven evaluation.

One should not limit data collection to this qualitative level though. This data is the easiest to distort. The best studies extend to large selection of the population and over a long period of time. In order to properly evaluate an institution we must consider both quantitative and qualitative data from a majority of the population for at least thirty years. This is expensive, messy and unfavorable to politicians who aim to use educational statistics as rhetorical fluff.

If one aims to make drastic changes to the educational system one needs extensive data to prepare and justify alterations. It is easy to make accusations on the basis of “bad data.” Limited information yields limited perspectives. In order to make major changes our society must drastically expand institutional studies that take into consideration the inherent distortion and influence of all involved.

By Benefit of Assertion

June 16, 2011 1 comment

Of the entire population only a tiny percentage seek a leadership role. Personal insight directs an individual in deciding whether leadership is a worthy pursuit. At some point in each individual’s existence a moment appears in which the role of leader can be accepted. In these brief moments, always occurring in childhood, the individual learns the emotions of leadership and develops one of two string emotions: desire or detest.

For those who choose to avoid leadership positions it can be assumed that the responsibility of leading inspires emotions of doubt. One feels uncomfortable in the leadership position either due to a lack of skills, lack of interest or general discomfort at the responsibilities of a leader. The individual who desires power either disregards these emotions or fails to have them. Is the individual who desires leadership either numb to these humble sensations or does he or she recognize them as emotions that can be discarded. Are true leaders merely emotional manipulators capable of molding life to the needed situation?

Failures of leadership garner immense attention from the press. These stories of hubris connect with the population of majority that chooses not to lead. Leaders who fail remind us of the great dangers of leadership responsibilities and function as a confirmation of our own doubts and hesitation. Great leaders are anointed after death and take on their role only when the living population is unable to compare their life to the life of the leader. Herein we see again the crisis of comparison: the majority of the population prefers to have its own bias confirmed and previous decisions constantly buttressed by mounting evidence that we were right.


Dangerous Perspectives

June 13, 2011 Leave a comment

Preparation can be a dangerous activity. Consider the moments ahead of you. How should you act? What type of person does your future interactions require? Is there a certain dress code? code of behavior or code of language you must use in order to render success in the approaching moments? These are common questions explored and defeated instantaneously; questions whose considerations TS Eliot’s poetry characterized as “time to prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet.” These questions and answers occur in all of our interactions and assist us in carving the role we need to play in the unique format of social interactions in the future. Beyond this lower level; I argue, is a richer, more personal series of considerations we use to prepare for the future: considerations that hinge themselves solely at the personal level of happiness and expectation.

If our memory is a scrapbook of moments we can look back in our mind at our personal history as a series of reactions to events. We do not remember moments as cold moments in history devoid of personal data. Instead each memory exists as a data point of personal reaction. We collect moments of rage, joy and all the other human emotions within our memory as a form of catalog of human life. This is the past from which we form our expectations of what is to come: what the future holds is never a new reaction; instead our experiences of the future are largely pre-ordained repetitions of moments we have already experienced. We don’t have new experiences, we simply mimic previous reactions to new moments that appear similar to personal history.

We run into trouble when we play these games of expectations. We become short-sighted and enter new experiences with a false expectation that can destroy the possibility of a moment. We hate certain foods because we had a sample some years ago and didn’t like it. We can’t stand Actor X because he made that horrible movie last year. We loathe the heat and dread the holidays. New possibilities disregarded simply because of past experience. This is a tragic and absurd reaction analogous to avoiding the alphabet simply because the letter S looks so egotistical.

Militant Nostalgia

June 9, 2011 Leave a comment

For many the process of aging extends beyond the biologic transition and ventures forth into the domain of cultural protectionism. Rarely does a person age gently, folding gently into one’s later decades with gray hair, weaker bones and a reduction of appetite. There is no motion to “go gentle into that good night.” Instead, a certain agitated sense of nostalgia takes hold and the task of defending the way of life present in one’s youth becomes critically important. This desire and task is what I call “militant nostalgia”

This unique blend of nostalgia is not unique. In fact, I would argue that all individuals possess it inside their hearts and need only the situation to unleash it. Such travails down memory lane with zest are likewise not limited in expression. Just as all individuals hold “militant nostalgia” within their hearts, the broad swath of communication technology lies riddled with the pock marks of its constant expression. If a gentleman feels the world was better when he was young he will certainly make a point of expressing it.

“Militant nostalgia” has two major features. The first is the rose-tinted view of the past. The individual will look backward and perceive a world where the problems of today did not exist. Life appears more focused there and a common conclusion one can achieve is that this simplified existence kept the craziness and horrors of today’s world at bay. One needs only to consider the individual’s perspective in this situation to see the delusion at work. A child’s perspective is being utilized to compare the perspective of the adult.

Beyond this delusion of limited perspective the “militant” ingredient in this form of nostalgia enters as both defense mechanism and line of offensive attack. With ease and speed, the purveyor of “militant nostalgia” will draw swarthy links to everything currently wrong with today’s world with the ways that today is not like yesterday. It is a major stretch, similar to saying one’s cheeseburger tasted better yesterday when it was a hot dog- we’re far beyond apples to oranges errors of comparison in this situation.

Despite the errors in judgment and the all-around fuzzy reasoning, there is nothing wrong with militant nostalgia. It is yet another testament to the limitations of human understanding. It is perfectly normal for us to expect the today we do not know to mimic the past we knew even less. We are humans and creatures whose inherent selfishness and limited perspectives are beyond our capability to transcend. We should recognize these limitations as a primary fact of reality.

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