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Standards: Is It an A?

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California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Created: July 27, 2004
Latest Update: July 27, 2004

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Index of Topics on Site Standards of Professionalism

  1. Introduction Why I chose to share this reading.
  2. Focus: Main point of this reading.
  3. Reading Full identification of source for reading AND excerpt.
  4. Concepts: Concepts and Key Words.
  5. Discussion Discussion questions.
  6. Conceptual Linking to Substantive Courses What this has to do with our class.

* * *


  • The time you spend on education is going to be what you make it, no matter where you are. There will be barriers and boosters along the way. But this is your time to discover the tools you need and the ones you want to focus on. The community needs people who delve into "bookish" learning and rarely come up for air in the real world. The community also needs people whose fascination is praxis, putting all that "bookish" learning into useful everyday structures and activities. Our talents range over the whole bell curve. But so also do our interests and passions.Your time in school should permit you to focus on many different paths to see which is for you now, and which you might like to travel later. This reading is about understanding your own education and the standards you set for it.


  • I would like you to come away from this reading with a strong sense of what your skills are, where to go for help building those that intrigue you the most, and with respect for the community's need to satisfice the balance of skills available to it. That is most effectively done in a collaborative framework where everyone shares knowledge and training. (Bolman and Deal: pp. 93-109) After school, you'll rarely take a test in a well=managed and well-led corporation or institution.

Concepts and Key Words:

  • standards: satisficing, answerability, situatedness. Traditional standards for grading are artificial and based on an ideal that no longer exists. Percentages of weight for each task bear close resemblance to all the problems inherent in contributory negligence. It is neither easy nor reliable to assess relative responsiblity and competence. More reasonable standards might be:
    • satisficing: good enough to meet the needs of the job at hand - so maybe you're not a good speller, but you faithfully use the spell checker. Maybe you can't remember dates in history, but you faithfully look them up when citing events in history.
    • answerability: certification grading should take into account the validity claims of the student as to what level of skill is appropriate to satisfice his/her own needs. This would permit the student to work at different skill levels on different tasks without being penalized for those tasks the teacher and student can agree need more skill development if required by the students' future goals. In order for the student to achieve effective answerability the grading must reflect negotiated levels of competency on the many tasks undertaken and measured.
    • situatedness: Standards need to take into account the likelihood that student will encounter different situations that require competency at different levels. Some students planning to enter social agencies have little aptitude for and motivation to pursue mathematical studies. That should be taken into account together with such agencies if the goal is to certify skills in that area. Curriculum needs to be considered from the point of view of Saber Tooth Tiger Catching. No more Saber Tooth Tigers, cultural interest into how catching was done historically, but not every student needs to be able to recount how it was done. No algebra to be included in agency skills, not every student needs to master algebra. And the students need to be heard here in good faith. Math is important. But the important slices of math they need to really master can be specially adapted to topics that let them see its importance.
    • certification: certification to enter the job market or move up the career ladder or to accomplish some goal for which certification will be needed. Usually grading, though grading is a very rough measure, since it does not break down the competency of meeting professional standards on many diverse skills.


      • On Creativity and Structural Violence and Where Art Fits In This is an essay prompted by a comment on a poetry listserv. It tends to illustrate our confusion about the use of different standards for different purposes, and the acceptability and often, efficiency of doing so. We no longer live in a world where everyone can be equally proficient at everything.This is an important consideration to keep in mind as we tend to judge everyone in all situations by the same standard.

      Discussion Questions:

      1. If a student submits a very personal poem for a grade, what kinds of conflicts are set up?

        Consider that the poem as a personal memory and the poem as a class project evoke two very different settings. The personal setting evokes ego and interpersonal relationships that are heavy with affect. As a class project, the poem is evidence of learning. In an adversarial classroom environment, me for a grade, me against the teacher, wanting a paper without corrections, a personal personal poem involves ego above and beyond the ego invested in learning itself. Adversarial criticism, explaining why you didn't get an A, is touchier here than collaborative criticism, in which we work together to bring your poem up to an acceptable professional standard.

      2. In what way does this show that learning is situated?

        Interpersonal relationships differ from situation to situation. They are, in fact, interdependent with the situation. Students are proud of what they learn. So adversarial criticism, which involves telling them what they have not learned, hurts. It forces them to assess their own learning, which they have not been taught to do, and they may feel resentful if they have worked very hard at something that proves to be inadequate to professional standards. In adversarial criticism and certification of learning, the student has no voice. Anserability is frustrated.

        Collaborative criticism focuses on ways to add skills, practice them, and resubmit the product as more genuinely representative of what the student wanted to submit. A major part of this process is learning to learn. The product may not have met a professional standard to start with, but as student and others work towards that professional standard, student learns how to achieve that standard as well as improving the original product in acccord with student's own wishes. The collaborative situation supports very different interpersonal relationships from those supported by the competitive traditional adversarial approach.

      3. But if it's collaborative, is it really the student's work?

        Consider that life is collaborative. Remember achieved and ascribed status? We are social creatues. We need human contacts, love, support, belonging. If that's the world we want to live in, why would we isolate the student in school and ask him/her to stand alone in an adversarial competitive situation.

        So they can get jobs? Based on grades? That measure only adversarial quantitative data and that are not reliable in any meaningful sense?

        Don't forget here that I'm biased. Postmodern, critical theory, radical commitment to social justice, answerability, and the confrontation of our own complicity in the social infrastructure.

      4. What does answerability mean in the context of adopting learning standards?

        Consider that we each have the gift of answerability. We do have reactions, ideas, thought, feelings. Answerability is the process of giving voice to those feelings, voice that will be in its turn answerable by the Other. Learning is one form of mastery of life. We learn to express our answerability with more or less skill in making ourselves heard. We almost always consider learning standards from the perspective of the institution and the teacher; almost never from the perspective of the learner.

        Answerability for the institution means that it needs to look reflectively at its own unstated assumptions and which of those assumptions further its own ends, and which further the students' ends. The academy has an agenda. That agenda needs to be faced in good faith. It is an enterprise. As such it has workers, some of whom are administrators, and students. All have agendas. Legitimacy requires that each of them have a forum in which to have their validity claims heard in good faith and considered justly in the overall agenda.

        Answerability for the workers means that traditional issues of leadership and management need to be heard in a forum that provides the legitimacy of having their validity claims heard in good faith and considered justly in the overall agenda.

        Answerability for the students is more complex. Precisely because the academy is a recognized authority in both the corporate and the social world, students are expected to be guided by the expertise that such authority represents. That is part of what Frederick Jackson Turner meant when he said that our state universities must not let the masses dictate the curriculum. Expertise must be judged and the new must be permitted into the canon. And students must be given to understand that it is no longer possible to cover everything from quantum theory to saber tooth tiger catching. They must be guided in a wise choice of topics and competencies, in accord with their situatedness, and with special attention to future flexibility and growth. But the actual selection should be their own. We learn best in our own learning style, and that which most interests us. There is no one curriculum to fit all. The curriculum needs to reflect that need for flexibility.

      5. Where does structural violence fit in?

        It is structurally violent when the institution and/or the teacher impose learning styles and curricular choices that do not fit the student's need and situatedness. A major part of early learning needs to be learning to negotiate competencies, learning styles, and differing skill levels. Teachers need to learn to listen to the student in good faith, and the student needs to learn that silence limits his/her choices. The instituion needs to learn not to superimpose its own agenda on the healthy interrelationships of negotiated learning.

      6. Where does aesthetics and art fit in?

        The academy has traditionally maintained that an A grade is given for "creative" work. So Einstein should get an A for relativity, but he had several math teachers who would not have agreed with an A when they had him. Creativity isn't all at once, it comes over time, "on the shoulders of giants" (Merton). Ideas must be nurtured over time. Yes, some works are more complete, closer to their creative end when submitted for grades. But is that what we want to measure, a product that has no immediate purpose in the context in which it is created? Think of all those essays in a box in the closet or under the bed until you finally are willing to trash them. Or do we want to measure the growth and mastery of the process, and nurture that growth that it will continue, in the field in which it first occured or transferred to many others? If it's an essay for under the bed, my standards for competency are going to be very different. If it's the beginning of a life-long search for the things that intrigue you and the acquire of deep and "bookish" knowledge, then my standards are going to be professional, but collaborative. I'm here to help you along the way to that professionalism. Certification is the concern of the corporate world. It is not for them that I work. It is for you.

      Conceptual Linking to Substantive Courses:

      • Agencies:
        Sample linking: Ways in which underlying assumptions of assimilation affect services offered and clients' ability to access and use those services. How does this reading illustrate the need for social agencies, for more generalized agencies, for what Bolman and Deal would call "leadership" AND "management"? How does this reading suggest ways in which we could be more effective in rendering help, and what is the reading's relationship to a "safety net" for those who need help?

      • Criminal Justice:
        Sample linking: Ways in which some groups are underrepresented in the unstated assumptions of our theories. How does this reading serve to illustrate adversarialism, mutuality, retribution, revenge, illocutionary understanding, the definition and operation of the criminal justice system?

      • Law:
        Sample linking: Extent to which laws are made on the assumption that we are all essentially assimilated to the dominant culture. How does this reading help us see the need for contextual readings in law? How does it relate to our natural instincts to seek some kind of natural law? What facts and principles does the reading offer for discourse that could clarify for Others validity claims presented by an Obscure Other?

      • Moot Court:
        Sample linking: Ways in which to make validty claims of harm understood by those who have never experienced many of the world's different perspectives. How can this reading enlighten our praxis in terms of different kinds of discourse, like instrumental, illocutionary, governance?

      • Women in Poverty:
        Sample linking: The culture of poverty and assimilation. How does the reading deal with our underlying assumptions about poverty, especially poverty of the exploited, the NOT- male? What does the reading suggest of the interrelationship between our society and its children, generally cared for by women, often poor?

      • Race, Gender, Class:
        Sample linking: The extent to which silence has been imposed by these affiliations so that domination and discrimination have entered our unstated assumptions in interpersonal relations and the structural context arising from them. What does the reading tell us about exploitation and alternative ways to deal with one another? What does it tell us about institutionalized -isms and our denial of complicity? What does it tell us about our common humanity?

      • Religion:
        Sample linking: The spiritual component. Humans are spiritual creatures, creatures that recognize moments that go beyond ourselves to God, Allah, Isis, Gaia, the Universe, or a deep sense of responsibility to create our own meanng. How does the reading fit into our ability, our need to create such meaning in life?

      • Love !A:
        Sample linking: What's the aesthetic link in this reading? How does it bring us closer to one another as humans? What does it tell us about our need for love, unconditional love, not rewards for doing well or being well, but caring and acceptance for being who we are?

Site Copyright: Jeanne Curran and Susan R. Takata and Individual Authors, June 2004.
"Fair use" encouraged.