Thursday, March 03, 2011

Giant messes o' stupid

In one of my favorite pieces by James Thurber, "University Days," Thurber describes his experiences in botany class. According to the piece, Thurber could never see anything through a microscope, which enrages his botany teacher:
"We'll try it," the professor said to me, grimly, "with every adjustment of the microscope known to man. As God is my witness, I'll arrange this glass so that you see cells through it or I'll give up teaching. In twenty-two years of botany, I--" He cut off abruptly for he was beginning to quiver all over, like Lionel Barrymore, and he genuinely wished to hold onto his temper; his scenes with me had taken a great deal out of him.
Thurber finally sees something and starts drawing. "You didn't, you didn't you didn't!" the professor screams. "That's your eye! . . . You've fixed the lens so that it reflects! You've drawn your eye!"

I too am starting to quiver all over like Lionel Barrymore,* not at my classes, which are fine, but at the giant messes o' stupid from the things I read in the news about people who can't seem to see beyond their own eyes.

(Let's leave aside the big one, which is that if the anti-union forces manage to fire everybody and drive them into the poorhouse, who's going to buy all the products from small businesses, and with what money? Who's going to buy the big-ticket items that we keep being told are going to "grow us out of the recession" when the U.S. has outsourced those jobs so that nobody can afford the big-ticket items that we're being exhorted to buy? When are all those wealthy people that we can't tax because then they won't "invest in jobs in America" going to, you know, kick in and invest in jobs in America? In 1980, Reagan said this would happen, but I'm still waiting. Update: Go read Paul Krugman, who says it better than I can. )

Sorry. Let's choose a smaller one so that I can stop channelling Lionel Barrymore.

Back to computers and online classes instead of teachers in Idaho. In responding to Jon Stewart, Sisyphus has it right: "Because nothing is easier to control with a computer program than a distracted, unmotivated child who doesn't want to learn about fractions or verb tenses or godhelpusall critical thinking."

Let's add some critical thinking to the Idaho "computers iz r teachers" idea.

1. This plan is being hailed by those in favor of online for-profit education in K-12 because "with a laptop, every student can take an online class." Q.E.D.

2. Online classes are on the interwebs.

3. You need an internet connection to get on the interwebs.

4. Internet connections do not come free with laptops. They cost money.

5. If a student is so disadvantaged that he or she doesn't have access to a computer at home, what are the odds that the home has internet access?

6. If a student already has access to wireless at home, what are the odds that he or she does NOT have access to a computer as well?

7. Tell me again how the mere possession of a laptop is going to make possible the hours online that an online class requires? Is Idaho going to pay the wireless costs?

8. If the students are supposed to use the laptops at school, sitting in a room and working individually on different classes--that is, putting 40-50 lively teenagers unsupervised (teachers were fired, remember?) in a room with computers and internet access--no, nothing could go wrong there, nothing at all.

Okay, I'm starting to quiver again. These people are only seeing their own eye. That's all I've got to say.

[*For those of you who are not old movie fanatics: you've probably seen him as Mean Banker Mr. Potter in It's a Wonderful Life at Christmastime, which is when this movie gets shown a lot.]


Anonymous said...

As a prof in Idaho with lots of elementary/secondary teachers as friends, we've been discussing it a LOT! Another important issue is who is going to maintain all those laptops? Teenagers aren't necessarily careful with electronics, not to mention viruses/trojans/ etc. Is the state going to provide tech support, and if so, how is it going to pay for it? Of course, Tom Luna, the lunatic behind the whole scheme, doesn't care because it's his cronies who will be providing the laptops (without even putting it out to bid), and they'll probably do the support, too, if the state ponies up.

In the meantime, at the state school that they want to make an R1, the president suggested disbanding the Faculty Senate after losing a no-confidence vote, and the State Board of Ed UNANIMOUSLY agreed! We're supposed to get a new senate "in April or sometime after," but we aren't holding our breaths.

Anonymous said...

I'm quivering right there with ya.

undine said...

Anon, you're right about the maintenance issue, too, although I'm betting that the state will pony up for that, too, if--ahem--a powerful person with reasons to support for-profit education in the state argues that it is necessary. That's terrible about disbanding the Faculty Senate.

How much do you want to bet that if students don't succeed in the online courses it will somehow be blamed on their teachers in the other courses?

Thanks, nicoleandmaggie! Sometimes Lionel Barrymore brandishes his cane, too, and that's what I'm doing.

Anonymous said...

I forgot about the eye bit in "University Days"--LMAO!

undine said...

Ink, sometimes I think I have that essay memorized, but I had forgotten exactly why the teacher started to quiver all over like LB.