Friday, October 8, 2010

CERTAINTY - October 7, 2010

In the matter of teacher competence, it is upsetting to see how partial is the evidence on which important people rely, and the ease with which they take devastating action in the absence of what we would ordinarily think of as due process. This applies not only to almost every school administrator, but even infects the thinking of the President. There are tests that are taken to be fully indicative of understanding. Some of these apply to difficult subjects like geometry and Physics, to name the outstanding failures of testing in US high schools. But even in subjects where there is less certainty about deep motivational understanding, the failure of these tests to be more than an educated guess of the test-takers knowledge is well known. There is a wide gap in the depth to which the tests probe understanding. Yet the schools, and the local, state and even federal governments will take on this shabby thinking to inflict permanent joblessness on those who do not come up to the standards of the administrators. If the roles were reversed, and teachers’ union officers could remove administrators on their own very partial beliefs, we would all recognize the injustice inherent in the situation. It is as though being hired in the supervisory role invests them with the ability to say definitively what is true. Teachers’ unions do not require categorical certainty in matters of competence, but do require the application of due process in such cases. When the sloth of the accusers does not allow them such a degree of certainty, they demand the power to take final action on just their own opinions or, worse, on the beliefs of their advisors. Such practices take away from teachers one of the pillars of their belief in the justice of their profession. The school administrators and boards that act without due process always want the power to act on just their guesses, often wrong, about who is doing a good job. Where will they find the substitutes for those they discharge so casually? Would the administrators survive the application of similar standards on their own work?

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