Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

Any work that can be codified and subject to algorithms will probably be automated. So, accounting will go but financial advice will not. This makes the benefits of liberal arts education even more important than it’s ever been. Critical thinking, good communication skills, and the ability to collaborate is what will make people employable in this new automated economy.

But a world with more and more jobs performed by computers and robots will mean fewer and fewer jobs where liberal arts skills are prioritized. And that means that there will be a fierce competition for those jobs. The question then becomes, who will have those jobs? Will they go primarily to white men of upper class background? As it stands now, universities like LIU and Fordham will be under assault by these abstract and structural forces, but the ivies most likely are not. The question for students today is ‘Who will have access to those elite critical thinking positions in the future?’ That is what makes places like CUNY, LIU, and Fordham so important. That is where immigrants, women, minorities, and working class people can acquire the education to challenge the monochromatic elite that relies on a ‘meritocracy’ and on liberal arts education to manage and lead in this emerging automated economy.


We are not yet able to replace most jobs with computers and robots.

Robots have a limited ability to perceive and reason about their surroundings.  Computers have made huge advances in automating those human tasks that can be well described by a set of rules.  But, despite continuing advances in AI, the challenges of applying computers and robots to tasks requiring flexibility, judgment, and common sense are still quite large. 

The reason is that our actions are guided by two very different kinds of knowledge.  Explicit knowledge is formal, codified, and can be readily explained to people and captured in a computer program.   Tacit knowledge, on the other hand, is the kind of knowledge we are often not aware we have, and is therefore difficult to transfer to another person, let alone to a machine.  Tacit knowledge is generally learned through personal interactions and practical experiences.  Everyday examples include speaking a language, riding a bike, driving a car, and easily recognizing many different objects and animals.” 

But the push in the modern capitalist economy is to replace humans. Machines don’t get sick, need vacation or health benefits, and can work around the clock.  Thus, we have little time. While we wait for these things to happen, we should minimize the impact on our ways of life and on social equity. More machine-based work should mean that we humans benefit from greater productivity and wealth. Those surpluses should be used to make our lives better. We should work a lot less than we do now and enjoy those economic benefits more broadly in society. And we should make sure that those who rise to the remaining high education jobs, that will command this robotic economy, are representative of our diverse society. Anything less will make these emerging automatizing trends a true nightmare. The battlefield in this war between robots and humans begins with a fierce competition for the remaining, elite, critical thinking jobs.

The key is that whether computers and robots take most of our jobs sooner rather than much later, the struggle to define who will feel the brunt of this economic revolution is beginning to take place now…in the university. The corporatization of the university represents a tangled struggle, on one side, with those who want to educate everyone to become critical thinkers, able to judge and take action about these economic changes. On the other side are those who see no reason to “waste” precious resources on those who have not “need” or “ability” to reach those stratified heights. The latter are working class, minority, and immigrant students who should be happy to accept careers as technicians in this economy rather than as leaders and judges of how the economy can best move forward. Better to train them for jobs as bookkeepers, retail sales and health technologists, even if those jobs are likely to disappear. They have little support for giving that population an education they can only use to lead in this new automated economy as well as to challenge the accepted public agenda that there is very little we can do to ensure life is just and equitable for all.

Probability that robots will take jobs

Not all the players in this struggle have a firm and conscious understanding of what lies ahead. They are not meeting behind closed doors to coordinate their efforts. But they most certainly have bought into Neo-liberal austerity policies, whose bony hands land heaviest and most destructively on the working classes and minority population. They are also more likely to accept the idea that the automation of the economy is not only inevitable but one whose impact is impossible to soften with public policy.



There is a lot of misinformation out there. I actually teach this stuff and know what the facts are. You can google my points below:
1. The flow of undocumented workers has been from and not to the U.S. since 2005. Thus, building or making the border more ‘secure,’ something that is impossible anyway, would actually keep the undocumented from leaving the U.S.
2. Obama has deported more undocumented than any other president. That is why Latinos call him the “Deporter in Chief”
3. Yes undocumented get some health benefits. But this happens because of actions at the local level rather than by federal policy. See the article below.
4. Why do cities and counties provide such services? First, because it is cheaper to do preventive care than pay for undocumented using hospital emergency rooms. Second, because the undocumented provide essential cheap labor for many local industries, from restaurants to crop harvesting to house cleaning to construction. Local economies need their labor. Trump has used undocumented Polish labor at some of his construction projects. And documented labor will not do those jobs at those wages. Third, undocumented labor contribute enormous amounts of tax revenue, often using other people’s Social Security numbers, but do not collect any unemployment, housing, disability, public housing, or retirement benefits. In fact, the revenue they contribute to social security has kept that program afloat financially and makes possible the retirement of documented Americans. This is a fact. Finally, the U.S. Offers very few immigration opportunities to Latin American countries as opposed to European countries. Thus, the economic demand for cheap labor, the destruction of economies in Latin America by American companies investing there, produce pressures which result in people having to come here without papers. It is a complex process where the U.S. is just as responsible for what is happening as the people sneaking in.

Superman got his power by being dropped to Earth. He came from another galaxy that operated according to different laws of physics. Spiderman became powerful after a spider bit him.  Wonder Woman got her special powers from Olympian Deities.

Roberto Suro recently wrote a New York Times editorial where he asks the question “Whatever Happened to Latino Political Power?” Suro provides a good description of how Latinos have not become more powerful. But, unlike what we know about superheroes, he nowhere explains what it takes to become powerful or to lose it.

So, where the hell does power come from?

barack-obama-funny-supermanIn one of her songs, Diana Krall sings plaintively “What do I have to do to make you love me?” The answer is, of course, obvious. She can try giving him flowers or a kiss or a hug or sex. She can tell him “I’m sorry.” Whether any of those actions or words will cause her beloved to open his arms again to her is not assured. Her beloved must still value what she has to offer if she is ever going to be able to make an impression and get his love back again.

Humans, unlike superheroes, get our power from each other. It does not come from outside, from external accidents, superior beings, or unusual laws of physics. We cannot influence those who do not engage with us. We cannot affect the way they think, act, or feel if we cannot offer them something of value. Two year olds know this well. They automatically spew out a barrage of “no’s” to any entreaty a parent or anyone makes to them. And by those declarations, those two year olds reject and prevent the adult’s attempt to influence them. “Comete esto ahora mismo!!” “No” dice el Niño embullado con su poder.

Suro tells us that we Latinos have tried marching and voting. Yet, still, immigration reform is not a political priority for either political party. He wrote that

“Latinos have claimed a political destiny based on their population numbers, but the numbers that count in politics are those that decide elections. On that score Latinos have a dismal record to overcome.”

That is true. Demographic growth and voting have not delivered the policy and legal changes Latinos seek. However, is it true that all that Latinos have to do to reverse this political failure is, as Suro concludes, to show up on Election Day? Only if you think that political power comes mostly by voting. We have plenty of evidence to suggest the opposite.

Voting is an integral part of the democratic process. But it is not the most important part, especially today. There is, for instance, the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. That court decision unleashed and amplified the already caustic power of money in elections.  How does a mostly poor Latino community succeed against that? It can be done. But it won’t happen with money or, more accurately, with Latino money.

Those without money can compete in this corporatized republic. The Tea Party movement has proven that. This group of mostly disaffected white middle class conservatives and evangelicals managed to upend Republican congressional leadership, elect scores of Tea Party supporters, as well as push the Republican Party and it’s presidential candidates harder to the right.  But a great deal of that success has come because of the financial support they have received.

The Tea Party Movement has received generous financial support from the Koch brothers as well as from conservative groups like Americans for Prosperity and Freedom Works. In addition, the Tea Party has the focused and uncritical support of an entire media empire and faux news distributor in Fox News.  The millions of dollars and media attention the Tea Party has received has elevated what is a small, fringe, and extremist political group into a mainstay of public consciousness and recognition.  They became well known, tapped into a growing white American fear and resentment, and hijacked the Republican Party political agenda. As a result, they were able to leverage that support into a power that outpaces its actual size of about half a million active members.

DreamersIn comparison, the mostly Latino Dreamers Movement has not received comparable support from financial elites and media. They have received funding from groups such as Unbound Philanthropy, the Ford Foundation, Open Society Foundations, and other groups such as the National Education Association (NEA). Most of that money has gone to organizational development, lobbying in Washington, and scholarships. Why the difference?

The major reason why the Dreamers did not have the impact of the Tea Party is that its goals are narrow, affecting mostly Latino immigrant youth.  They sought changes in law in order to more fully participate in educational opportunities and the “American Dream.”  Financial support came from those few who agreed that existing immigration laws violated moral and democratic principles.  The Dreamers were, unlike the Tea Party, not seeking to transform the very structure of how the state taxes, spends, and relates to the economy.  The latter are the kinds of issues that make both conservative and liberal economic elites salivate.

Those different outcomes for the Tea Party and the Dreamers provide clues as to how to create more political power for Latinos.  We have to think of what Latinos can offer the general public and the economic elite that will motivate them to support and reinforce our political goals.  The problem is that I really can’t think of one such issue. Will we get support to prevent random and traumatic deportation? Not likely. What about our poor wages? Some support exists for this issue, but only as a general push to raise the minimum wage for everybody. The current economic stagnation means that a higher minimum wage will not translate into direct improvements to Latino wages, especially since so many of our community work off the books.

The conservative attempt to roll back voting rights is an important structural issue that can galvanize bipartisan support in this society. However, the weight of public opinion and support seems skewed towards restricting voting rather than expanding it.  While some bipartisan financial and political support for voting rights has emerged on the national level, the conservative political machine has focused on and succeeded in changing and rolling back voting rights at the state level. They have succeeded in changing public opinion. Today, a large majority of Americans support more restrictive voter ID laws, which are a solution to a non-existent problem. Thirty-two states have passed voter ID laws as of 2015.

The irony is that any success in fighting restrictive voter ID laws will do very little to improve Latino political power. The reason is simple. Elections are not as important to politicians as they used to be.  Politicians are concerned about elections. They want to get reelected.  Congressional politicians have to win elections every two or 6 years. But getting reelected depends more on money than on policies, legislation, or the voter’s interests.

Congressman Steve Israel, about to leave Congress, recently confessed that, when he first entered Congress, he was “advised that if I didn’t raise at least $10,000 a week (in pre-Citizens United dollars), I wouldn’t be back.” How does a poor Latino community compete with that? How do we contribute and offer the dollars that will make the hundreds of Israels in Congress, other levels of government, and the media answer our phone calls, welcome our visits, as well as open their minds and hearts to our concerns?

All Yours lovePoliticians spend more time each day they serve in Congress on raising money than on constituent communication and service.  They know without money, they can’t win. And that means that Latino sources of power will remain severely limited for the foreseeable future. It also means that Latinos will have to think of new ways to amass power that are not focused only on tactics like voting. We have to develop strategies for power that can inspire non-Latinos to join and support our causes, goals, and policies. Without that, we will forever be stuck asking, pursuing, and hoping for love… but being very disappointed.

How much are we worth? I am not referring to monetary value. Those kinds of calculations are best left to actuaries and class action lawyers. I am referring to the impression we make on others. Do people look our way when we enter a room or just ignore us? Do people listen to us? Do people take us seriously? Are we respected?

We all have moments when we believe, correctly or not, that we are being ignored. Sometimes we just feel invisible. Some would argue that being ignored, shunned, or given the silent treatment is one of the worst things one can experience.

Sometimes we want to be invisible. But what if feeling invisible happens too often? And what if being invisible is true not just of us as individuals but as a group, as Ellison’s Invisible Man understood? Latinos often feel like we, as a community, are not often noticed. That feeling is often not easy to document. It’s almost impossible to prove the lack of something, what does not exist.

We do know, however, that the media ignores our accomplishments, culture, concerns, needs, and leadership. We know that we complain about garbage, crime, dilapidated housing, and poor schools all the time. We know that nothing happens until hipsters move into our community to ignite our displacement. We know that we are not only ignored in life…but also in death. We know this especially when others point to whom they give worth and attention… and leave us out.

On December 23, 2015, the New York Times again published a list of notable dead in 2015 and, again, barely mentioned Latinos. Out of the 34 dead featured in long and short obituaries, only one was a Latino. That was A$ap Yams, a producer/promoter of rap music. Yams’ main contribution was making the newcomer A$ap Rocky into “New York’s most exciting rapper in a generation” (NY Times, Magazine December 23, 2015). The Times admitted Asap Rockythat A$ap Yams was a “20-something nobody” who made “another 20-something nobody into a star.” So why did they include Yams in their compilation? Because, they write, he was a “cultural polyglot” who used the internet to figure out what “15-year olds were into.”

A$ap Yams, born Steven Rodriguez, was an interesting young man. He had great creative potential. He would have certainly made a bigger splash in the music business had he lived beyond his 26 years. But his insertion in this Times compilation happened because a white audience was impressed by his ability to get young people to like the violent and explicit lyrics of the music he produced. He titillated white music listeners.

A$ap was Dominican and Puerto Rican. But he did not get into this Times death issue because he represented Latino culture.  Nor was his presence in this issue likely to encourage others to pay more attention to Latino culture and music. Latinos have been involved in Hip Hop music from the very beginning and continue to make contributions to this music style. But it is not perceived to be a significant part of Latino culture.

Yes, the Times had to make choices. They only published 34 death stories in the magazine. Thus, who they left out is as important as who they included. There was limited space, after all. Their choices reflected priorities and vision. But it is absurd to think that there were few notable Latino deaths in 2015 that compared to those the Times included.

Just looking at the 2015 deaths in January alone, I found several significant Latino deaths in that one month. This included the radical Chicano preacher Reies Lopez Tijerina who helped lead a group that tried to take over a small New Mexico courthouse in 1967. This Chicano raiding party tried to liberate Chicano prisoners who had been arrested in a land grant dispute as well as to place the district attorney under citizen’s arrest. The land had been taken from their ancestors by Spain and Mexico, then legalized by the U.S. after acquiring the territory.

Tijerina became known as one of the “Four Horsemen of the Chicano rights movement, along with Cesar Chavez,, Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales and Jose Angel Gutierrez.” Tijerina died on January 19, 2015. Certainly his story is worth reporting and remembering?

Nipón Sevilla, the Cuban born, but Mexican based, movie actress and dancer died on January 1, 2015. Sevilla, whose real name was Emelia Pérez Castellans, had a long and stellar career performing in scores of Mexican movies from the 1940s till the 1990s. She was highly regarded and received the “Silver Goddess Award “Dolores del Río” in 2009, for her film career, and in 2014 she received a homage by the MeNinon Sevillaxican Academy of Art and Cinema-tographic Sciences and the National Film Archives, for her career and influence in cinema.”


Mexican movies made vital cultural contributions to almost every Latin American country during a time, from the 1930s to 1960s, when Hollywood provided little that resonated with Latino culture and history. This Golden Age of Mexican cinema brought Latino sensibilities to the screen. Latinos from Bogota to Buenos Aires to the South Bronx and Brooklyn sat in dark theaters watching Mexican films starring Cantinflas as well as Sevilla and others. A vezes una de mi tias me llevaba a ver peliculas Mexicana en un teatro en el Bronx cuando yo era un nino. So, Sevilla definitely had a lasting impact on Latinos from all over the world.

Corrupt politicians in Mexico must have also been pleased to see that journalist Julio Scherer García died on January 7, 2015. García helped to expose some of the most important scandals in Mexican history. This included

probing a secret army unit set up to combat guerrillas, a multimillion-dollar Swiss bank account of a president’s brother, and official involvement in the assassination of a journalist.”

Scherer Garcia riled corrupt presidents, wrote more than 20 books about Mexican politics, won Columbia University’s prestigious Maria Moors Cabot in 1971, and was so respected by most Mexicans that, in 1994, “the Zapatista rebels invited Mr. Scherer to participate with a Catholic bishop and the Nobel laureate Rigoberta Menchu as intermediaries in a dialogue with the Mexican government.” Certainly the paper that prints the news that is “fit to print” should have recognized the importance of the journalistic work done by Julio Sherer Garcia.

The reason we should be concerned about the Times omitting worthy Latino deaths is not just that we may want to satisfy our own vanity or cultural and nationalistic pride. The Times sends out messages by these lists and who is in it. They devote an entire issue of their Magazine because they think it is important for their audience to know who these people were.  They are, thus, telling their readers who they consider worthy.

There are many more notable Latino deaths in 2015. The three individuals above were only a few of the hundreds of notable Latinos who died in 2015. The Times is also not the only paper that ignores Latinos in life and death. Both analog and digital media and news sources have done a very poor job of reporting on the Latino and minority communities of the U.S. The Times, however, possesses a special prestige, top recognition, and authority in the U.S.

The Times’ “The Lives They Lived” issue sends subtle but devastating messages to teachers, journalists, researchers, students, politicians, and especially to our Latino community about who to admire and respect. The Times’ omissions will have a negative impact on the Latino public image. Their exclusion from the list of notables reinforces discriminatory beliefs and practices, weakens social mobility, limits economic opportunities as well as political participation, and, ultimately, dampens Latino social and political power.

Is the Times aware of the negative impact of their choices? Can’t tell from their short intro. They wrote only about “Remembering some of the artists, innovators and thinkers we lost in the past year“. There is no discussion of how they deliberated and made their choices. It likely that the omission of Latinos reflects the linguistic and cultural limits of current Times management and reporting.

The Times is simply not connected to Latino leaders, institutions, and community.  Latinos do not appear in their existing corporate leadership, networks, college alumni groups, or neighborhoods. And that reflects the extremely limited presence of Latinos on the Times editorial, reporting, and governing boards. There are no Latinos, for instance, among their ten top executives. Out of the 14 members on their Board of Directors, only one is Latino, an Argentinian corporate mogul, Raul E. Cesar, who has directed U.S. corporations since 1977.

The news staff at the Times is also lacking.  They were sued in 2015 for racial discrimination. That lawsuit, claiming that over 30 minority journalists were fired because of their race and age, is not yet settled. However, the overall numbers do not look good. As of 2015, only 19% of their newsroom employees are minority. This compares unfavorably to other newspapers like The Washington Post which has 31% and Newsday which has 26.5%.

The reality is that even these numbers are suspect since they do not address the lack of support, opportunities, and respect that minority journalists often experience on the job. Diversity programs, like the one the Times has, are often used to mask discrimination and a real lack of diversity.

Why do Latinos get ignored? Much of it is due to class, race, policy decisions, as well as the segregation of Latinos from the mainstreams of American life. The New York Times takes note of A$ap Jams because he appeared on their radar. He produced Hip Hop and not Latin Music.  He was interviewed in English-dominant journals, newspapers, and media. The Times actually wrote an obituary of Yams when he died in January 2015. He was in their networks and memory banks.

Interestingly, even A$apYams thought he and his crew had been ignored and dismissed by the music business. In a 2014 interview, he stated “We still don’t get the props that we deserve as a legitimate record label, despite us releasing two debut albums from two new artists in a six months time span that were both top five albums on Billboard, which is a crying shame.” The shame continues for Latinos in general…the shame that we continue to accept being ignored, shunned, and disrespected… in life and in death.

There are good reasons why it is racist to focus on bad parenting in black communities as an explanation for their plight. Just as it is absurd to dismiss all charges made by minority people and leaders that racism may be at work in particular incidents. These knee-jerk rejections have little logical or historical support. Poverty is what causes family stress and disintegration. All the data shows, for instance, that marriage rates increase as income and education get higher. That is true in all communities. Divorce is increasing and marriage rates are dropping in the fading white middle class too. Blacks are just a lot poorer than whites… thus, they experience more marriage breakdowns. So, an explanation that claims that it is black family disintegration that explains their economic and social condition is misleading and destructive. It is the other way around.

And I find it funny that conservatives often accuse President Obama or Al Sharpton of stoking “racial hatred” any time they suggest that racism and police brutality are an endemic problem in minority communities. The conservative thinking seems to be that just by uttering some magical words, Black leaders can make “racial hatred” appear out of nowhere!! And yet, the same people adamantly reject the idea that racism from whites towards blacks and Latinos exists at all despite all the CONCRETE evidence SHOWING that they lack proper representation in media, job opportunities, housing, politics, business, education, etc. Thus, real evidence of a racial division counts for a lot less and has much less power than the power of magical words like “police brutality” and “racism” uttered by elected and other Black leaders. Amazing. We now live in a world of magical realism.

I had no idea what to do with my life when I graduated from college so many years ago.  After some good and not so good jobs, I decided to become a college professor.  I considered and quickly rejected high school teaching.  I knew that high school teaching could be an incredible and wonderful experience. It was the teachers at one excellent public high school in Brooklyn that kept me from being one more Latino dropout.  As good as high school had been for me, though, I also found it lacking.  I did not know then that it was the desire to do research that drew me to college teaching.

Unfortunately, the role of research in college is increasingly under attack today.  College administrators, even in predominantly “teaching” institutions, demand that faculty produce more research and publications.  But they have also contaminated the environment for research.  Research is particularly threatened by, among other things, the hot, new national obsession called “outcomes assessment” or OA.

College administrators and outsiders dismiss faculty resistance to OA.  We appear to administrators as simply uncooperative and selfish.  In reality, we have a real and justified anxiety about OA.  Most of us believe that outcomes assessment will undermine if not destroy what Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust once called the transformative, yet “creative and unruly” process that is university learning and teaching.

If outcomes assessment meant only that we discuss, decide, and implement a more explicit plan of what we hope to accomplish in our courses and with our curriculum, there would be few complaints.  Unfortunately, outcomes assessment imposes a very large cost.  That cost includes the following:

  1. A blind and unfounded faith in “evidence based” analysis
  2. A distortion of the nature of learning.
  3. The loss of valuable research and teaching prep time
  4. A refusal to acknowledge the failure of OA in other countries

Ambiguity of Outcomes

Most people assume that empirical data is always more useful than intuitive knowledge. It’s not, especially when we do not have “good” data going in, “good” coming out, and unambiguous results.  The reality is we have none of those things with OA.  There are no measures of learning or outcomes that can avoid messy interpretation.

One does not have to be a post-modernist to accept the deeply relativist nature of all social science.  Peter Winch raised these unresolved questions about the inherently interpretative nature of social research as far back as 1958.  Data or statistical findings, Winch argued, “are not the ultimate court of appeal for the validity of sociological interpretations.” OA would have us believe otherwise.

Even economists, supposedly the most “scientific” social sciences, fail to unambiguously predict economic reality.  They could not predict the Great 2008 Recession.  As Noble Prize winner Paul Krugman explained “the economics profession went astray because economists, as a group, mistook beauty, clad in impressive-looking mathematics, for truth.”

Management studies have found that employee performance reviews, which are closer in form to learning assessment, are infused with subjective bias and ambiguous.  Thus, UCLA Management Professor Samuel A. Culbert argues that these ubiquitous workplace attempts to evaluate employees are actually “subjective evaluations that measure how “comfortable” a boss is with an employee, not how much an employee contributes to overall results.” Management evaluation research, thus, cannot overcome subjective bias despite having easily measured goals like productivity and profit.

Obviously, social research is not pointless.  It generates some truths.  Those truths require, however, the recognition that data has many different forms.  The key to squeezing what is usually a temporary small sliver of truth out of our peculiar professional obsession is to rely on peer interpretation and debate.  Measurement and data by itself offer no panacea.

Some supporters of OA, to their credit, have a sense of this.  Thus, they seek to create a “culture of assessment” wherein academic departments and divisions would devote considerable effort and time to continuous discussion and debate over their findings, working to improve curriculum and produce better learning.  The payoff from such debate will not be worth the effort, however.  The problem goes beyond the ambiguity of results.  The biggest problem is that OA purposely examines only a small portion of the learning environment.  The best illustration is the sports world.

Athletic competition produces clear outcomes and most of these outcomes depend on the learning of student athletes.  Or does it?  Is it fair to assume that a team or athlete failed to learn if they do not perform well in competition?  It may.  Has the coach failed them?  Perhaps.  In many cases, it may also be true that the coach has done an excellent job, employed productive and well conceived methods and techniques to train the athletes.

Putting aside the intrinsic differences between athletes, the reality is that athletes and teams can fail for many other, hard to pin down reasons for which the coach is not directly responsible. They can fail because they did not give their best effort, because they were distracted, because they were too preoccupied with personal problems, because they got anxious and “choked,” etc.

Football coach Bill Parcells understood that coaches are often unfairly blamed for failure.  He always asserted that since coaches are asked “to cook the dinner at least they should let you shop for the groceries,” meaning choose who to coach.  Any fair assessment of coaching and learning must recognize the roles played by students and by external factors.  Astute observations and intuition are the usual methods.  Anything more sophisticated is not worth the effort.  What happens on the playing field or the classroom is just too complicated and subject to multiple influences.

Distortion of Learning

Learning is not just about what a student got about the course material but how the material got them.  The best outcome is when an instructor sparks students to pursue knowledge themselves, exposes students to a world they did not imagine existed, helps them to use their eyes in different ways, exposes the deep ambiguity of that world, and yet sets them on a quest to change the world.  Doubt, in this sense, is as important an outcome as knowing.

If all that we aimed for were teaching what we already know, we would do our students and ourselves a grave disservice.  The wise, Socrates once said, are those who know how little they know.  Wisdom often means asking the right questions rather than thinking you have the “right” answers.  But you can’t assess questions.  OA threatens, then, to marginalize our primary responsibility as teachers – to invite and guide students into the unknown.

It’s difficult to know when we ever reach those goals, no matter what new assessment tool can be dreamed to measure it.  At best, the something extra that we seek to impart in our teaching involves our ability to get students to join us on a journey into the unknown.  That journey is really about research.

Students embrace and take a journey into the unknown at different stages of their college career.  It’s hard to predict when it is that students begin to “own” their thinking, when they awaken to the idea that they can generate rather than simply replicate existing knowledge.  But we do know that this does not happen without some contribution from faculty committed to lighting their fire and who are in a good position, because of their own research quest, to provide that fire.

The Threat to Research and Learning

Something has to give when heavy demands are placed on faculty to develop an “outcomes assessment culture.”  That something is the time to do research.  It has already happened to pre-college teachers.  They complain that the No Child Left Behind law’s exceedingly large demand on test scores has created a situation where the extra time necessary to prepare students for tests reduces the time available to teach.  One high school teacher stated “I have so many state standards I have to teach concept-wise, it takes time away from what I find most valuable, which is to have them inquire about the world.”

OA at the college level has not yet imposed test scores as a measure of student learning.  But it is already clear that the focus on “learning outcomes” and the time necessary to fulfill demands for measurements, rubrics, reports, loop backs, and curricular adjustments will consume more and more faculty time.  Studies show that over 70 percent of college faculty already work more than 40 hour a week, with a large portion working more than 70 hours.  OA will consume more of the little time the faculty has to conduct research.

Failure of Outcomes Assessment Practice

In places as far a field as South Africa and Australia, OA or Outcomes Based Education (OBE) has proven to be a controversial if not disastrous educational reform.  OA proponents here, however, have not learned anything from this dreadful foreign experience.

New Zealand dropped its OBE approach to education in 2007 after ten years of implementation.   OBE in New Zealand had promised but not delivered “a brave new world.” Papua New Guinea also experimented with OBE, primarily because of Australian influence.  Resistance soon emerged there too, primarily from educators who recognized very early that OA was a “dismal strategy.”

Australia tried OBE for 10 years in the pre-college levels.  Western Australia, in particular, encountered tremendous resistance from teachers, students, and parents leading to an educational “meltdown.”  Teachers, especially, found themselves “drowning under a deluge of convoluted documentation.”  Another commentator noted that, for Australian teachers, “OBE suffers from assessment overload.” As a result, the implementation of OBE actually “divided the educational community and destabilized education in Western Australia for well over a decade.”

OA also has several historical antecedents.  These efforts also failed.  The OA focus on efficiency and rational outcomes can be traced to the discredited time motion studies of Frederick Taylor.  Beginning in 1913, Taylor sought to eliminate wasted motions in the production process in hopes of increasing profit and presumably wages.  Taylorism did not just resemble OA, this method was directly applied to education in an attempt to mechanize and routinize teaching.  It was abandoned after almost two decades of wasted efforts and resources.

In the 1960s, behavioral methods were applied to education in an attempt to establish definitive behavioral objectives in the classroom.  Commentators pointed out that teachers and schools attempting to comply with the hundreds of behavioral objectives in the classroom found themselves “bogged down with such a load.”  Behavioral methods proved tremendously impractical, wasteful, and obtuse.


Why are college administrators so interested in force-feeding the faculty a radical new method that has not succeeded and that has actually proven disastrous elsewhere? Is it that college administrators cannot resist the corporatization of the university, driven perhaps by business minded trustees?  Outcomes assessment may be, in that sense, just a modern manifestation of Taylorism, an attempt to micro-manage the faculty on what is being increasingly defined as an educational assembly line.

But even if administrators have a simple well-intentioned interest in reform, their investment in OA demonstrates a vast misunderstanding of the mission and core values of the university.  Whether they are pushed by misinformed outsiders and trustees or are self-motivated, college administrators have not defended what they were hired to protect, manage, and expand.

The university is an ivory tower, an odd, yet enormously fertile place. Though the university may appear aloof, it is not just a smug, self-indulgent place. It is productive and creative.  The open and pure pursuit of knowledge in the university has led, according to most experts, to the generation of “more world-changing ideas than the competitive sphere of the marketplace.” Progress and development originates in the open and horizontal structures found in universities rather than in businesses.  But OA threatens to tear apart this non-commoditized source of economic, cultural, and social innovation.

The university’s open and unstructured culture is a virtue rather than a shortcoming. It should be enhanced rather than overturned.  The Harvard President and Historian, Drew Gilpin Faust understands this.  She explained the university as a place where the “search for meaning is a never-ending quest that is always interpreting, always interrupting and redefining the status quo, always looking, never content with what is found.”

The university’s core is unstructured, unsettled, dedicated to an open-ended quest for knowledge and meaning, enliven by doubt as much as fact, and committed to teaching others to take similar uncharted journeys into the unknown.  It does not fit OA’s measurements, rubrics, and standards.  Nor does OA fit the university.  Taken to it’s logical conclusion, OA will erode knowledge and learning by shrinking faculty’s ability to do research. What we need is a culture of learning, better yet, a culture of inquiry.  But inquiry, lying at the core of the university mission is, ironically and tragically, what does not fit into assessment rubrics.

In today’s New York Times, Matt Bai provides a good analysis of the vagaries of electoral mandates for Republicans and for Democrats in his article A Mandate? Not Really.  The roller coaster swing of votes from Democrats to Republicans and back again in 2004, 2006, 2008, and 2001 suggests a high degree of voter preference instability.  Bai argues, however, that too many elected officials believe that their electoral victory provided them with a public mandate to pursue their party’s partisan politics at the expense of the other party. The voters according to Bai, however, actually want less partisanship in government and more efficiency and integrity in government.  Perhaps.  What’s interesting is that Bai assumes, like many others, that the results of those elections are a true and clear indication of the public’s preferences.  We don’t know whether that is true, primarily because each election represents the preferences of a shifting portion of the public.  Depending on how many and who turns out to vote, the preferences of the “public,” if that is understood as the majority of voters, may not be represented by the results of the election.

Voter turnout is, thus, just as if not more important than voting results.  In the last several elections, we have seen not only a fluctuation in voter preferences but also a fluctuation in turnout.  The absolute percentage of the voting eligible population that voted as well as the proportion of the public representing different racial, ethnic, religious, sexual, and class backgrounds varied significantly from one election to the other.  Thus, the “public” that voted Barack Obama into the presidency in 2008 was greater in numbers and different in constitution to the public that voted Republicans into office during 2010.  Obama had more young people, women, minorities, and seniors turning out to vote in 2008 than turned out in 2010.

Almost 57% of the U.S. voting age population voted in the 2008 election while less than 38% did so in 2010, according to data from the U.S. Elections Project .  That swing or decline in turnout of 19% is all we need to know to understand why it appeared like the public were giving Republicans a “mandate” in 2010 and appearing to take away the “mandate” given to Obama in the 2008 election. Similarly, a look at the turnout results broken down by states shows wide discrepancies between 2008 and 2010.  Republicans took control of Wisconsin state politics in the 2010 elections but only with votes with a turnout of 49.5% of the voting age population.  The Republican 2010 “mandate” in Wisconsin represented, thus, a fraction of that less than 50% turnout!  For example, Scott Walker became governor in Wisconsin with 52.3% of the vote. That vote is a little over half of the 49.5% voting turnout or about 26% of the eligible voters in Wisconsin.  A public “mandate”?  Hardly.  This means that the resulting Republican assaults on liberal and Democratic policies, including public unions, were “mandated” by about one-quarter of the voting public!  That does not compare favorably with the over 56% of the vote that Obama won in 2008, especially since that Obama majority came from a Wisconsin voter turnout of 69%.

Election analysis is a risky business.  What they mean is a lot more difficult to establish than who won.  Voters can change their minds.  And different voters come out to vote in different elections and years.  Nevertheless, it has become far too easy for politicians and the media to read far too much into election results than the numbers actually permit.  This is not only bad analysis but a manipulation of the public.

Elections can help us gauge what it is that the public may want.  But they do not do so if we do not pay careful attention to what they don’t tell us. The negative consequences of such bad analysis is as much political as it is academic.  Here, like in many other facets of our political system, we cannot help but speculate about how money facilitates this dangerous interpretation of the public’s will.  There are far too many mechanisms that thwart public will, from campaign financing to the compromised form of ballot systems utilized in voting.  The manipulation of electoral results that comes by ignoring turnout is far easier to correct than the others.  But it requires that the public be far better informed about voter turnout than they have been up to now.