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Sep 24, 2015

The normative fetishism

Many people think everything that is potentially good, ought to happen. Take for example, university program development. Wouldn’t it be great if we had this very exhaustive, clear list of learning outcomes, a completely coherent system of assessment, and in the end, a nifty software that would tally up all of this for us. And since it is obviously a good thing, and is required by standards, let’s do it.

Well, a little more thinking would not hurt. First, our practice has more than one source. It is not just what the standards and regulations say. If we give up our own professional judgement on what is good and what is bad, we shoot our own profession down. Bang-bang, I shot my baby down.

And then, we live in the world of other limitations. One of them, most obvious, is faculty time, which is ultimately a problem of money. In one of the places I worked, we had students create all these elaborate portfolios. And then no one had the time to actually read them. Not to mention the асе that the stupid software never works well, and requires enormous support. But we simply could not read the stuff. The very idea of a graduation portfolio, which was so fashionable a few years ago, is now in question. What’s the point? The kid is leaving, anyway, and is not even going to pay attention to any of your thoughtful comments. You won’t fail anyone that late in the program. Even if you find the time and money to pay faculty, what’s the point? Oh yes, and employers don’t give a damn about electronic portfolios, because they’ve got no time either.

And it is like that everywhere. We’re trying to do a good thing without regard for money, time, and effort. And then it fails, and we are not better off. We just wasted enormous energies and money on something wonderful, that was just not meant to be.

Another group of former colleagues have designed a program with field experience in every course. They about killed themselves, because placements and supervision take so much time. They were cranky, tired, and ever demanding more load credits for their work. That’s normative fetishism – a belief in good things, and in our duty to do them. Just stop it. And if you have not seen this skit, you must.