Tag Archives: market

But hey, they just need to learn how to sell themselves!

I read this cheery post on the careers blog at my university this morning and it made my porridge taste sour. What better way to start your working week (well, start isn’t the right word since most academics I know do at least some, and sometimes most, of their work over the weekend): let’s all join hands engage in some gleeful unreflective apology of our pernicious labour market system. 

Sure, I get it. You live in a market place, you must sell yourself, stupid. In this context, some of the advice in this blogpost is useful. It makes sense. We all do it. We all do it, whether we are good at it, whether we hate or enjoy it. But under the cheery businessy tone of such publications lies the creepy reality of academic marketisation gone out of control.

Oh and by the way, when will I have time to do some research, find/create/acquire/share some knowledge? After my market pitch. In my copious spare time. Over the weekend. Hey there, I am for sale, brains, research ethics and all. Who is buying?

http://careersblog.warwick.ac.uk/2015/10/19/sell-yourself-get-ahead/

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

My pet hate: I wish people stopped opposing “math” to “creativity”!

What a bad article to read before going to bed at 1am. Now I won’t sleep, grr. No, the article itself isn’t bad, it is even making a valid point: “Creativity just as important as math and science”. What made me angry, you ask? 

The argument is always “science and math are essential, especially in today’s job market”. I agree, they are essential on the job market. Just as literacy, the ability to retell, interpret, improvise, communicate, the knowledge of history, cultures and languages. Many things are important “on today’s job market”. But I do wish people asked themselves more often what is essential for the development of a person, for the wellbeing of society, and for the enjoyment of life. Perhaps then – to come back to our “not enough people do math” problem which is only a symptom of  a bigger problem in the way we treat learning – more people would enjoy playing with maths. But Peter Lockhart said it better. I am going to shamelessly quote the first 1.5 pages from his amazing essay just to make sure that more people read it. Please, read it, whether you have always liked, hated, or been undecided about mathematics. I will check in my stats how many people click on the link.

Amusician wakes from a terrible nightmare. In his dream he finds himself in a society where music education has been made mandatory. “We are helping our students become more competitive in an increasingly sound-filled world.” Educators, school systems, and the state are put in charge of this vital project. Studies are commissioned, committees are formed, and decisions are made— all without the advice or participation of a single working musician or composer.

Since musicians are known to set down their ideas in the form of sheet music, these curious black dots and lines must constitute the “language of music.” It is imperative that students become fluent in this language if they are to attain any degree of musical competence; indeed, it would be ludicrous to expect a child to sing a song or play an instrument without having a thorough grounding in music notation and theory. Playing and listening to music, let alone composing an original piece, are considered very advanced topics and are generally put off until college, and more often graduate school.

As for the primary and secondary schools, their mission is to train students to use this language— to jiggle symbols around according to a fixed set of rules: “Music class is where wetake out our staff paper, our teacher puts some notes on the board, and we copy them ortranspose them into a different key. We have to make sure to get the clefs and key signatures right, and our teacher is very picky about making sure we fill in our quarter-notes completely. One time we had a chromatic scale problem and I did it right, but the teacher gave me no credit because I had the stems pointing the wrong way.”

In their wisdom, educators soon realize that even very young children can be given this kind of musical instruction. In fact it is considered quite shameful if one’s third-grader hasn’t completely memorized his circle of fifths. “I’ll have to get my son a music tutor. He simply won’t apply himself to his music homework. He says it’s boring. He just sits there staring out the window, humming tunes to himself and making up silly songs.”

In the higher grades the pressure is really on. After all, the students must be prepared for the standardized tests and college admissions exams. Students must take courses in Scales and Modes, Meter, Harmony, and Counterpoint. “It’s a lot for them to learn, but later in college when they finally get to hear all this stuff, they’ll really appreciate all the work they did in high school.” Of course, not many students actually go on to concentrate in music, so only a few will ever get to hear the sounds that the black dots represent. Nevertheless, it is important that every member of society be able to recognize a modulation or a fugal passage, regardless of the fact that they will never hear one. “To tell you the truth, most students just aren’t very good at music. They are bored in class, their skills are terrible, and their homework is barely legible. Most of them couldn’t care less about how important music is in today’s world; they just want to take the minimum number of music courses and be done with it. I guess there are just music people and non-music people. I had this one kid, though, man was she sensational! Her sheets were impeccable— every note in the right place, perfect calligraphy, sharps, flats, just beautiful. She’s going to make one hell of a musician someday.” 

Waking up in a cold sweat, the musician realizes, gratefully, that it was all just a crazy dream. “Of course!” he reassures himself, “No society would ever reduce such a beautiful and meaningful art form to something so mindless and trivial; no culture could be so cruel to its children as to deprive them of such a natural, satisfying means of human expression. How absurd!”

Meanwhile, on the other side of town, a painter has just awakened from a similar nightmare…

I was surprised to find myself in a regular school classroom— no easels, no tubes of paint.”Oh we don’t actually apply paint until high school,” I was told by the students. “In seventh grade we mostly study colors and applicators.” They showed me a worksheet. On one side were swatches of color with blank spaces next to them. They were told to write in the names. “I like painting,” one of them remarked, “they tell me what to do and I do it. It’s easy!”

After class I spoke with the teacher. “So your students don’t actually do any painting?” I asked. “Well, next year they take Pre-Paint-by-Numbers. That prepares them for the main Paint-by-Numbers sequence in high school. So they’ll get to use what they’ve learned here and apply it to real-life painting situations— dipping the brush into paint, wiping it off, stuff like that.
Of course we track our students by ability. The really excellent painters— the ones who know their colors and brushes backwards and forwards— they get to the actual painting a little sooner; and some of them even take the Advanced Placement classes for college credit. But mostly we’re just trying to give these kids a good foundation in what painting is all about, so when they get out there in the real world and paint their kitchen they don’t make a total mess of it.”

“Um, these high school classes you mentioned…”

“You mean Paint-by-Numbers? We’re seeing much higher enrollments lately. I think it’s mostly coming from parents wanting to make sure their kid gets into a good college. Nothing looks better than Advanced Paint-by-Numbers on a high school transcript.”

“Why do colleges care if you can fill in numbered regions with the corresponding color?”

“Oh, well, you know, it shows clear-headed logical thinking. And of course if a student is planning to major in one of the visual sciences, like fashion or interior decorating, then it’s really a good idea to get your painting requirements out of the way in high school.”

“I see. And when do students get to paint freely, on a blank canvas?”

“You sound like one of my professors! They were always going on about expressing yourself and your feelings and things like that—really way-out-there abstract stuff. I’ve got a degree in Painting myself, but I’ve never really worked much with blank canvasses. I just use the Paint-by-Numbers kits supplied by the school board.”

***

Sadly, our present system of mathematics education is precisely this kind of nightmare. In fact, if I had to design a mechanism for the express purpose of destroying a child’s natural curiosity and love of pattern-making, I couldn’t possibly do as good a job as is currently being done— I simply wouldn’t have the imagination to come up with the kind of senseless, soul-crushing ideas that constitute contemporary mathematics education.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Trafficked Filipino Maths Teachers in the USA

I just read an article about something new and shocking to me – qualified teachers of mathematics (and other subjects) from the Philiphines who are  recruited on one-year contracts to teach in USA public schools, but often end up in appalling working and employment conditions:

“Between 2007 and 2009, 350 Filipino teachers arrived in Louisiana, excited for the opportunity to teach math and science in public schools throughout the state. They’d been recruited through a company called Universal Placement International Inc., which professes on its website to “successfully place teachers in different schools thru out [sic] the United States.” As a lawsuit later revealed, however, their journey through the American public school system was fraught with abuse.

According to court documents, Lourdes Navarro, chief recruiter and head of Universal Placement, made applicants pay a whopping $12,550 in interview and “processing fees” before they’d even left the Philippines. But the exploitation didn’t stop there. Immediately after the teachers landed in LAX, Navarro coerced them into signing a contract paying her 10 percent of their first and second years’ salaries; she threatened those who refused with instant deportation. Even after they started at their schools, Navarro kept the teachers dependent on her by only obtaining them one-year visas before exorbitantly charging them for an annual renewal fee. She also confiscated their passports.”

The article continues with an interesting analysis of the underlying problems in education and the neoliberal economy:

The idea that new teachers should be imported from halfway around the world for yearlong stints, knowing no background about the communities they are entering and the content relevant to them, is only justified if the teacher is reduced to an instrument of standardized information transmission. And if teachers are just such instruments, why not search the global market for the cheapest, most malleable ones possible? […]for corporate recruiters and their district clients, finding the right match for a school is not about teacher quality or experience, but rather cost and expendability.  The phenomenon of teacher trafficking, then, doesn’t rest entirely on recruiters’ mercenary tendencies or districts’ drive to cheapen their labor. It also rests on the larger neoliberal conception of workers. In this case, teachers become moveable parts, switched out in accordance with the iron laws of supply and demand in order to more efficiently output successful test scores, whose value comes to represent students themselves.

There is, however, something that worries me in the article. It also talks of “Teach For the Philippines” and its mother scheme, Teach for America, as a “global empire”. Although I can see how this scheme is part of the same complex of problems – not enough teachers in poorer countries, exacerbated by richer countries “poaching” teachers from poor countries – the disparaging analysis of “Teach for X” took me aback. I know only very good things about a similar scheme in Bulgaria. I would like to read more – if you read this and want to recommend me something to read about “Teach for X”, please do.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
%d bloggers like this: