Sunday, May 15, 2022

Insufficient Sensitivity To Administrative Intent

Once upon a time I was an assistant professor aspiring to become an associate. To accomplish this I had to prove three aspects of merit. My teaching, publications and service.

My "course evaluations" were good. (Actually they were my customer satisfaction ratings. But it's far too commercial to call them that.) My publications also were fine. My problem was "service." Why was that? Well, in this institution service was largely defined as serving on college committees. And despite my annually and even eagerly volunteering for whatever committee slots were available, I never got appointed to a single one. 

Realizing this would sink my prospects for promotion, I determined to find out what was going on. Committee assignments were made by, (get ready for this) the faculty "Committee on Committees." It chiefly consisted of old boy faculty, typically alums, and a chair who distinguished herself via her knee crooking cooperation with the Catholic Brothers who ran the place. 

Favored faculty got committee assignments even when they didn't fill out the form specifying their interests. I filled them out carefully. Nevertheless, I got zero assignments. So I requested an appointment with the chair of that "Committee On Committees" to find out what was going on. When she finally granted me an interview I wasn't in the mood to genuflect. So I reminded her that year after year I had volunteered for any available committee and got precisely nowhere. Others who were indifferent still got one assignment after another. What, I asked, was going on?

Her reply was uncommonly honest. She said it had somehow been determined, presumably via hearsay, that I was "insufficiently sensitive to administrative intent." That was the poison pill.

How to respond? Here's what I did. I reminded her that my promotion was at stake. I told her that I had kept a careful record of my efforts to volunteer. Then I added that if I failed to get promoted because of my alleged "lack of service," she and the rest of the committee would hear from my attorney. I planned to sue them all for damages. 

You know, I never again had any trouble getting committee assignments. As a matter of fact, I was routinely appointed to key ones, even though I did my best to remain insensitive to administrative intent . 

My promotion followed in due course. But what do you think happened to that chair of the Committee on Committees? Yes, as I presume you imagine, her sensitivity paid off. She became the Dean of Arts and Sciences. And in this exalted office she continued to utilize truly exquisite sensitivity to administrative intent.

What can be learned from my story? That there is a fundamental, though commonly unmentionable, tension between the interests of the administration and those of the faculty? That many faculty eagerly betray their peers in order to curry favor? That course evaluations are nothing of the kind? That religious communities can be nastily exclusionary? Sure, all of these factors are pertinent. But they also are evident to anyone who actually deserves to be called “professor.“

Then what else can we learn from this tale? First, that these academic realities really do resemble the missing genitalia on anatomical illustrations. Though critical, they too still are “disappeared.” And even mentioning their absence is risky. 

Despite this risk, however, joining in the pretense that these forces are absent from academia can still be exactly wrong. There are times when it's better to walk up to the academic equivalent of these anatomical illustrations, point to the blank crotch areas and ask, “What the hell is going on here?” 

When to do that? My advice? Whenever you have more to lose, if you don’t bring it up. Summoning these covert realities to the surface produces a sobering effect. At the very least it causes power holders to pause and reflect. Just remember, though, breaking the silence will be a game changer, even if you win.

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

 When “Wokeness” Boomerangs!

For centuries African-Americans have dealt with profound injustice in immoderate amounts. Ironically, however, extreme emphasis on this injustice, which is promoted by the most "woke" among us, can boomerang and become a self-fulfilling prophecy.


The Thomas theorem — well known among sociologists — points to how that happens. In substance the theorem describes how, when a situation is defined as true, it is true in its consequences. That's why outcomes often depend as much on the individual’s perception of the situation, as on the situation itself. Become convinced you are a utterly powerless victim, you will be. And this is precisely how immoderate emphasis on injustice, untempered by any other considerations, boomerangs. 

Anyone who is oppressed, American-American or otherwise, will learn to discount their own agency, their ability to overcome, if they become mired in the sticky goo of poor me-ism. They will even discount their own contribution to what happens in their lives. When that occurs no victimizers are required; no necessity for an oppressor. The oppressed will have taken on that job themselves.

Consider the civil rights anthem, "We shall overcome." The emphasis of this powerful song is on "WE," not someone else. Civil rights leaders certainly did not sit around waiting for "the man"to lift the yoke. They led African-Americans in lifting it off themselves. And it is precisely this kind of single-minded effort that is absolutely crucial for anyone who is oppressed.

I spent 50 years of my life as an educator, for example. And one of the most frustrating aspects of my career was watching too many African-American youngsters turn their backs on the opportunities schooling offers. Some were even hostile to it and not only refused to learn, but did their very best to keep others from learning.

 It's certainly true that school curricula, policies and procedures are often out of step with these kid's reality. But the fact remains that slave owners punished ANY schooling of slaves for a reason. Now kids with this negative attitude require no such oppression. They maintain the oppression themselves. And all of this self-righteous, self-serving, hand wringing by the excessively "woke" only makes it worse. Whatever our school's shortcomings, and they are many, especially for kids who are poor, they still offer opportunities. Sometimes the very best opportunities these kids will ever have. But only for those who eschew self-pity, focus on their own agency, and seize the day.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Reverse Discrimination and Overlooked Handicaps

Reverse Discrimination and Overlooked Handicaps

Numerous people now benefit from affirmative action programs that are intended to make up for past wrongs, insure the disadvantaged get a fair share and promote diversity.  The trouble with this approach is that many genuinely disadvantaged people are left out. Consider the following.

Physical Attractiveness
In a study entitled "What Is Beautiful Is Good," researchers from the American Psychological Association showed photographs of attractive, average, and unattractive people to university undergraduates. The students were asked to rate the people in the photos on various personality traits and behavioral tendencies, based solely on their appearance in the pictures.

Compared to unattractive people, attractive people were assumed to possess a higher number of positive traits. The students rated them confident, strong, assertive, candid, warm, honest, kind, outgoing, sensitive, poised, sociable, exciting, and nurturing. The physical-attractiveness stereotype has been replicated in several different experimental paradigms. As Aristotle noted, "Personal beauty is a greater recommendation than any letter of introduction."

Weight is another physical characteristic that results in discrimination and unfair treatment. Research shows they are often perceived as lazy, unintelligent, slovenly, and unattractive. Several studies also demonstrate that such negative attitudes toward obese individuals contribute to discrimination in the work place. Specifically, obese people are not hired as often as people of normal weight; are less likely to be promoted; and often report being discriminated against by managers and peers.

Short Stature
Height, particularly in men, is another physical attribute associated with negative stereotypes and discrimination. A 1992 study by researchers from Michigan State University demonstrated that short men are often judged inferior to tall men in several personal attributes. People tend to judge taller men as more socially attractive, higher in professional status, more masculine, more athletically inclined, and more physically attractive than short men. Similar studies have found that short men often experience discrimination in professional settings. For example, short job applicants are not hired as often as taller applicants; short employees earn less, on average, than taller employees; and short political candidates lose elections more often than taller candidates.

Some Other Factors
Research also demonstrates that people with red hair color are often stereotyped as "clownish" and "weird." Negative stereotyping based on language and dialect (i.e., Southern accents, ebonics) also is a common occurrence. Additionally, children who wear brand-name clothing and shoes are judged "popular," "wealthy," and able to "fit in with their peers" compared to children who do not wear name brands.

What does such research have to do with affirmative action? The answer is "Everything." If unattractive, obese, or short people, for example, experience discrimination in a broad setting shouldn't we be prepared to apply compensatory measures for anyone victimized by prejudice? Why should some qualify for fair share treatment (positive discrimination) just because their particular group has more political muscle?

Instead of focusing on skin color or other group differences, perhaps we should embrace the character-based vision of Martin Luther King, Jr. and focus on each person's individual humanity, rather than his or her race,ethnicity, or what have you. After all, in the end, isn't character, not group membership, the most important difference of all?

Monday, December 19, 2016

My Tribe Wants Your Tribe's Stuff: Limits on Multicultural Schooling

Much obeisance is paid to the need for "multiculturalism" in the school curriculum. How else, ask the disciples, can educators promote a sense of empowerment and worth in all Americans? How else can they truly engage the many communities they serve? How else can they run schools that are strong and accountable community institutions? 

True enough. But this comprehension and valuing will not change the fact that groups, be they tribes or nations, compete for limited resources at one another's expense.

This defines multiculturalism's limits. Why? Because it is difficult to even tolerate, much less honor, another group's culture when that group's gain is your group's loss. 

Competition for resources has long existed and will continue to exist, "...for as long as grass should grow and water flow." And that means multiculturalism is generally limited to the winners granting token recognition to the losers.

For a more detailed treatment of this subject see:

Monday, October 31, 2016


In the 1990’s the Oklahoma State Board of Education imperiously declared that by the year 2000: "All schools will focus instruction on the needs of each individual student at all levels within the framework of an integrated curriculum."
How could a secondary teacher assigned an average of, say, 110 students per day, possibly individualize instruction for each and every one of them? This was plainly impossible. And teachers had to accomplish this within the framework of a newly “integrated curriculum” — whatever that meant. This was even more impossible.
This “reform” was also borderline impossible for elementary teachers as well. Designing and implementing instruction for small groups of, say, 5 or 6 youngsters is demanding but doable. But truly individualizing newly integrated subject matter for each of 20 or more children is just about impossible — particularly when the teacher had to keep the rest of the children orderly and learning. [1]
This alleged “reform” actually was a mind-numbing combination of wishful thinking and political hot air. But Oklahoma educators had to appear to comply. This doubtless gave rise to dozens of mind-numbing meetings and vast amounts of useless paperwork. Meanwhile, from Kenton in the panhandle to Sallisaw on the Arkansas border, this top-down  “reform” greatly interfered with educators actually doing their job.
Years have passed since the Oklahoma “reform” deadline. Was the state’s public education improved? No, of course it wasn’t. The whole “reform” effort was an odious, time-wasting, paper project inspired by a hollow slogan — “integrating the curriculum.” Worse, it was forced on educators by self-important political hacks that either didn’t have a clue about the day-to-day realities of classroom teaching, or didn’t give a damn.
One day, far in the future, a janitor will be tidying up the Oklahoma Department of Education’s back offices. In a musty corner he or she will stumble across yellowed old curriculum integration documents submitted by every one of the state’s 520 school districts in order to document how they had managed to accomplish the impossible.
“What is all of this?” the janitor will wonder as he or she struggles to carry the overflowing boxes to the trash. Meanwhile, in State Education Department board-rooms across the country, and the Department of Education in Washington, a new crop of clueless political appointees will be crafting still other top-down reforms to convince gullible voters that their particular administration really does care about children — provided it isn’t costly.

[1] These numbers are based on 2016 Oklahoma averages as compiled by the National Center for Educational Statistics.

Thursday, October 27, 2016


By Gary K. Clabaugh, Professor Emeritus, La Salle University

Rewritten 8/16/16
In olden times, when hope still mattered, a frog named Horace treasured tadpoles. When they thrived, Horace was very, very happy. When they failed to to thrive, Horace was very, very sad.

Horace lived in the Kingdom of the Frogs where Bullfrogs reigned supreme. These puffed up monsters took up the best end of the pond, ate a great deal more than they needed, croaked so loudly no one else could be heard, and conducted their most important business hidden deep in the bottom muck.
Tadpoles need nurturing and ordinary frogs used community nurturaries to provide that. In fact, they paid taxes to the Bullfrogs for nurturary upkeep. The Bullfrogs, on the other hand, cared little about community nurturaries because they enrolled their own tadpoles in very expensive, private ones. Here their tadpoles were exempted from the omnipresent tests and measurements imposed on lesser tadpoles by the Bullfrogs.
One day the Bullfrogs mysteriously began harrumphing very loudly that state run nurturaries were just plain awful. A King-appointed panel of powerful Bullfrogs even proclaimed, "If another kingdom were responsible for the awful condition of our pond nurturaries it would be a cause for war." (Bullfrogs frequently found causes for wars — though they rarely fought in them.) 
The panel ignored the fact that Bullfrogs ultimately determined the funding of community nurturaries. Sub-adequate budgets helped create sub-adequate conditions. Plus these conditions closely reflected frog living conditions in the ever-growing stagnant end of the pond. And because they controlled the water flow the Bullfrogs determined how much of the pond was stagnant.
Anyway, as Horace came of age he thought, and thought (in the way that only frogs can think), about what to do with his life. "I know!" he finally decided, "I'll nurture tadpoles."
Certification was necessary to become a tadpole nurturer. But that process was undemanding because of the ongoing need for inexpensive, compliant nurturers. Besides, at Amphibian University, which had a Bullfrog controlled board of trustees, the weak-kneed tadpole-nurturing program was viewed as little more than a source of tuition income.
When it turned out that the undemanding certification standards still were too demanding for the casually committed, the Bullfrogs set up alternative routes to certification. "Nurture for the Kingdom," was one example. When this Bullfrog supported endeavor was created, a Bullfrog official solemnly croaked, "Alternative certification opens tadpole nurturing careers to bright young frogs who otherwise would choose another vocation."
Horace wondered (as best a frog can wonder), "Since tadpoles are so very important for our frog future, why do the Bullfrogs make it ever easier to become a tadpole nurturer?"
Meanwhile the Bullfrogs continued to stoke dissatisfaction with community nurturaries. They began croaking that these nurturaries would be much better if for-profit Bullfrog firms were to take over their management at public expense. (Bullfrogs are very enthusiastic about profit making — especially when it’s at public expense.)
Anyway, Horace too easily achieved certification at Amphibian U. and signed up for a job as a community tadpole nurturer in the most stagnant part of the pond.
Horace was delighted to nurture young tadpoles. But he soon discovered that while he and his fellow tadpole nurturers were held accountable, they had no say about how the nurturary was run or what nurturing materials were available. Worse still, nourishment and oxygen were in scant supply at that end of the pond. Those scarcities made the tadpoles much harder to nurture. Sometimes the half-suffocated tadpoles even turned on one another, or on a frog nurturer.
Some blamed Bullfrog rules and inadequate funding for this nurturary’s plight. Others blamed it on the frog administrator’s who had sold out in order to feel more like a Bullfrog. Still others thought local community nurturary board member’s lack of knowledge was at fault. (Board members weren’t required to know anything about tadpoles or teaching.)
In fact ignorance of tadpole teaching was common at all levels of community tadpole nurturary management. Even the Bullfrog who was Secretary of Tadpole Nurturance possessed none of this knowledge whatsoever. But he was well connected in the pond and very skilled at croaky solemnity. Ignoring the many environmental factors limiting tadpole growth, for instance, he pompously advised tadpole nurturers that if they just had "higher expectations" their tadpoles would thrive.
About this time the Frog King emerged from the muck on the bottom of the pond, swam to the surface, stuck his thick Bullfrog head out of the water, and croaked out a royal decree. "Henceforth," he thrummed, "every tadpole succeeds!" And with that, the King dove back down into the muck. (Little, if any, additional money for tadpole nurturance accompanied the King’s declaration).

The Frog King
The Bullfrogs declared that all community tadpole nurturaries must regularly measure and report tadpole growth. The results were proclaimed throughout the land and community tadpole nurturaries were held publicly accountable." (There was not even a mention of measuring tadpole growth in the private nurturaries that served the Bullfrog's offspring.)
The Bullfrogs assured frogs with tadpoles that they had the right to transfer them to other community nurturaries if theirs got low scores. In reality, such transfers were very difficult. But that didn’t stop the Bullfrogs from boasting about the policy.
Horace and his fellow tadpole nurturers wondered how they could be held responsible if the tadpoles were under their care only six and a half hours a day, five days a week, 180 days of the year. The rest of the time (and that was a great deal of time indeed), tadpoles were "cared for" at home by their frog mothers and fathers — if the later could even be found.
In fact, by the time frog parents brought their tadpoles to the nurturary to be taught, their all-important early growth period was already over and the damage inflicted at home was more or less permanent. For this reason Horace often got tadpoles with needs that were well beyond his simple skills. He struggled bravely (or at least as bravely as a frog can struggle), But try as he might Horace could not get the environmentally stunted tadpoles to meet the Bullfrog's puffed up standards. He even tried expecting more, as the Bullfrogs advised, but that that just made things worse. “I guess I’m not very good at expecting,” Horace said to himself.
About this time a Bullfrog-owned and approved charter corporation took over the community nurturary where Horace worked. Despite strenuous denials, the bottom line was no longer tadpole nurturing but profit making. Changes were introduced but tadpole growth did not improve. In fact, fewer tadpoles blossomed than before. But at least the Bullfrogs were more content.
With the coming of summer, nurturing ended. And there was a sad new weariness in Horace's bulgy eyes. He still loved tadpoles. Only now he kept dwelling on their frequent failure to thrive. He spent most of the summer thinking about his future. Should he keep nurturing or not? In the end his love of tadpoles won out. Hoping things would improve he returned to his job in the community nurturary.
Actually, things were worse. Thanks to Bullfrog owned, for-profit management love of tadpoles was entirely absent. Making a profit was all that mattered. And because the Bullfrog set standards were impossibly difficult for damaged tadpoles, some nurturers started cheating.
Horace would have none of that. He played by the rules and continued to do his best. "Worthwhile things are seldom easy," he would say to himself. But reality slowly smothered what was left of his hope. Finally, after a particularly discouraging day (and frogs aren’t easily discouraged), Horace just hopped sadly away, never to be seen again.
Some say he hopped to another pond where there were no Bullfrogs. Others say Bullfrogs dominate every pond in the world and that Horace died of a broken heart. In any case, he is gone — forever.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016


Gary K. Clabaugh
Professor Emeritus of Education, La Salle University

23 October 2016

School reform efforts typically employ key terms that are vague and undefined. Consider the late unlamented “No Child Left Behind Act” of 2001. What exactly did “left behind” mean? That was conveniently obscure. Though by implication it meant any child, including special education students and non-English speakers, who failed to pass high stakes tests in math and reading.
Who established such a mindless definition? It was an unholy amalgam of crafty politicians, federal and state bureaucrats and professional test makers. All of whom were far, far removed from the realities of the classroom.
Historically learners had always had at least some responsibility for learning. But this “reform” placed the entire burden on educators. Even youngsters who adamantly refused to learn had no responsibility for failing. They were victims, who had carelessly, even callously,  been “left behind.”
I once heard a youngster defiantly tell a teacher: “You aint gonna teach me shit.” Was he being “left behind," or willfully refusing to get on board? Youngsters like this young man were not a rarity then nor are they now. Nevertheless, the NCLB Act placed 100% of the responsibility for learning on the shoulders of his teachers. How did such a one-sided  arrangement ever become reality? Well, for one thing the defintion of “left behind” was rarely discussed openly. It was buried in a mound of detail.
  Slogans are useful if we want to establish a broad but very shallow consensus among people of varied interests. That is why they’re employed in harmless ceremonial situations such as marriage,  awards, ship christenings, building dedications, funerals, and so forth. They create the momentary solidarity necessary for common celebration. But it is an entirely different matter when slogans are used to sucker voters, justify wars or, as in this case, sneak entirely unrealistic education “reforms” goals into law.
 So what will the next generation of presently gestating “reforms” produce? If past is prologue, they will produce nothing but distraction, wasted time and superfluous effort on the part of frontline educators. But at least they will provide protective cover for wily politicians and busy work for a lot of otherwise largely useless bureaucrats.

[1] These numbers are based on 2016 Oklahoma averages as compiled by the National Center for Educational Statistics.