Let’s Try Something New with Policing and Education

In the past few weeks, two white police officers have avoided indictment after killing unarmed black men. Grand juries decided these officers acted appropriately given the circumstances, regardless of the outcome. Of course, those sane people among us disagree and would like to see police officers held accountable when they kill people of color. Yet, there is no conversation in this country about how best to get good outcomes from policing or what good policing looks like or how to hold officers accountable for any outcomes.

Accountability is not a word we often use in conjunction with police officers or whole police forces even. We do not know what sorts of goals or outcomes (like no killing unarmed people) we might hold them to. But there is a profession about which we use that word quite often. That profession is teaching. Organizations like the National Education Association issue Accountability Policies. People like Robert Slavin, who work for whole organizations dedicated to making education better write articles arguing the merits of which evidence should be used to evaluate teacher accountability. Everyone, it seems, agrees that teachers, who rarely kill anyone, need to be fixed and that their work must be constantly scrutinized.

Within the scrutiny of teachers and the marked non-scrutiny of police officers lies another fascinating double standard. The measures by which teachers are judged do not allow for differences in school district, economic well-being of students, social factors, or the facilities and resources in individual schools. When educators point out that such factors can and do affect outcomes for students, they are pooh-poohed. Indeed, it appears that these standards are designed to punish both the teachers who work in difficult educational environments and the disadvantaged children whom they are tasked with – and often do a great job – teaching. Yet, police officers may refer to social factors or economic environment to excuse their behavior and their failure. They can point to working in a tough, “inner-city” or “gang-ridden” part of town or to the social and economic background of their victims and use those data points even to avoid indictment. Calling a citizen whom you wrongfully killed a “thug” or referring to the size of your victim are perfectly allowable for police officers, while similar factors are not a part of teacher evaluation.

I propose we reverse the ways we approach these two professions. For teachers, trust that they too are doing a difficult job ; that they are doing good work; and that sometimes they will not be perfect, and know that it’s ok for them to make mistakes. Trust in their education, training, experience, and their care for the young people they work with. Let them do their jobs and stop the constant setting of standards, changing of standards, holding them accountable to tests or new policies. You know the ones: No Child Left Behind, the Common Core.

For police, let’s set some goals and objectives. One important goal might be to reduce the overall violence in the area that you police. Another might be reducing incidence of crime in the community. Then develop metrics for assessing progress toward those goals. Next, link job security and wage increases to meeting those goals. In this way, we would see policing that responds to the needs of the people rather than the needs of the police officers and perhaps a few wealthy elites. Going forward, let’s treat teachers with the same respect and deference we give police officers and place officers under the same scrutiny as teachers.

Student Publication Success

My students have impressed me yet again this year, in many ways, but mostly by publishing in their first year of a graduate program. Of the incoming class, three out of ten students published the book reviews they submitted as part of the course work in their Graduate Scholarship class.

Adam Copeland reviewed iGods: How Technology Shapes our Spiritual and Social Lives by Craig Detweiler. His review appears in the

Kaylee Jangula Mootz reviewed The Hunger Games and Philosophy: A Critique of Pure Treason. Edited by George A. Dunn and Nicolas Michaud. Her review appears in the Children’s Literature Association Quarterly Summer 2014 issue.

Rob Neuteboom reviewed Lessons from the Virtual Classroom: The Realities of Online Teaching by Rena M. Palloff. His review will appear in the Journal of Teaching and Learning with Technology.

These students and their success remind me why I do this work.

Gaeilge, Twitter, & Scholarship

As I get toward the end of an exciting but small project on a contemporary Irish novel and a Medieval genre, my thoughts turn toward the next project and the next.

To begin I have some questions roiling in my head about Gaeilge, social media, and globalism. I will have to think about how to manage a project with so many moving parts. What sort of methodology might I use? After years of studying the language and two trips for in-depth study, one in the Donegal Gaeltacht, am I finally going to put my Irish language learning to some scholarly use? I imagine working to integrate how language learners navigate their attempts through connections to native speakers and place, but the social media aspect seems important. Tweeting as Gaeilge agus tweets ag léamh i nGaeilge combines with watching the Lurgan Colaiste videos on youtube (http://lurgan.biz/ and @TGLurgan) to create something global and Irish. Now, I need to imagine what can we study and learn from it.

An analysis of the “Wake me Up” as Gaeilge video can offer some starting ideas. The video combines Irish language lyrics to a popular song with a number of conventional and popular global forms such as ballet dance, and black light face paint and white clothing stylized from clubs and raves. Yet, the director(s) weave in tin whistles and other traditional Irish instruments, Irish step dancing, and images of freckled youngsters, creating a distinctly Irish feel. The global success of the video and the subsequent visits to the Late Late Show and cameos from Macklemore and Ryan Lewis suggest that the video struck a transnational nerve.

As I tweeted earlier in the semester, I’ve long wanted to document and theorize the professionalization that happens in the Graduate Scholarship classroom. Now that we have integrated social media into that professionalization, it seems the right time to use those connections to investigate what if anything happens over the first semester of a graduate program, especially in relation to the course those students take together. Of course, taking on the Graduate Directorship makes this possible scholarly direction even more timely, since my time for the foreseeable future will involve just this sort of work. Naturally, I want to study whether the efforts we make with students create dividends, and if so, what kinds of outcomes. In specific, I am curious about “forcing” students to use twitter in a professional setting.

If I am going to do this kind of research, and John Jones’ JBTC article provides a lovely methodology to tweak, then I need to think about IRB approval, data gathering timelines, and a long term project plan, so that I have longitudinal data from my time as Graduate Director – teaching the introduction to the professions course.

Now, all I need to do is conduct the research and write the results.

New Scholars and Questions about Tenure

In response to a tweet from a student and an in-class question from another student, I want to assuage your fears – somewhat. In most tenure documents and procedures, professors are evaluated on the quality -and often quantity- of three measures: scholarship, teaching, and service. Usually the importance matches my ordering, scholarship is most important, hence the adage “publish or perish,” teaching matters secondarily, and service remains tertiary. Of course, that ordering, known informally, does not often actually appear in the documents.

The Professor at UND, if the article in The Forum is correct, met or exceeded expectations for scholarship, teaching, and service, yet was denied tenure. Your tweets and questions reflect frustration and confusion at how this could happen. As you know, all evaluation includes objective and subjective components. In tenure decisions, the subjective components range from opinions about the quality of certain publication venues to the usefulness (or lack of it) in student teaching evaluations, especially instruments deemed unsound by outside experts as our SROI’s have been. Some Promotion and Tenure documents include another subjective piece, a “collegiality” expectation. Such expectations have the purpose of requiring some level of professionalism and cooperation with one’s colleagues in an environment that allows a good deal of autonomy. The AAUP describes the problems with collegiality clauses here, stating that they can assist “practices that exclude persons on the basis of their difference from a perceived norm.” While the Forum article does not specify whether the UND Modern Language documents include a collegiality clause, the concept of collegiality surely works into their decision to deny tenure.

The AAUP provides a number of arguments for non-inclusion of a collegiality requirement in tenure materials, and those arguments are compelling. In my eyes, the most important argument concerns how such clauses are usually used to deny tenure or promotion to faculty members from underrepresented groups, such as people of color and women. Not surprisingly, the UND case involves a woman, and importantly, a woman who made a sexual harassment claim against a male colleague. But what recourse does a department or University have when a faculty member is truly disruptive or damaging to their co-workers? And who decides what is disruption?

Closer to your current academic home, the tenure guidelines for the English Department at NDSU do not include the word collegial. Of course, faculty members probably harbor unspoken, or unwritten expectations for behavior. And for some who wasted spent their pre-tenure years working to be collegial, that document might not be very convincing. To be more clear, the expectations for collegiality in our department, as in all departments, change over time. For example, years ago people expected attendance at departmental social functions, like the picnic, but that expectation has eroded over time. Being aware that expectations change will help you surf the written and unwritten requirements in any job situation, not just academic ones.

I advise aspiring faculty members like students in Graduate Scholarship to be pleasant or at least unobtrusive socially, and avoid gossip, both listening to it and carrying it, as best you can. In addressing departmental issues be honest and assertive but avoid unnecessary aggression. There may be rare times when aggression becomes necessary, but most of you will escape such events. Finally, find non-faculty member friends with whom you can commiserate, kindly, any frustration with your colleagues.

English 760

Some of the work from last night’s Graduate Scholarship course. Students filled all of the available board space with their smart responses to interpolated text and analysis of genre shifts in Byatt’s Possession.