“Meet Your New Teacher, Professor Scantron 888P+!”

“continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling.”

– Philippians 2:12

I don’t believe the university breeds enough graphomaniacs, or scribomaniacs. Writing used to be considered the most fundamental component of any education. These days it’s viewed as little more than an annoying obstacle to be surmounted as quickly as possible, if not avoided altogether by testing out. Generally, students assume they can write simply because they can complete a sentence. But these same students generally incorrectly assume they can write a sentence at all. As writing teachers know, however, most students cannot form a decent sentence, much less write a proper essay. And this is terribly unfortunate, because as Hegel suggests, it is not possible to think clearly without writing. Learning is an infinite task in which we engage only when caused to contemplate our own finitude, our own incapacities and inhibitions, as we see our own thoughts and feelings made visible before us on the written page. This is precisely why the scholar is so frequently represented with a death’s head, and why Hegel’s writings on Self-Consciousness dwell at such great length on the contemplation of the skull. (CLICK!)

Just as Clausewitz argues that there cannot be any genuine burst of War without the dynamic strife of two spirited nations, for Hegel, who believes Consciousness can only emerge in moments of intense conflict, there cannot be any real burst of inspiration except insofar as we wrestle with our own thoughts as we see them objectified before us in the form of writing. That’s precisely why I’ve set up this journal, and encouraged you to write with me here, and made it and the final paper, as opposed to quizzes, such a large part of your total grade. I want my students not just to listen to me talk and silently muse about what I might be saying, but to have to struggle through to an understanding of the concepts I teach by recreating the thoughts for themselves in the form of writing. There can’t be enough of this on college campuses today. Unfortunately, though there is much discussion about placing a greater emphasis on writing in university pedagogy, I don’t see much genuine action.

The recent massive budget cuts on campus will only worsen the situation. Classes will get ever bigger, making it even harder for teachers to give students the kind of close individual attention necessary for writing pedagogy. Nor will there be money for TAs and tutors who could do that job. Little by little, we’re moving toward a style of “learning” which will entail nothing but checking off boxes on forms that can be graded by computers. There’s a word for this kind of teaching and grading, one I used in class just yesterday – OBJECTIVITY. In the transition from the subjective to objective grading models, the student’s fearful and trembling hand is replaced by the mere flick of the wrist, and the skull is replaced by a scantron. The critical thing to understand here is this, that both the skull and the scantron are images of death. One is just more honest than the other. In the skull we see death still connected to life, whereas in the digital scanner – of the sort used to determine your GPA and DARS, in other words to “objectify” you – we see death as totally disconnected from all living activities. In scanner results we see objectivity itself objectified; even death (which was once a significant moment in life, indeed a veritable act) is now itself dead.

Objectivity has a history, and it is full of surprises. In Objectivity, Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison chart the emergence of objectivity in the mid-nineteenth-century sciences—and show how the concept differs from its alternatives, truth-to-nature and trained judgment. This is a story of lofty epistemic ideals fused with workaday practices in the making of scientific images.

Lorraine Daston is Director at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin, Germany. She is the coauthor of Wonders and the Order of Nature, and the editor of Things That Talk: Object Lessons from Art and Science (both Zone Books).

Peter Galison is Pellegrino University Professor of the History of Science and of Physics at Harvard University. He is the author of Einstein’s Clocks, Poincaré’s Maps: Empires of Time, How Experiments End, and Image and Logic: A Material Culture of Microphysics, among other books, and coeditor (with Emily Thompson) of The Architecture of Science (MIT Press, 1999).

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If we pause to consider that our objective physical reality is only a reflection of our inner mental reality, what does the pervasive use of the scantron testing tell us about the level of intellectual activity on college campuses today? So much for the History of Consciousness; so much for the Life of The Mind.

Using the Scantron 888P+

1. Enter the correct answers on a blank 882-ES SCANTRON form
2. Fill in the KEY bubble.
3. Feed the forms through the scanner.
a. This will mark incorrect answer with a red bar.
b. The total number of correct answers will be printed at the bottom of the form.
4. If you elect to fill in the % bubble (to the left of the KEY
bubble) the raw score and the percent ( % ) correct will print at
the bottom of the form.
5. If you elect to fill in the 2 bubble (to the left of the KEY
bubble) the correct alpha answer will print next to the line that contains the incorrect
answer. The red bar will not print.
6. If you elect to fill in the 3 bubble (to the left of the KEY
bubble) the correct numeric answer will print next to the line that contains the incorrect answer. This will replace the previously mentioned red bar.

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1 Response to “Meet Your New Teacher, Professor Scantron 888P+!”

  1. Pingback: More Dance and Voice « Pseudopaideia

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