Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Academic mortality

The notion of academic mortality is an interesting one. The general gist of the notion goes like this: the further along any given educational path an individual travel, the higher the probability that zhe will die academically and do something else. Like, say, get a job. Or, to be blunt, anything else that is not more education.

At higher levels, this is to be expected. People get their degrees and are done. A few will remain and get even more degrees, and ever fewer will persevere and become professors. Which is not terribly interesting, as this is how it's supposed to work. The interesting part of this pyramid, though, is that it begins at the top and then continues downwards. All the way down, in fact.

Some people die even before they reach third grade.

If you have a mind for statistics, you can browse the mortality rates for different populations. As you might imagine, they vary along the usual suspected lines: rich white kids live longer than poor minority kids.

To keep up the bluntness: this too is to be expected.

The interesting things, as always, appear when you ask the question why. (Always ask the question of why. Never take the expected for granted.) Why is it that some populations die off faster than others? Why is it that, systematically and continually over time, the same patterns reemerge? What gives?

You could cite individual performance. This would, however, lead us into dangerous territories, as the systematic and continuous differences over time clearly can't be due to the same individuals underperforming all these years. You'd have to invoke some sort of explanation that expounds that some groups (hint: rich whities) are better than others, and that the statistics only reflect this. Scientifically.

Let's not go there.

Let's instead turn our eyes to the scene of the crime. Academia. Or, more interestingly, schools. What is it about them that makes certain populations live longer than others? What in them makes these patterns reemerge?

On the surface level, the school system appears to be an equal opportunity opportunity. You enter on the one end, perform, get the grades you deserve based on your performance, and resurface on the other end an educated person. It's the ultimate meritocracy: work and ye shall be rewarded, unwork and ye shall remain unrewarded. And ye shall be rewarded in accordance with this standard document, the Curriculum.

Too bad it's not like that.

While curricula might be written in a unified language, and the educational standards be publicly available as readable documents, portraying what pupils need to live up to get any given grade - these goals are not equal. They all share the same finishing line, to be sure, but the starting point is anything but shared.

The goal, the standards, the points of comparison are not class neutral. They are not neutral in any regard you'd like to mention. And it is not neutral in such a way that those who conform to these standards before even getting to their first day of school have it a lot easier than those who have to learn the ropes alongside everything else. Who have to learn both the basic skills the school is supposed to teach them, and the proper way to be a school attendee. Who, in no uncertain terms, have to do twice as much as the rest.

As you might imagine, this impacts mortality rates.

A clear example of this are children who grow up in [what I'll for the sake of brevity call] ebonic speaking families. When they interact with their peers, they speak ebonics - when they get to school, they'll get an instant F if they write the same way they speak. Which, in effect, means they not only have to learn how to write, but also a whole new language on top of that, with different grammar, vocabulary and all the rest of it.

The fact that this new language also is the dominant language of the region doesn't help. In fact, it might be a direct detriment - especially in those places where ebonics [or any other variant, dialect, language or communicative praxis] isn't recognized as anything other than substandard English. That is to say, not proper English, but not so different that the kids cannot be judged as if they spoke proper English from day one.

The same thing goes not only for language, but for just about anything worth mentioning. And, more importantly, those things deemed worthy of not mentioning.

It usually isn't mentioned in the grades. Or in the documentation that declares any gives person academically dead.

Therein, the story of individual performance lives on strong. Its death count untold. -

No comments:

Post a Comment