17 April 2013

The real lesson of the Boston bombing

To quote the late Christopher Hitchens, "the rats have come vomiting from the sewers again" this time in Boston by committing the heinous and barbarous crime of targeting innocent people with improvised explosive devices, as we now know, made from pressure cookers packed with gun powder, nails, and ball bearings.  Cheap bombs made from ingredients designed to maim and injure in multitudes by firing their shrapnel at mass trajectories and at high velocity.  Three people killed needlessly, countless others injured following actions that can be understood, perhaps, but never condoned and never reconciled but perhaps after arduous remorse forgiven.  It is the type of brutality typically reserved for war zones but which has grown far too common in civilian areas.

No matter the reasons behind this brutal attack, no justification can excuse violence of this sort inflicted on noncombatants. Yet they continue to occur all around the world.

The mayor of Boston has resolutely promised that "(t)his tragedy is not going to stop Boston. We will not let terror take us over."

As was the case after the horrific mass killings in Norway, freely elected leaders have vowed not to infringe on democratic values.  It is an invaluable lesson for which we must adhere and maintain as the beacon of secular principles that bind people, simply as human beings absent of, or despite, religious or political affiliations, together.

But there is a deeper lesson for Americans to take hold of in the wake of this sheer assault on our faith in humanity.  Even as we mourn for the three people whose lives have ended far to abruptly after far too brief of time (all three were young), we must recall, even in its complexity and difficulty, for now is really the best time as the emotions are most raw, the innocent lives that are lost on a daily basis around the world especially those deaths attributed to the actions of our own government.  It is essential, I believe, that in this time of mourning when our anguish is at its height that we remind ourselves that for each daughter and son lost in Boston countless other sons and daughters, husbands and wives, friends and relatives have been erased by explosive devices dropped by remote controlled robots without conscience and without remorse.

To put this in perspective, we have witnessed an attack on civilians that had as its principle purpose to maim many and kill, and to incite hysteria.  America has, at this early hour, lost three lives.  On the same day in far away Waziristan in Northwest Pakistan a drone attack has killed 5 people and wounded at least seven others.

No one should get the idea that bombing the grandstands of a sporting event is in any way justified or condoned because of the killing of civilians in Pakistan, on the contrary our condemnation of both of these wicked attacks must be resounding.  Our global condemnation of assaults on innocent bystanders must override our fears for our safety and our lack of understanding of our fellow human beings' beliefs.  It should be our greatest endeavor to create a peaceful global coalition that condemns violence of any sort but most especially against noncombatants.  This episode and others like it should be our call as Americans to enforce the cessation of the drone wars that have only increased over the past 5 years of leadership under a Nobel Peace Prize winner.  

President Obama has claimed, "But make no mistake: we will get to the bottom of this. And we will find out who did this. We will find out why they did this. Any responsible individuals, any responsible groups, will feel the full weight of justice."

If America feels this way about the merciless action in Boston's civic center, should we not ask ourselves how Pakistani officials feel about American bombs killing Pakistani citizens?  How do the families and friends of slain victims feel toward America?

Should Pakistan vow to inflict their full weight of justice upon the United States?  Should all of the families and friends of victims of US attacks all around the world wish the same justice be brought to America's shores?  Keep in mind that these are people who know their attackers.  The know who to hold responsible for the deaths of their comrades - again, innocent bystanders.

Some would argue that the drone attacks target militia, al Qaeda members, or the nebulous "terrorists", but far more evidence indicates that a majority of innocent civilians are dying as a result of guided missiles fired from our drone ships.

Make no mistake, in no way is this a slight on the tragic loss of life my comrades have to come to grips with in the wake of the destruction that has taken place in Boston's city streets.  The intention here is to shout out to all the innocents who are dying, all of the needless, unnecessary, and flagrant deaths occurring everywhere around the world.  This is also a missive of hope that perhaps some of America's quest for vengeance might be tempered with the admonition of our own wrongdoings and our own maledictions of death and atrocities, which are far more extensive than the drone attacks which I have briefly mentioned here (one need not look any farther afield than our own hemisphere to find American injustice and rampant murder).

After the barbarous murders in Norway, Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg issued a quiet call of defiance to his countrymen: "The Norwegian response to violence is more democracy, more openness and greater political participation."

This is the promise that ought be the free world's continued resounding cry:  More democracy, more openness and greater political participation for everyone regardless of age, creed, color, or nationality.  I firmly believe this should be America's greatest lesson from the callous and heinous acts of destruction in Boston much like it should have been in the wake of the attacks in New York or Oklahoma.   

12 April 2013

Taking on Accreditors and Faculty

The goal of accreditation is to ensure that education provided by institutions of higher education meets acceptable levels of quality. Accrediting agencies, which are private educational associations of regional or national scope, develop evaluation criteria and conduct peer evaluations to assess whether or not those criteria are met. Institutions and/or programs that request an agency's evaluation and that meet an agency's criteria are then "accredited" by that agency.

Does accreditation in higher education mean quality?

Does oversight of institutions exist outside of accreditation?

Should accredited institutions be forced to accept credit for courses taken at unaccredited institutions or does the work of the accreditation boards still signify some degree of quality assurance?

The trend today is to introduce market forces into industries that don't function well when driven by profit margins.  Education and healthcare are clearly examples of systems that operate dysfunctionally when driven with the goal of maximizing profits.

So it's interesting to see Florida lawmakers introducing legislation that could dismantle our accreditation system, at least in Florida.  How strange it would be to see higher education turned into another industry of hostile takeovers and monetary gain. 

And now to the head scratcher:

From Inside Higher Education
April 11, 2013 - 3:00am
By Ry Rivard

Florida lawmakers advanced a bill this week intended to upend the American college accreditation system.
The measure would allow Florida officials to accredit individual courses on their own -- including classes offered by unaccredited for-profit providers.

“We’re saying the monopoly of the accrediting system is not designed for the world of MOOCs or other individual courses,” said Republican State Senator Jeff Brandes, the bill’s sponsor. MOOCs are massive open online courses, the generally free online classes offered by a handful of groups, including some of the most elite universities in the world and for-profit companies.

The Florida plan is similar to a high-profile California bill. Both would force public colleges and universities under some circumstances to award credit for work done by students in online programs unaffiliated with their colleges.

With less than a month left in the Florida legislative session, the bill’s fate is unclear. But its critics and supporters both take the effort seriously even though the bill has remained below the radar nationally compared to the California plan, even within higher education circles in Florida.

Tom Auxter, the president of the 7,000-member United Faculty of Florida, was on his way to Tallahassee on Wednesday to lobby against the bill, which is known as the Florida Accredited Courses and Tests Initiative, or FACTs.

“What we’re trying to do is mobilize faculty to contact their legislators to say just how bad this is,” Auxter said.

The bill is part of a national effort to use technology to change higher ed.

“Now you see the nation being squeezed by California and now in Florida,” said Dean Florez, a former California state senator who leads the Twenty Million Minds Foundation and generally supports the bills in both states.

Brandes won approval for the bill from the Senate’s powerful rules committee on Tuesday morning, clearing a major hurdle that allows the bill to be considered by the full Senate.

The bill does two main things.

First, it would create “Florida-accredited courses.” According to the bill, anyone – “any individual, institution, entity or organization,” it says – could create a course and seek “Florida-accredited” status.  The vagueness of the language worries faculty unions and other state lawmakers, including a Republican senator who warned during the committee meeting Tuesday that Florida was inviting "scam artists."

During testimony to the rules committee Tuesday and in an interview Wednesday, Brandes made clear his bill is intended to shake up the way things are done in higher ed. He said the current accrediting model, which looks at a whole institution, fails to look at the rigor of individual courses. He said this means a college might be good over all, but a course wouldn’t be.

Under his plan, the head of the state’s public school system and the chancellor of the university system would together certify which courses among those not offered by accredited institutions deserve to be “Florida-accredited.” (Currently, all public higher ed institutions in Florida are accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.)

Auxter called that plan dangerous and prone to political influence.

“It takes away decision making on the curriculum from faculties, universities and colleges and it gives it to officials in Tallahassee,” Auxter said. “Then all lobbyists have to do is argue with two officials, who are both political appointees, that their vendor contract to produce a high-quality – so-called – online course should be adopted."

The second major part of the bill is a new regime of statewide tests for K-12 and undergraduate college students to get credit for certain general education requirements based on their knowledge rather than for taking any specific course. The tests would be similar to Advanced Placement, ​International Baccalaureate and College Level Examination Program, or CLEP, exams. These for-credit exams would be tailored to Florida but designed and administered by contractors. ​Many colleges and universities will award credit or waive some requirements for students with certain scores on the AP or other exams, but these decisions have historically been made by colleges, and some institutions opt not to award such credit.

Florida International University Provost Douglas Wartzok said both key parts of the bill are “certainly concerning” because they take the university out of the picture: faculty would not offer the instruction, faculty would not design the tests and faculty would not administer the test.

“This approach takes it one more step away from the individual universities’ overview and allows commercial organizations to do the evaluations,” Wartzok said.

Florez criticized academic resistance.

“I think every professor in the nation starts with, ‘I think online education is going to ruin higher education,’ " he said. "What I think every professor is saying is, ‘Online learning is going to significantly disrupt the way I’ve been doing things.'"

Bob Schaeffer, spokesman for the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, which criticizes standardized tests, said the legislation was troubling. “It is designed so that the test is the curriculum, so that students will gain credit if they pass the test, even if they don’t do anything else and that certainly will encourage test prep and not deeper learning,” he said.

Even though Brandes is pushing tests that would grant students credit for doing well, Brandes said "for the most part" students should still take some kind of course -- whether it be traditional courses or MOOCs -- in order to learn.

“What we’re saying here is students have to pass an exam at the end, so they have to pass to attain the knowledge,” he said. "The arguments against it would be there’s something magical about how you attain that knowledge. For the most part, the knowledge is the commodity. So what we’re saying is, ‘How are we going to get this commodity into your head?’”

Brandes -- using a comparison attributed to Stanford University President John Hennessy -- said technology is a tsunami and it’s up to education policy makers to sink or swim.

Auxter said this line of thinking spells the end of higher ed as it’s known. He said college professors would soon begin to teach to tests, a criticism leveled frequently now at K-12 teachers.

“Would you like to have university courses taught like that? Would you like to have colleges taught like that?” Auxter said. "Well, notice what’s in this bill.”

While the bill has fallen off some Florida higher ed officials' radar, Brandes said it is alive and he plans to amend the legislation into a House bill that is in the Senate and then send the amended version back to the House. Both Florida chambers have Republican majorities. Florida Gov. Rick Scott is also a Republican who has challenged public universities to offer low-cost alternatives to traditional programs.

Senator Bill Montford, a Democrat, voted for the bill during the rules committee meeting this week despite some outstanding questions.

“We’ve had terrible experience with good ideas before,” he said during the meeting. “I want some assurance that the Department of Education and the school districts will have the ability to make the decisions that we will not subject our children to less than the very best in those courses and instruction.”

Read more: http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2013/04/11/florida-legislation-would-require-colleges-grant-credit-some-unaccredited-courses#ixzz2QHj54u9W
Inside Higher Ed