Shibumi

The heading refers to my favourite author, Trevanian (Rodney Whitaker) a writer and university professor. Although he had written several novels under this pseudonym and other books under other pseudonyms. (He took great pains to remain anonymous, something I increasingly understand in today’s Twitterati-infested instant-information world of knee-jerk outrage and faux indignation.) It was with the publication of ‘The Eiger Sanction’ and ‘Shibumi’ that his readers clearly saw his teaching background. His scathing comments on university students include: “…ah, sociology, that quasi-science designed to prolong adolescence…” and “…who worried about world hunger but shambled around university campus with a huge protein-gobbling dog…to show love for all living things.” He also remarked that some people suffer from the delusion that “…all people are created interesting.” Recommended reading!

My last post (back in May, sorry, I’ve been busy moving house/school/country/life) dealt with what I and numerous experienced (e.g. ‘old’, like me) colleagues consider a most worrisome and rather disconcerting trend in education; the increasing focus on self-awareness, self-insight, self-analysis, self-searching…the educational equivalent of a geocentric model of our solar system. Yes, the Greeks got it wrong. Methinks the Selfie Generation is also getting it wrong.

At hand we have the new extended essay (EE) guidelines, for first examination in 2018. I well recall an IB group meeting towards the end of the last school year, where the IB coordinator went through the new assessment criteria. Apart from the irritating use of ‘strand’ – which nobody really understood – some of us who have been around for some time in the IB world were rather taken aback by Criterion E, ‘Engagement’. It appears that the EE now has a marked element of navel-gazing, for want of a better term, that in fact adds nothing to the essay and clearly detracts from what one might hope would be the main purpose of writing an EE, namely learning sound scientific method.

The IB coordinator put up a number of reflection exemplars on the wall via a projector. These were from an IB conference she had attended and were to give an idea of how these reflections would be graded by examiners. (I unfortunately do not have permission to post them.) After reading through several, I finally had to ask a simple question in front of all the colleagues; ‘Where is the reflection part of these reflections?’ Complete and utter silence. I felt compelled to explain my question: ‘These three paragraphs, one from each reflection session, are simply hideously trivial and contrived descriptions of ‘My day at the library’. Nothing in these exemplars, worth 6 marks in total, indicate any insight or reflection on the actual process involved in the methodology of writing a paper.’ Still silence. I gave up with ‘Maybe ‘reflection’ doesn’t mean what I thought it meant.’

Privately, many of the colleagues agreed that 6 marks out of a maximum of 34 (17.6%) for three brief paragraphs of ‘reflection’ was a bit lopsided – especially since criteria ‘Method’ and ‘Knowledge/understanding’ also merit 6 marks each. During the OSC revision courses over Easter, I had the opportunity to ask some of the best IB teachers in the world what they thought of this revamp of the EE marking criteria. None were positive and one of my most meritorious colleagues, a legend  basically, recounted the story of how the IB coordinator at his school reacted to the new criteria: ‘God I wish I were older! If there ever was a really good time to retire, this is it.’

What I react to is basically that we are encouraging some sort of adolescent introspection in the thought that this in some way leads to cogent writing and sound scientific methodology. Of what interest is it to a prospective reader how ‘challenging’ the writer found the process – not to mention whether he/she ‘enjoyed’ it?!

I foresee that students will quickly adopt a nice glib pattern here that is full of ingratiating vacuous nonsense that easily fulfils the criterion’s requirements. This is NOT what universities need or want in terms of skill set for writing research papers. The self is not an object of interest when writing about inflation, unemployment and interest.

How about a little more research and a little less mesearch?

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