Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Interview with Sara Martinez Tucker

Here’s a revealing interview with the person in charge of higher education in our Department of Education. Notice not only her corporate experience but her tendency to talk in corporate cliches. She’s an uncritical supporter of affirmative action as the only way to oppose "the survival of the fittest." If you keep scrolling, you finally get to her clear articulation of the Department’s intention to push aggressively outcomes assessment on accrediting associations through her clever use of the euphemism "tough coversations." As John Moser noted below, outcomes assessment has some merit in primary and secondary education, but it dangerously trivializes what does or should go on in college. There’s no good reason--no reason at all--that colleges or professors should have to submit to it to get the available government funding. Notice, most of all, that she says nothing at all to suggest that she has any knowledge or appreciation of what does or should go on at our best institutions of higher education. Again, I don’t know why someone isn’t raising hell...

Discussions - 7 Comments

Her interview is uninspiring. If you want to learn more about her, take a look at this and this. She’s all about access and accountability, as she says. I don’t have any problems with the focus on access, where she’s clearly done some first-rate work, but, like others, I wonder whether the k-12 accountability model works in higher ed. As Peter noted, John Moser put it well here.

Country-club Republicans tend to be stupid, about the things that really matter. The people they appoint tend to be stupid, in the same sense.

"Again, I don’t know why someone isn’t raising hell..."

It’s a good question, and much tougher than coming up with first-rate Christmas carols.

I’ll attempt a couple of guesses. Bush fatigue, maybe? The fact that the entire ED is run by a second-rater? (Yes, it’s a HuffPo link. What of it?) How about the fact that we’re at war and the administration is... er, mishandling it?

So many distractions and disappointments...

I would like to agree with John Moser - that "learning outcomes" are appropriate for primary and secondary schooling, but not for college - but I do not know that (does he?), and I don’t think it’s a very persuasive argument for going after the Ed Dept.

Behold, the long-simmering Lawler anger about outcomes-based hoo-haw is unleashed. One post after another...swing away, Peter, swing away.

Just to clarify: I’m enthusiastically on board in coming to the defense of the AALE, and in opposing the use of silliness in evaluating academic programs - and with you in defending true liberal arts education. I am just skeptical about Moser’s distinction, both on the merits and as an argument for doing what we agree should be done.

I am also skeptical of Dr. Moser’s distinction. I think that the distinction is dependent upon the extent to which the subject is a hard science. To the extent to which subjects are more or less organic and complex and contain a multiplicity of possible perspectives each yielding its own fruit...to this extent "learning outcomes" are ridiculous, because of the ontological nature of formulating learning outcomes in the first place. This is something that someone like A.J. Ayer would point out immediately.


The department of Education seems to want to establish Logical Positivism without a recognition of the metaphysical limits of Logical Positivism. Might as well have a discussion about why or if History is important. Might as well have a discussion about whether or not a fetus is a human being, or if Islam is compatible with Liberal democracy. Might as well try to play checkers with someone who is playing chess. In the end learning outcomes is an attempt to ontologically structure all thought. To say: this counts as the truth, therefore this ought to be taught, and all else should be commited to the flames for if it is not part of the assessement it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion. In the end it is the opposite of liberal education...but a question emerges...is liberal education something that can exist or should exist on the government dole? For if the Government is responsible for funding it the government is also responsible for ontologically structuring it.

In the end however it is possible that the government saying this is "the Cannon" could backfire rather admirably...because...perhaps... the true students will always reject an easy life in this garden of eden...to eat from the tree of knowledge for themselves. That is...it is possible that in the Humanities all of this is meaningless...because the humanities is really about the formulation of good and evil, and not a particular formulation of good and evil. That is the Humanities point to a de-ontological truth...an unstructured truth...or perhaps to the structured nature and limits of all truths. The humanities being essentially Hermeneutic, while Mathmatics answers easily to Descartes...one could suppose that "learning outcomes" only make sense to topics whose richness cannot be obscured by Logical Positivication.

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