Skills Assessment and Behaviourism

This was going to be a short twitter thread, then it got too long, so I made a blog post instead. I read an opinion piece in the Toronto Star today and I’m concerned. Mostly I’m concerned about the train of thought it represents. The article, “We need to start giving soft skills more credit“, is the newest version of similar work around soft/transferable skills that’s been around for years, but now with AI.

This seems like a good thing, because employers want employees with strong transferable skills, and colleges and universities already teach technical skills, and programs are designed so that students pick up transferable skills along the way. My problem is that the discourse is always focused on a behaviourist understanding of people. It presupposes that:

  1. Students must be explicitly taught something to learn it
  2. Evaluation means learning happened

Alberta Post-Secondary Roles and Mandates

A snippet from my article for Communiqué

The Alberta system of post-secondary education may be unique in Canada. As Alex Usher says, “Alberta not only has the closest thing Canada has to a genuine system of education, but the government is also by some distance the most interventionist in the country when it comes to universities” (Usher, 2019). The Albertan system has changed over the years from its single public university – the University of Alberta founded only three years after the province was created (Macleod, 2016) – to the current seven universities. Four of the universities are called comprehensive academic and research universities and three are called undergraduate universities (Types of publicly funded institutions, 2020). In addition to the universities, the province has eleven publicly funded comprehensive community colleges; two polytechnic institutions; five private universities; and the Banff Centre, a specialized arts and cultural institution.

The Alberta system went through an overhaul in the first decade of the twenty-first century. New institutions were added, institutions changed from being colleges to being universities, and funding, which had been cut substantially in the 1990s, was increased (Usher, 2019). More importantly, in this decade was the 2007 introduction of The Roles and Mandates: Policy Framework for Alberta’s Publicly Funded Advanced Education System, which I will refer to as Roles and Mandates 2007. This document formalized the six-sector model that Alberta continues to follow today and laid out the goals and directions the system works towards. Although it has been superseded by 2019’s The Roles and Mandates: Policy Framework for Alberta’s Adult Learning System, referred to as Roles and Mandates 2019, the current structure of the Alberta system was formed by the 2007 version and so this inquiry will focus on the Roles and Mandates 2007 and the report that led to it.

Read the rest here

Rhetorical Misuse

There are some people whose rhetorical goal is to bring the reader/listener to a point of numbness where they feel that the topic is too complex to understand and they defer to the expert. This is especially used when talking with those who agree with the premises and conclusion that the speaker/writer has. Thus the reader/listener feels good because their view has been supported by an expert, and the writer/speaker feels good because they have received support.

But in reality all that has happened is the linking of premise and conclusion with a bunch of wibbly wobbly rhetorical wimey stuff that isn’t a functional argument.

This leads to polarization of belief as camps grow around the speaker/writer and they are combative with other groups around a different speaker/writer who disagree with the premises or conclusions, but because the speakers/writers never actually educated their groups but simply provided them with unlinked premises and conclusions the two groups turn their backs on each other because to admit that they don’t understand it is to admit that they might be wrong. It is to admit that they hold the premises and conclusions not because it’s true but because they received confirmation of their biases from an “expert”. It is to admit that their proof is based not on truth but on a misunderstanding or misrepresentation of the evidence or of the opponents perspective.

Oh… Canada…

Nobody is perfect. It’s a common saying, but let’s really break it down.

No person, past or present, is perfect. They have all done things that are wrong.

We like to play pretend. Let’s pretend that George Washington or Louis Riel or Abraham Lincoln was a saint. We like to pretend that the founding fathers of Canada cared just as much about diversity as we do, or at least that they didn’t oppose it. We like to put people like Martin Luther King Jr. on a pedestal and pretend that he only did the things we consider ‘good’ and none of the things we disagree with. Or Nelson Mandela, or Mother Teresa, or any other popular figure. But it’s just pretend. They’re all people, and people are flawed.

Groups aren’t amorphous independent entities, they’re made up of people. Those people have good actions, and those people have bad actions, and those people do both at various times. However, humans like to think that any group that they are part of or want to be part of are defined by the best people in that group, while groups that they aren’t in or don’t want to be in are defined by the worst people in that group. So we get groups like Black Lives Matter, the GOP, Greenpeace, the Catholic Church, etc. The people in these groups have both good and bad actions. Sometimes it’s hard to see past our preconceptions of the groups and look at the actual balance of good actions and bad actions rather than looking only at the good actions of some groups and only the bad actions of others.

Here’s the secret. It’s possible to identify both good and bad things in people or groups. It’s possible to celebrate the good while at the same time condemning the bad. It’s possible to be part of a group while knowing that there are problematic aspects to it. It’s possible to celebrate it for what it does while at the same time identifying where it falls short.

Identifying problems doesn’t mean something isn’t, on balance, good. At the same time identifying good things doesn’t mean it isn’t bad. In fact our ability to identify good and bad in something and then make a decision with the full knowledge that it isn’t perfect or evil is an important aspect of our humanity.

Lets talk about Canada.

Fancy Bebamikawe said it well on Twitter today:

https://twitter.com/FancyBebamikawe/status/880822465152372736

It is possible to see both that Canada is pretty awesome and provides great things, like basic health care and education, while also seeing that it’s pretty bad and incarcerates Indigenous people for offences that white people get probation for or a fine, or that they under-fund education on reserves. These two things aren’t mutually exclusive. They’re what make Canada. Canada is both the good and the bad.

You can like how the Prime Minister worked with the people who set the Tipi up on Parliament Hill for ceremony this week as being an example of reconciliation while at the same time understand that his fighting the implementation of Jordan’s principle directly harms Indigenous children (a fight that’s been happening for a decade now). You can like that the Prime Minister is increasing the education funding beyond 2% for the first time in two decades while hate that it was his party who first froze that funding, something that’s affected a generation and a half of Indigenous people.

Look at things with both eyes open. There are very few things that are perfect, and discussing the tarnish on them doesn’t harm those things, but rather puts them in their proper perspective. You can be proud of Canada while at the same time understanding where it has fallen short of it’s ideals. You can be proud of Canada while at the same time understanding that it’s historic ideals were what we’d call racist or regressive now.

You can be proud of Canada while pointing out its flaws.

Oh… Canada… we can be proud and aware at the same time. That doesn’t make us non-patriotic, but rather makes us better humans and better Canadians.