Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Ontario's Mediocre-est Lecturer

Anyone interested in first-hand evidence of the depths to which post-secondary education has sunk in this country is keenly encouraged to take a look at this.

As is to be expected of any such competition--where the participants and finalists are determined by an open vote--the selection of finalists for TV Ontario's Best Lecturer Competition comprises, almost exclusively, teachers so agonizingly average as to be, well, just so far below average.

There's no way around this, I'm afraid, and TVO can't really be blamed. They are, one, trying to generate an active interest in their programming, and two, even if they were to select a panel of judges to actually adjudicate--rather than merely spout-off as do these three--who would they pick? And how? Uncontroversially, that is. No, rather, such is the whimpering way of the world that it is considered better, in all contests, to give power of judgement to the nameless and faceless masses who, by virtue of their anonymity cannot then be accused of bias (and therefore have none), than to give it to one or three or five qualified men and women whose nominations, alas, are only too likely to produce 10, 30, 50 accusations of prejudiced appointment and a significant little contention of its own.

Fair, after all, is Fairâ„¢ and, actually, it is some indicator of the extent to which TVO has doggedly stuck to its own mandate in this that, gasp!, no woman appears in its list of finalists. (Isn't it funny how traditional signs of bias have come to indicate their opposite? ... That being said, I can think of at least two women professors at U of T who are far superior to just about any of the TVO selection.)

The process, in its entirety, presents a fascinating study of the principle which has guided the dumbing-down of higher education in Canada over the last 40 years.

Of particular interest is the criteria TVO has come up with by which you are expected to participate in their little democracy of learning. Each lecturer is to be graded according to his strengths in the following catagories: "Clarity and Coherence," "Energy and Performance," "Confidence and Authority." You'll notice that there's no mention of Substance here. What, in your average high school rubric, would be called "Knowledge/Understanding." No doubt, if we were to ask why, we'd be told that this is implicit in the category "Authority." But even ignoring the question of whether this is so,* one has to wonder how "Authority" in this sense could ever be considered of only equal value to "Energy" or "Performance" or "Confidence"; how a person whose utter mistakenness happens to be clear and coherent, his demeanor energetic, entertaining and confident could apparently win (by a landslide even) over someone who merely knows what he's talking about.

The results, in three cases at least, are depressing in the extreme:

Finney Cherian's bumbling inarticulacy is surpassed only for wince-value by his metaphorical enactment of the wrong way to teach (i.e. look incredibly self-righteous as you use a rubber mallet to smash a gift-wrapped parcel that's covered in band-aids! Seriously!).

Robert Jan van Pelt presents us with the very definition of obtuseness (not to mention almost obscene tastelessness, even by the day's dubious standards) by spending the full hour of his address--to students of architecture!--opining on the Holocaust.

And my personal favourite, John Mitterer. A man who opens by comparing the denial of a liver transplant to a young woman in Los Angeles (who consequently died), with the denial of sex-reassignment surgery to the transgendered in Ontario. (Mike Harris is blamed, 'natch.) A man who repeatedly stresses that all scientific conclusions are "provisional," but who fails utterly to consider that this might apply to his own, highly politicized "scientific" conclusions. A man who, in a singular feat of absurdity, tells us that the Kpelle people of Liberia consider it "foolish" that Westerners should be in the habit of organizing according to a principle of taxonomy rather than by function. He tells us this to humble us. Because, you know, it's the Kpelle people's social and technological superiority in such matters that has made them such a dominant world power.

... Ontario's "cutting-edge thinkers," ladies and gentleman.


*I get the distinct impression it is not. How, after all, would I be able to say if a given lecturer hasn't mastered his subject? He's one of "the best"! Who the hell am I?