Numerical Assessment of Educators

Our society has come to conflate “scientific” with digital in the sense of enumerable by means of statistics. This is not to say that the scientific revolution does not depend upon the valuable tool of mathematics as well as experimental verification of theory. But not all that is numeric or statistical is true. There is an old joke about a women’s college which had only two male professors and one of the professors married a student so the newspaper headlines read “50% of the professors marry students.” Of course we are shocked out of our mind to think that hundreds of professors are marrying students but we hardly think anything of one professor marrying one student. Also our society is into accountability and transparency and as funding becomes more scarce then the demand for justification becomes more severe. In the early 1980s I worked as a computer programmer for Stone & Websters Engineering in Boston. My supervisor gave me a form to grade myself from 1 to 10 (ten being highest) on various aspects of performance. I felt so much contempt for the concept that I put down 5 (average) for everything. Then we sat down and compared his copy with my copy. He was bright enough to realize immediately that I felt contempt for the method of evaluation because I had put down all 5’s. But then, at the end, he looked stunned when he saw that his average for me was 5 and exactly equaled my average. He was not bright enough to realize that he had started out with the goal that I was average and then gave me some very high grades for things like attendance and some very low grades on areas where he wanted to needle me. Stop and think of what we see on television all the time. The “Hit Parade” in the 1950s would tell us the top 100 songs. Various night time talk show hosts have a nightly routine of the “top 10” of something (I forget the hosts name) but they start with 10 which is the lowest and slowly work up to number one. I should really google and find some articles on that show… aha Letterman… I remembered without googling. In fact, over the years I wrote a lot about comparative world religions and I was slightly popular with some Hindus in India and Malaysia as a white American who had something good to say about Hindus, Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs and something negative to say about colonial efforts at occupation and religious conversion. Anyway, one person wrote me once to ask me what my NUMBER ONE Hindu Deity was and another person wrote me to ask what I consider the number one best culture/society of all times. I can dig out my replies but basically I explained that it is an error to assume that everything can be ranked on a scale of one to ten. Chomsky impressed me with his off-hand observation that the Neanderthal lived on Earth for 400,000 years while we Homo Sapiens have only been around for 200,000 and for those 400,000 years the polity of the Neanderthal was anarchy. My point is that there are many perfectly good ways for certain groups in certain circumstances at certain locations at certain points in history.


A young person in India once asked me “Which culture do you think is the best?” Here is how I responded: That is a natural question, regarding many things, but it is not always a meaningful question.
I shall answer you in a sly fashion by saying “That culture is best which never has to ask which is the best culture.”

The greatest wonder is that people live as if they will never die and then die never having lived.


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