• Confessions of a Community College Dean

    In which a veteran of cultural studies seminars in the 1990s moves into academic administration and finds himself a married suburban father of two. Foucault, plus lawn care.

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Friday Fragments

Dual enrollment, EV charging stations and truthfulness as an ethical practice.

July 16, 2021
 
 

My thanks to everyone who answered my questions last week about multifactor placement in the context of dual enrollment, and about the downstream effects on grad school admissions of suboptimal grades earned in dual-enrollment programs.

My questions were around whether anyone knew of actual evidence on either of those. So far, it looks like both areas are ripe for study. Several people wrote to share their own observations, which were fairly consistent with each other. But nobody could point to a large empirical study. My guess is that the spread of dual enrollment is recent enough -- at least at scale -- that two confounding factors are in play: the relevance of certain research questions is only now becoming apparent, and institutions are getting past the early part of the learning curve. That latter point suggests that even if we had excellent data from, say, students who took dual-enrollment classes in 2014 and recently applied to graduate schools, those data would reflect the state of dual enrollment in 2014. Both high schools and colleges are getting better at it.

Still, the word “data” is not the plural of “anecdote,” nor is it a synonym for “hunch.” It looks like there’s some terrific and useful work waiting to be done.

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Does anyone know of any community or state colleges that have formed public/private partnerships (or something similar) to bring electric-vehicle charging stations to campus parking lots?

We don’t see a lot of Teslas, but used Nissan Leafs (Leaves?) are pretty realistic. And given how much of our carbon generation comes from transportation, and how reliant we are on students and employees being able to drive to campus, it seems like it’s worth investigating.

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I’m quite taken with Richard Reeves’s recent piece on truthfulness. It’s well worth a read in itself, but if I had to boil it down, I’d select this excerpt:

“Truth is empirical, but truthfulness is ethical.”

By “truthfulness” he means something like good-faith attempts to get to the truth. Those attempts can involve errors -- “I could have sworn I left my keys here” -- but that doesn’t make those errors lies.

The key distinction is how someone responds when a false statement is corrected. Someone who is truthful will accept the correction, even if possibly with some grumbling.

In my darker moments, I wonder sometimes if the team sports side of our politics overrides truthfulness. When the point is to win rather than to get it right, then truth becomes optional. But once truth is optional, reasoned debate is pointless. There’s no real discussion to be had with someone who feels entitled to make up facts on the spot in service of some other purpose.

That’s hardly a new insight, of course. Socrates had little use for the sophists, who used rhetorical skill in frankly instrumental ways. (“Sophistry” carries that older meaning, though the word is also at the root of “sophisticated.”) Admittedly, he also didn’t think much of most people’s appetite for truthfulness; instead, he thought that the best we could hope for with most people was a “noble lie.” That, too, somewhat narrows the scope of debate.

It’s an old saw that politics is war by other means. Politics relies on, among other things, a belief that talking with other people is helpful. If we lose that belief, then conflict will by necessity be settled in more basic ways. An alarming portion of the world is living that truth right now. I’d hate to see us relearn it the hard way.

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