Is it good to have standards?

Unsuitable shoes from the British Museum

There are very few occasions when an academic poem has appealed to me.

I am amused that Sara Delamont chose, for example, to review Hammersley’s Taking Sides in Social Research in the form of a dialogue between two fictional characters. I am prepared to be convinced about the value of the creative arts for inquiring about experiences as well as presenting and representing the themes and understandings that emerge from it. The unique and the idiosyncratic that refuse methodology as a toolbox of skills – is fine by me. If a/r/tography (Leggo and Irwin 2014 Ch 10 in  Albers, Holbrook and Flint) promote teaching and learning as transformative, creative and passionate – good.

It’s not that I disapprove or find it hard to accept the worthiness of what my artsy colleagues do. Its more that I tend not to like it. It is just a very personal aesthetic.

There is of course a ‘but’ to this.

While preparing for Stage 2 OfSTED and reading Lampland and Star (2009) ‘Standards and their stories: how quantifying, classifying and formalising practices shape everyday life’. An academic poem rather amused me.

The professional standards for FE have just been published and like every ITE provider I am working out with colleagues what we want to do with them. Lampland’s book offers a detailed exploration of the role of standards in public life.  She is not directly interested in education and makes no reference to it. But we certainly see how standards are sometimes found in the most unexpected places. Rather then offering a very well rehearsed critique of standards, Lampland is driven by a commitment to equity and social justice – but her analysis (and the work of Laurence Busch that I am also reading ‘Standards: recipes for reality’) has inspired me to accept standards as a central part of our lives.  Without them it would be impossible to function. I instead want to explore what standards make possible.

Once Stage 2 is done,  I can start thinking again.

In the meantime, when sorting through the piles of data that OfSTED seem to like, this poem on statistics – made me smile:

A word on Standards by Wislawa Szmborska

Out of every hundred people
those who always know better:

Unsure of ever step:
almost all the rest

ready to help,
if it is doesn’t take long:

Always good,
because they can not be otherwise:
four – well, maybe five.

Able to admire without envy:

Led to error
by youth  (which passes):
sixty, plus or minus.

Those not to be messed with:

Living in constant fear
of someone or something:

Capable of happiness:
twenty-some-odd at most.

Harmless alone,
turning savage in crowds:
more than half, for sure

when forced by circumstances:
it’s better not to know
not even approximately

Wise in hindsight
not many more
than wise in foresight

Getting nothing out of life except things
thirty (though I would like to be wrong)

Balled up in pain
and without a flashlight in the dark:
eight-three, sooner or later

But it if takes effort to understand:

Worthy of empathy:

one hundred out of one hundred –
a figure that has never varied yet

pg vii – viii in Lampland & Star (2009) ‘Standards and their stories: how quantifying, classifying and formalising practices shape everyday life’.

Now, I wonder what OfSTED might do if I presented my performance data in this way? 


One thought on “Is it good to have standards?

  1. I love the poem – a great reminder that statistics are not an exact science & tend to measure what is not necessarily important!

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