sábado, 31 de julio de 2010

Cornelio: Apología o Carta de Despidada de AMCA

Al final también en Ave María College resultaron diferencias insuperables, no tanto por el carácter católico de la institución y mi posición a-religiosa conocida de ante mano al contratarme, sino problemas mucho más de fondo. Cabe señalar que la carrera Computer Information Systems mientras ha sido eliminado.

San Marcos, 20 de febrero 2002

Queridos estudiantes CIS

Dear Colleagues

Please allow me –may be as my very last all-email- explain why I can not and hence will not accept the offer to continue at AMCA as adjunct faculty and consultant. (Apologies, as this will be almost an essay, most web-links go to my personal website on campus. They don’t work elsewhere).

It’s not a question of prestige, payment or something like that. (In 1990 I lost due to the new Nicaraguan law of University Autonomy my position as Head of Computer Engineering at UNI, a school I had literally build from its building and labs up to form all its instructors. Non the less I continued happily and with no problems as Profesor Titular until 1995 at much less then AMCA pays to its adjuncts).
It’s neither a question of ‘personal problems’ with anyone.

It’s a problem rooted in principles and a fact:

AMCA as Institution does not endorse –and if it were only as permitted- my Educational Objectives and the teaching methodology that arises from these objectives.

This conflict is persistent, whether I’m full-time or adjunct faculty.
So then the simple question: Why don’t you change Objectives and Methodology?
And a simple answer: unless going against my conscience, I cannot.
This answer however would be arrogant, if not accompanied by some explications.

Let’s start with Objectives and their background: my objective is to educate a person, such that she forms herself as not only equipped with knowledge and skills but as self-reliant person and with a framework of internal values –sometimes called virtues- that as internal values are strong enough to give guidance even in difficult situations.

All words are selected carefully: I’m educating –which means in the original Latin I’m guiding- but it’s the person herself that has to walk all the different paths. It’s not only about transmitting knowledge; it’s about attitudes and virtues. And it refers to internal values, means those that persist even if there in no earthly authority present to enforce them, sometimes they have even to be defended against present authorities.

I did not coin these concepts, rather –in my education- I was guided to learn and appreciate them, as they are –though not exclusive see Konfuzé y Laotsé- part of the so called western tradition, starting with Socrates and early (and the very late) Plato, Erasmus von Rotterdam and Kant, to name only those that most impressed me, where there are many others noteworthy to be mentioned.

Let me add another extremely important root: I’m German and not a century ago ¼ of my family helped, the other ½ tolerated at least, to run the extermination-camps, where another ¼ of that family perished. As Himmler –the chief of the SS- was an extremely ‘educated’ person –he read all the classics in their original language Greek, Latin, French and English- and the Commander of Auschwitz Hoess was a lover of Bach and Beethoven –he formed a Chamber-orchestra out of top Jewish artists later sent to the gas-chambers-, Education after Auschwitz can not be limited only to science, knowledge, skills and cultural values. Simple teaching of traditional Christian values is –proven- no safeguard either.

Again, this perception is not my privilege: men like Mitscherlich (Psychology) and Habermas (Philosophy), who both lived the horror of Nazi-times have written entire books on this problem –Ethics and Education after Auschwitz-. Paul Celan tried to write poems after Auschwitz, until 30 years later Auschwitz still got him killed.

Another eyewitness, John Paul II -Auschwitz is just 20 miles away form Krakau- makes the urgent need for human ethics that reaches beyond pure traditional Catholicism a central message of many of his texts and actions. (Like just not a month ago in Assisi, where AMCA missed the challenge to organize locally an event when John Paul almost urged all and everyone to join in).

Its not a very difficult task to agree with the above considerations. True trouble starts when suddenly things have to go from theory into practice, as parent or as teacher. When I started 17 years ago to offer my first classes, I felt almost lost –not only because of the language problem to teach in Spanish.

But the more I got into, the more I learned from my failures, the more I started recognizing that the ancient not only had provided objectives and goals, but rather elements of methodology like the Socratic dialogue model or Kant’s writing itself as a form not only to transmit but to learn. And there is a key-lesson I think to be learnt from Socrates: virtues can be learned; however they cannot be taught. Still –faced with class-frequencies of 30 up to 60 students- I failed, because though valid as methodological hints the ancient teaching-learning situations referred to small groups as ideal context.

On one of my occasional visits to Germany I discussed my problems with my youngest brother –he is specialist in pedagogy of all levels, now full time faculty at Trondheim University in Norway-, and he recommended as a ‘short’ reading the 700 pages of Makarenko’s Pedagogic Poem. There I found one key: don’t try to manage the whole process as a one-to-many relation, but rather establish formally smaller ‘learning-groups’, where –just by the process itself- social qualities are ‘learned’. I’m not ashamed by the fact that Makarenko is sometimes called ‘father of soviet pedagogy’, as both his book and his live prove that he was anything but an instructor in inhumanities. It might be noteworthy that similar concepts I found later elsewhere like for instances Juan Bosco –centuries earlier or O´Scarlan about the Franciscan University just a couple of years ago.

Still –with formal learning-teams established- there remained a problem: how to facilitate a back-channel for individual students with their sometimes individual problems, a channel that wouldn’t give preference on personal bias to some and disregard others and on the other side would be compatible with the general layout. This is where Technology came in to help me: already in 1990 I started using email and public, shared directories as a vehicle –the only way then to handle with equal chance class-groups of 65 students and more. Using email –or other written forms- had additional, extremely positive effects: just the need to write down the question or complaint in many cases solved the problem on hand as formulating the problem was the solution. If you like, it’s a reverse application of Wittgenstein: we can talk about everything we can write down. And the second effect: using electronic media, it was easy to retro-feed a whole group of students with hints and answers, even if only a single student had posed the problem.

As you might see already up to this point, my teaching is not the result of chance or stubbornness, but rather the –I call it- achievement of almost 17 years of practice with many, many failures still to be remedied, however something I can not change just to ‘adapt to institutional practice’.

Now about the real results in those 17 years with focus on AMCA:

  1. It’s said –I would call it a non-sustainable rumor- that especially the CIS-180 course were one of the most difficult classes on this campus. If you could have look on registrar-data, you’ll find that this is simply not true, as in the all 5 editions jointly of this course there have been only 2 F’s and may be 3 or 4 D’s (with more but a 120 course participants). What is true, that about 20% drop the class in early weeks and that there are only a few, very few A’s. However in my grading-scale an A means excellency beyond the required, and those who excel beyond the tasks oriented are and will be always a very few.

  2. It’s said –and substantiated by assessment-statistics- that the class has a bad student rating. However there is an open –not explained by the authorities- contradiction between these results –with seldom more than 50% of enrolled students participating- and my own evaluation-procedures, where students 3 times during the class anonymously and –if they like- in a written, not graded experience report- express their opinions about the class. The latter can be resumed as: “This was the most horrible class I ever had, never I had to work so hard, but never I learned so much”, where many students add that team-work and real-life-problems were the most important ‘learning elements’ for them.

  3. I do have a may be too simplistic explication for both phenomena: first –comparing real results against fame-: when I was a student we made it almost a sport to praise ourselves to have ‘survived’ the most awful professor of the whole faculty and we never would have admitted face to face to ‘younger’ students that it –finally- wasn’t so difficult. Second: how would a student convert the above appraisal of the course into crosses and rating on the assessment form?

Let it be as it might be, all the above-mentioned information was available for evaluation. And not since recent times: there had been a conflict in 1999, were students wrote –without a copy for me- a letter to the then Vice-President Dr. Belli complaining about my way to setup a course. I answered this letter with an open letter to my students. They deserve the most detailed explanations of the whole process as they are reasoning young adults not just kids. This letter made the educational objectives very clear –though it didn’t contain all the heavy load background of this document. I wrote this letter still as adjunct, but its introduction should have left no doubt about what would happen if the university authorities would not endorse or at least tolerate ‘my way’. Likewise –and on explicit request of Dr. Schirch- I wrote a one-pager Silicon-village about my vision of CIS at AMCA just a month or so before I signed the full-time contract, which had an accompanying larger document, Center of Excellence for Business Information Technology, indicating forms, steps and actions necessary to implement that vision.

Hence –when after 2 years and something as adjunct- I signed a contract as CIS-chair I did so assuming that the authorities –all excepted Dr. Warner were involved- had read the documents, understood their meaning and at least considered them as possible within the mission of AMCA. So right from the beginning who was interested to know, could know, should know and would know who was the person hired as CIS-chair. As new chair and already as AMCA I converted the strategic plan into an action-plan Towards new frontiers for my first year, presented to students and interested faculty. Since then I did not participate in underground-movements or spreading rumors, such that whatever I did or said was done ‘on the open marketplace’.

Now we all learned that either AMCA changed their mind or they never understood (or even read) these publicly available documents. As expressed earlier elsewhere I do recognize their full right to decide whatever they think fits best into their objectives. So I’m not going to appeal less to sue or anything alike. But I can’t change either … improve yes and a 100 times, but change basics ... impossible. Who finds these positions incompatible, possibly should read again the Apologia, which explained the why´s more but 2600 years ago, better than I ever will. .


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