Suicides and the “I never meant for that to happen” excuse

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United States Flag at Half StaffIs “I never meant for that to happen” an excuse? Because this past week, we have seen the ol’ “unintended consequences” motif pop up in two tragic suicides… and I am not sure how much water this defense holds.

The first is the case of the Rutgers student who committed suicide after his roommate allegedly posted secret video tape of a sexual encounter online. A gay sexual encounter.

Now of course this brings up about a zillion different things to talk about. Bullying, cyber-bullying, intolerance, social media and the right to privacy, and on and on.

But let me bounce over to the other tragedy which struck also, the teacher that killed himself allegedly as a result of being publicly shamed by the Los Angeles Times for having low test scores. Even though this was, by many accounts, a teacher that was beloved by kids and parents and peers – and a teacher who hadn’t missed a day of work in years – the L.A. Times “outed him” as an “ineffective educator” and the attendant despondency finally culminated in a fifth grade teacher taking his own life.

Both cases are just a real lose/lose/lose scenario for all parties involved. But what do the roommate and the L.A. Times have in common?

The snickering that took place in privacy before the deed went down. The commonality of both being driven by a “ooh, we are gonna get ‘em” mentality.

Sure, neither party probably thought that their actions would trigger something in others that would push them over the brink. But when you wittingly set out to create hurt for other people in an effort to draw attention to yourself, trouble is oh-so-often going to follow.

The college roomy? Though I don’t know, I imagine he probably thought, “I am gonna look so cool in front of my friends for outing my roommate – did you know he was gay? – with this secret footage. Hee-haw, hee-haw.” And any thought process beyond that was probably minimal to non-existent.

A roommate dead. His own life forever stained. Ugliness an outrage everywhere over what might very well have been nothing more than a stupid, ill-conceived prank with… yep… unintended consequences.

The L.A. Times motives seem more transparent to me: they want to increase viewership by increasing readership so that they can increase ad sales so that they can make more moo-la. I mean hiding behind “doing the public good journalism” would wash for me if there were not so many glaring shortcoming and holes in the value-added data the L.A. Times published. And coming out with this gigantically controversial stuff about teachers when the pie is, by their only admission, not really fully baked, shows that their motivations were driven by something other than “making sure we get the story right before we go to press with it”.

A teacher dead. Scores of other professional lives tainted. Researchers at RAND (and parents who read the L.A. Times) being able to infer from the L.A. Times data that… (click here to read the full text)

…black teachers have lower value-added scores for both ELA and MATH. Further, these are some of the largest negative effects in the second level analysis – especially for MATH. The interpretation here (for parent readers of the LA Times web site) is that having a black teacher for math is worse than having a novice teacher. In fact, it’s the worst possible thing! Having a black teacher for ELA is comparable to having a novice teacher.

All of this brings me back to the original point. Is “I never meant for that to happen” an excuse?

I am not sure if I know the answer but I do know, that when you willingly and knowingly set out to create problems for others in order to make your own self look good, it’s a very combustible substance with which you are playing.

Blame? This is not even about assigning it because at this juncture, what’s the point? The damage is done. But we all have to look in the mirrors at our own selves at some point and my advice to others would be, “Don’t trouble trouble til trouble troubles you.” Because sometimes BOMBS go off when you never meant for that to happen.

The non-cognitive approach, bubble tests and why learning to suck up is more critical than ever.

God bless ETS. I mean if you know anything about me, you know how much I find the whole industry of bubble tests to be 1) an absolute cash cow for the bubble test makers and 2) an unquestionably flawed means for either student or teacher assessment.

And now, ETS, is unveiling — from behind their magic black cloak of psychometrician darkness — the all new Personal Potential Index.

PPI bay-bee! You may not know it yet but one day it’ll be yet another acronym which joins your lexicon of educational alphabet soup.

Here’s some info on PPI.

In short, the PPI will be attached to the new GRE as an insight into a prospective applicant’s non-cognitive ability. (Stay with me here… this is worth it.)

As ETS says, the PPI is an index whereby “three or four professors or supervisors — generally those who will also be writing letters of recommendation — will answer a series of questions about candidates’ non-cognitive skills in various areas, as well as a more general set of questions. Applicants will be rated on a scale of 1-5 on questions about their abilities in these six areas: knowledge and creativity, communication skills, team work, resilience, planning and organization, and ethics and integrity.”

Let me repeat that. A student’s teachers will rate the kids “knowledge and creativity, communication skills, team work, resilience, planning and organization, and ethics and integrity.”

Now, being unsure of matters, I consulted the dictionary as to a definition of cognitive. Merriam Webster defines cognitive as “relating to, being, or involving conscious intellectual activity”

Uhm, excuse me… how are any of the “non-cognitive” skills “non-cognitive?”

Okay, forget I asked.

Uhm, excuse me… aren’t the quirky kids I am fond of “creative” and the quirky kids who annoy me “kids who demonstrate poor communication skills”?

Okay, forget I asked.

Uhm, excuse me… is this not an attempt to quantify unquantifiable things by people who might not really be best qualified to make these quantifications anyway?

Okay, forget I asked.

Uhm, excuse me… does this mean that sucking up is now mandatory instead of optional in order to advance in school?

Okay, I tease.

I guess on one hand I should tip my hat to ETS for finally acknowledging to their critics (like me) that their tests don’t give a full enough or broad enough or accurate enough picture of test takers even though they most certainly imply that their assessments do.

Because that’s really what this PPI thing is — a concession to that exact idea. I mean, by building this PPI thing-ey, they are tipping their cap to the idea that, “Ya know what… maybe their is more to a student than the ability to choose the correct bubble with a number 2 pencil in hand.”

Ya think?

The only thing I can for sure say as I watch this all unfold is that for a non-profit, ETS sure makes a lot of money.