Friday, September 05, 2008

Let's Shoot for Mediocrity, Says the World

I sat through a Faculty Senate meeting yesterday where the Math department presented a proposal to develop a math master's program. A good idea on the face of it, I have to question developing a graduate program in a field where we graduate less then 15 majors a calendar year. I also questioned the wisdom of allowing folks with a BA to teach the university's developmental (read: remedial) math classes. The gist of the reply (not a direct quote, since I didn't write it down, but this is pretty close) was, "Well, these folks would hold bachelors degrees in math, or the equivalent. Which meets the SACS accreditation standards."

Well, color me thrilled that we'll strive to meet minimum standards. Also color me highly uncomfortable with the thought of folks - since the plan is to draw community members, not undergraduates - whose BAs and classroom experience are 20 years old to teach the most struggling kids. Le sigh. Many people disagreed with my take on that, others agreed.

This leads me to a question: since when is the minimum standard something to strive for? Pi. Ti. Ful. People should be ashamed if the best they can come up with for an argument is "well it meets the minimums." And it's worked its way all the way to the top, now that we've got Palin running on the "I'm a hockey mom" qualification. I know it's bad form to include politics, but really. According to Peggy Noonan at the WSJ:

"Her averageness accentuated her specialness. Her commonality highlighted her uniqueness."

We will, for now, ignore the very awfulness of words like "uniqueness" and "specialness."

Now, don't get me wrong. I don't particularly like either ticket. I consider myself neither liberal nor democrat at this point, since I'm evenly split on issues. But having the GALL to run as an "aw, shucks, folks, I'm just like you, an ordinary person" leaves an awful taste in my mouth. I do not want an Everyman/woman as my President or VP. I want someone supersmart and superaccomplished. (It's the same way I feel about teachers, really.) Advertising yourself as average and common does nothing to assure me that you can handle the monumental task of running a country. And pooh-poohing the idea that massive experience is necessary for that sort of post also rubs me the wrong way, since I'm pretty sure it's not an easy job.

A plea to my fellow Americans: please stop being enamored of mediocrity. Please do not accept it as a qualification, or even as a desirable trait. Do you really want the guy or gal slaving away in the cubicle next to you, the UPS delivery guy, your friendly neighborhood grocer, your fellow soccer mom, a local business owner, etc. responsible for your future, that of your children (or nieces, or whatever), and making world-altering decisions? Yeah, no. I didn't think so. THINK, people. I implore you. Demand better of yourselves, of your schools, and of your leaders.


Allison said...

Well, you know, if you shoot for the moon you may still land among the stars.

If you shoot for mediocrity, about the best you're going to get is a slot as the runner-up to Miss Alaska.

Jared said...

The company I work for makes tax software for professional tax preparers and inside my company we are broken up into to different groups. I work in one of the three groups that makes the various parts of the programs for the state taxes.

Among my coworkers there appears to be two groups, those who want to work really hard and make the product drastically better and those who want to work just hard enough to make it work. I consider myself to be in the first group, but I am afraid I am in the minority because there is a name for the first group (over achievers, I know it is very original) and not a name for the second group. Thankfully my group has a large percent of Over achievers and the management approves of us over achievers.

I told that story so I could say this. Tax Software, Higher Education and politics are three places were I don't think the "Its good enough" people should be allowed to be in charge.

So you tell them that this recent graduate completly supports you on this and that I say high to the staff in the Economics Department.

misscybrarian said...

But striving for distinction is "elitist"...apparently.