Week 13: On Testing Methods and Quality (Pirsig 27-28)

Hello, Ah, now the problem of exactly what to say comes up. There is much that could be said and might very well be worth saying. The question of better testing methods has always been one that has bugged me. Ask my father and he will tell you of the many conversations we have had in regards to testing methods; to be fair a good portion of them was mostly me ranting and my father injecting reason into my idealism. I have always been adamant that current testing methods are poor. Unfortunately, one is rarely listened to if they cannot produce a better solution. However, I do question how hard are other testing methods being looked for. Or has the University simply fallen into a rut it is unwilling to climb painfully out of? It has been my experience that the best learning I have done was largely on my own time, but guided by a mentor, with some time spent discussing the material with others learning the same or similar things. I had the privilege of experiencing this during my internship over the summers at OU and will be getting to do it again this summer! I believe one learns best when one is personally motivated. During the summer I was reading and asking questions of my mentor and his colleagues because I desired to gain information. I saw quality in it and desired quality so endeavored to gain it. Unfortunately, one is rarely self-motivated to study every domain of knowledge required by a liberal arts education decided upon some group of people. Of course, there is the possibility that this is because of the way the material is presented and tested. If I as a student, am presented with a way to make the knowledge mine, to actually apply my skills of reasoning and rhetoric, instead of mere memorization, I am far more likely to be interested in the material. An example of this in the arts was during a Fine Arts class. We were shown a set of paintings we had never scene before. The professor before hand had told us the era they were from so that we would know who the possible artists were. We were then to write down all the details and nuances we could about each painting during the 30 seconds or so we were shown it. Next, in small groups we were to try and deduce the artist of each painting based upon our combined notes and knowledge of the artists. It was fantastic! I found it throughly enjoyable because it required taking the knowledge about the artists and really making it my own. It required real thought, not just regurgitating the facts about the artists styles, but to find hints of style and personality in real paintings and make the connections ourselves. In my opinion there are few things that equal the pleasure of the “ah ha” moment when things click and crystallize in our minds. I would say that Phaedrus and Pirsig would agree with me that the thinking we were doing in that exercise was true quality thinking. Now the question comes up, “How would the professor grade such an exercise?” It wasn't graded in our exercise so I am unfortunately unable to give an example from that actual event. However, I can postulate about how it might be graded with current methods. Points would be received for correct identification of the artist of a given painting. Simple, yes? This seems somewhat laking as it entirely ignores any notions of quality. A quality-based approach would look at why we picked the artist we did. If our choice was supported with quality reasons, even though it was ultimately incorrect, I would argue that knowledge was gained and learning took place. Granted this would require more time as it would require the professor to step into the students' shoes and look through their quality “lenses”. And it would asking a different question of the students, not can you regurgitate what you have read in a dry textbook and heard in a lecture, but can you take that knowledge and information (hopefully presented differently) and actually use it, making it your own. I feel that the second question is the best. It sculpts creative free-thinkers out of our minds. It asks us to actually own the knowledge, to make it into quality. It appears that I am closing in on the “why” but not on the “how”. Nathaniel