I am starting to believe that there must be an inverse relationship between the blunt stupidity of an idea and its longevity as a cultural meme. I’m not talking about Obama’s birth certificate and the Pentagon conspiracy to bomb the World Trade Center, although those memes seem to endlessly circle around deep stinking pools of stupidly. Those are bad enough but they are just side-shows in the long run.
I’m talking about ideas that seem to quietly persist against all logic and across decades. When Reagan was elected more than 30 years ago he made his plans very clear. “Trickle-down” economics meant a sweeping redistribution of wealth from the poor, working, and middle classes, to the rich. If we give them our money, Regan said, they will give a trickle back. It’s made us all poorer but it’s an idea that just won’t die.
That’s what they did, too, as recent statistics have shown. Still, the Republican party and its “base” keep repeating the idea as if it were new and as if it were fine to give everything to the rich and then be happy with the trickle that comes back. There are lots of parallels in academia, too, dumb-as-hammer memes that seem to persist against all odds. One of the worst and dumbest academic ideas is the student evaluation.
Every year or so someone in the education press will publish yet another article explaining the “grain of truth” that we should all glean from student evaluations. We can’t do anything about them, we are told, and they will be used to assess our work, so we need to try to see what they might tell us. Never mind that they have no legitimacy as data and that they can and will be used for the usual sorts of political pettiness.