Thursday, April 02, 2009

I Had A Job Like That Once

When I moved to Tooele, I went to the university extension office. I'd been teaching at the main campus and thought they might take me on at the extension. Sure enough, they had a class they wanted me to teach.

The Tooele area is home to a chemical depot, where chemical weapons are being destroyed. When the job is done, the people employed there will have to seek other employment. So the extension was offering special classes for them. Their schedules are truly strange-- some of them are on a schedule where they don't work every other Friday, and some are on a three weeks on- one week off schedule where during the 3 weeks they rotate shifts. My job was to teach a math class that accommodated the latter schedule.

Now, math is not like some other subjects. The vast majority of people can't do more than a couple hours of math in one session. It's a process where you have to build the skills gradually through practice and feedback. What they were asking me to do for the chemical depot employees was to teach ten hours of math in two back-to-back days once a month. Sure, I can teach that long; but can students learn for that long? And can they retain it during the month-long gaps between classes?

I've always been a fan of continuing education. Nothing warms the cockles of my heart like seeing a person go back to school to better themselves. I relished the chance to teach the chemical depot employees. And I'm always up for a good challenge when it comes to working around people's needs. But this? This was impossible.

I tried to put a good face on it, to spin it as a "challenge". But some part of me was saying this was just nucking futs and there was no way in hell it was going to work. And in the end, that part was right. I was spared having to actually do it by the fact that too few students signed up for it. I could hardly blame them; I wouldn't have recommended it for them either.

Acting CPSC Chair Nancy Nord is in just such a position. She's being asked to implement a law so strict that if interpreted literally, it will take up all her resources and then some to enforce. But if she interprets it not-so-literally, Nord gets spanked by Congress for not doing her job. Nord has simply been given an impossible task, and now she is getting the blame for it not being done. At first she tried to spin it as a challenge and work the problem, but as it increasingly became evident that the problem was unworkable, she said so. And when she said so, Congress jumped down her throat.

I suspect this is why Nord has urged President Obama to appoint a third commissioner. Let somebody else get chewed out for failing to do the impossible.