As many of you know, we’re in the process of getting POCA Tech licensed to operate as a “private career school” by the Oregon Department of Education. It’s a lengthy, 8-step process, and we’re currently working on Step 2. Well, to be perfectly accurate, Robert Hayden is working on Step 2. (Without Robert’s heroic volunteer service to POCA, POCA Tech *might* open sometime around 2020 — no promises.) Some of us are trying to help him. Step 2 is the hardest piece of the application, because it requires us to map the entire program and then describe the curriculum in detail. In the process of doing this, we came across a set of principles called Bloom’s Taxonomy.
The Oregon Department of Education (let’s call them OR/DOE to save space) is enamored of Bloom’s Taxonomy. Here’s a description that they helpfully provided to us in a handout:
“Benjamin Bloom was an academic in the field of education who came up with this taxonomy as a tool for instructional design. It describes different domains of learning, and within each domain, different levels that describe the process by which learning takes place. There are three domains within the taxonomy: Cognitive, Psychomotor, and Affective. Within the cognitive domain, there are six levels: know, comprehend, apply, analyze, synthesize, and evaluate.”
The OR/DOE created a visual graphic of these six levels. (I’ll upload the whole handout into the POCA Tech forum; it’s pretty cool. Edited: https://pocacoop.com/forums/viewthread/6021/) In Step 2 of the licensing application, they want us to describe how we are going to impart competencies to our students. Their handout emphasizes, “Competencies are about DOING, not simply knowing — no competencies below level 3!” Here’s where it gets interesting, because I’m pretty sure that my acupuncture education, and the educations of most students I know, took place ENTIRELY below level 3.
Level 1, Know, means “you tell me the information and I can tell it back to you. I can recognize basic terminology.” Level 2, Comprehend, means that I can do all that AND explain it — how something works and why. Level 3, Apply, means “I can tell information back to you, explain it, give you examples, and DO something with the information. I can apply what I know and test it out in specific situations. I can bring theory into my own practice.” Emphasis mine. It gets progressively more interesting and complex after that — by Level 4, Analyze, I can apply theory to my practice, explain what happened, and why I did or didn’t get the result I thought I would get; I can take theory apart and put it back together in the context of real life.
You other people who have succumbed to the scourge of Facebook as I have (thanks, Ellen Vincent) might have noticed that I was involved in a long weird conversation on the page Acupuncturists on Facebook. (Thanks, David Lesseps.) From my perspective, it was mostly about me protesting that acupuncturists really can’t prove anything about which Chinese medicine theories work in real life with real patients, and why, and Other Acupuncturists ( apparently that’s what they want us to call them) admonishing me that I didn’t have sufficient reverence for the classics. Nobody changed anybody’s else’s mind, as far as I can tell, but I think there are some benefits to having those kinds of conversations in public. Back when I was a new acupuncturist, I would have been really happy to come across a conversation in which somebody told me that I didn’t need to read the Ling Shu in Chinese in order to be helpful to someone in pain. Anyway, the closest we got to agreement was when one of the Other Acupuncturists acknowledged that a lot of English texts about acupuncture theory are really pretty bad, but a bunch of people are now devoting their lives to translating and understanding the classics and so in 20 years, we will know a lot more about what clinical relevance the classics have.
In the meantime, the bulk of conversations that Other Acupuncturists have about the classics seem to me to be at Level 2 of the Bloom Taxonomy. They can say back, via translation, what they think the classics are telling us, and even explain them. But when it comes to what we can actually DO with that information in the context of treating real people with real health problems and real limitations of time and money, we’re out of luck — for at least the next 20 years? They can venerate the classics and they can explain them ad nauseam, but when it comes to how the vast majority of ordinary practitioners are going to apply them — apparently, nobody’s even thought about that until recently. Competencies are about DOING, not simply knowing — dear OR/DOE, could you send that memo to the rest of the acupuncture profession, please?
What’s really interesting about all this is the bigger picture of our process with OR/DOE. We made a philosophical choice that POCA Tech would not grant a Master’s degree, but only a Master’s level certificate. If we had chosen to grant a Master’s degree, we would have had to go through the Office of Degree-Granting Institutions at OR/DOE — and admittedly, I don’t know anything about what that process is like. Because we chose to identify ourselves as a lowly technical school, we ended up with the Office of Private Career Schools, which means that 1) we’re lumped in with the tattoo schools and the welding schools, and 2) the standards that we have to follow, so far, show every indication of being significantly more rigorous — in a GOOD way — than ACAOM’s. For Step 1, we had to prove that we were training students for jobs that actually exist. Now in Step 2, we have to show that we are focused on developing genuine competencies; we can’t get away with rote memorization and multiple-choice quizzes. Maybe the degree-granting acupuncture institutions have to meet these standards too, but I really wonder how they do it. My own Master’s degree would never have stood up to the scrutiny of the Office of Private Career Schools.
For many of us, who never got above levels 1 and 2 of Bloom’s Taxonomy in our acupuncture education, it’s POCA itself that has made it possible for us to begin to apply, analyze, synthesize, and evaluate. We’re helping each other, by means of our coop, to become genuinely competent as acupuncturists in the real world. I really thought that getting licensed by the OR/DOE was just another hoop on our way to training punks, kind of like acupuncture school is often just another hoop on the way to a license — but it turns out it’s a reaffirmation of our radical intentions, and our radical differences from the rest of the profession.
One of the things that a lot of us have come to love about POCA and community acupuncture is that, because we don’t have a lot of money to pay for services, we end up teaching ourselves — and then each other — how to do things. Sometimes it can get frustrating; our progress is slow because everybody’s learning how to do everything for the first time. But overall, it’s thrilling to become competent at things you never thought you’d be competent at, especially when you did it by trial and error. There’s a quote by Dave Grohl that’s making the rounds of the Internet that made me think of POCA and POCA Tech and all of us:
“When I think about kids watching a TV show like American Idol or The Voice, then they think, ‘Oh, OK, that’s how you become a musician, you stand in line for eight f*cking hours with 800 people at a convention center and… then you sing your heart out for someone and then they tell you it’s not f*ckin’ good enough.’ Can you imagine?” he implores. “It’s destroying the next generation of musicians! …Musicians should go to a yard sale and buy and old f*cking drum set and get in their garage and just suck. And get their friends to come in and they’ll suck, too. And then they’ll f*cking start playing and they’ll have the best time they’ve ever had in their lives and then all of a sudden they’ll become Nirvana. Because that’s exactly what happened with Nirvana. Just a bunch of guys that had some sh*tty old instruments and they got together and started playing some noisy-ass sh*t, and they became the biggest band in the world. That can happen again! You don’t need a f*cking computer or the internet or The Voice or American Idol.”
We might suck some of the time, or a lot of the time, but we’re DOING it.