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Children, Learning, and the Evaluative Gaze of School — Carol Black
"That's when I understood: when you watch a child who is focused on learning, and you let them know you’re watching, and you let them know your opinion as though your opinion matters, you just took that thing away from them. You just made it yours. Your smell is all over it now.

The evaluative gaze does the greatest harm, of course, to the kids who live under a biased eye; the ones who enter school with a test score or a disciplinary record or a skin color that shades the gaze against them. Once an assessment of a child's ability has been made, positive or negative, that child will feel it; if you think you can conceal it from them, you're wrong. They know. They always know. Studies have shown that even lab rats learn more slowly if their researchers believe that they aren't smart rats. The kids who grow up under a negative gaze, the ones who day after day, year after year, feel themselves appraised and found wanting –– these kids pay the greatest price, their psyches permanently damaged by it, their futures irrevocably harmed. (The fact that our appraisals are shown again and again to be wrong never seems to discourage us from making them.) But even the kids who get the good grades, the high scores, the perfect "10's" –– even they are subtly blighted by it. They've won the prize, and lost their power.

Why is it clear to us that it's degrading and objectifying to measure and rank a girl’s physical body on a numeric scale, but we think it’s perfectly okay to measure and rank her mind that way?

Over the years I've watched the many ways that children try to cope with the evaluative gaze of school. (The gaze, of course, can come from parents, too; just ask my kids.) Some children eagerly display themselves for it; some try to make themselves invisible to it. They fight, they flee, they freeze; like prey animals they let their bodies go limp and passive before it. Some defy it by laughing in its face, by acting up, clowning around, refusing to attend or engage, refusing to try so you can never say they failed. Some master the art of holding back that last 10%, of giving just enough of themselves to "succeed," but holding back enough that the gaze can't define them (they don't yet know that this strategy will define and limit their lives.) Some make themselves sick trying to meet or exceed the "standards" that it sets for them. Some simply vanish into those standards until they don't know who they would have been had the standards not been set.

But the power of the gaze goes beyond the numbers and letters used to quantify it. It exists in looks and tones and body language, in words and in the spaces between words. It is a way of looking at another human being, of confronting another human life; it is a philosophical stance, an emotional stance, a political stance, an exercise of power. As philosopher Martin Buber might have put it, the stance of true relationship says to the other, "I–Thou;" the evaluative gaze says "I–It." It says, "I am the subject; you are the object. I know what you are, I know what you should be, I know what 'standards' you must meet." It is a god-like stance, which is actually a big deal even if you think you are a fair and friendly god.

The evaluative gaze of school is so constant a presence, so all-pervasive an eye, that many people have come to believe that children would actually not grow and develop without it. They believe that without their "feedback," without their constant "assessment," a child's development would literally slow or even stop. They believe that children would not learn from the things they experience and do and see and hear and make and read and imagine unless they have an adult to "assess" them (or unless the adult teaches them to "self-assess," which generally means teaching them to internalize the adult gaze.) For people whose experience is with children inside the school system, it may seem self-evident that this is true. For people whose experience is with children outside the school system, it may seem like believing that an acorn would not grow into an oak tree unless you measure it and give it your opinion. Because an oak tree does not actually require your opinion, and believe it or not, 90% of the time, neither does a child.

A pot boils whether you watch it or not. It just needs water and fire.

There are ever-increasing numbers of people raising their kids outside this Panopticon of constant evaluation and measurement and feedback, and what they find is simply this: they grow and develop very much like other kids. Like other kids, they don't all conform to the same "standards;" like other kids, they are individual and diverse. Like other kids, they have triumphs, and struggles, and doldrums, and passions, and frustrations, and joys. "Assessment," or the lack of it, seems to have remarkably little to do with it. Because what an oak tree actually needs is not your opinion but soil and water and light and air, and what a child needs is love and stories and tools and conversation and support and guidance and access to nature and culture and the world. If a kid asks for your feedback, by all means you can give it; it would be impolite not to. But what we should be measuring and comparing is not our children but the quality of the learning environments we provide for them. "
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Are we overthinking general education? – Jonathan D. Becker, J.D., Ph.D.
"Many colleges and universities are trying to figure out new ways to tackle general education requirements. My own employer, VCU, has been undergoing an effort “to re-imagine our general education curriculum.” The proposed framework that my VCU colleagues came up with isn’t bad, but it still feels like picking courses out of individual boxes and checking boxes to complete a checklist. It feels like what happens when universities try to be innovative and break out of boxes, but turf wars ensue and departments dig in their heels. The result is an overwrought compromise that doesn’t serve anyone particularly well.

Here is something I wrote on Twitter back in 2015.

[embedded tweet:
@gsiemens I seriously want to teach a course where all we do is read and discuss @brainpicker and @Longreads.

Imagine this learning experience: 1 faculty member with 20-25 students just reading and discussing the Longreads Weekly Top 5. They’d meet once a week, in a meeting room or a coffee shop or outside on a lawn or in the forest; it doesn’t matter. And they’d just talk about what they learned. And maybe they’d blog about it so they could expand their discussion beyond the designated class time and space and could get others outside the class to weigh in. That’s it; that’s the whole instructional design. No predetermined curriculum; very little by way of planning. Learning outcomes? How about curiosity, wonder, critical thinking? Those are your “learning outcomes.” I’d bet students would learn more by reading and deeply discussing those 5 articles each week than they would in most other tightly-designed, pre-packaged curriculum-driven course.

I would also love to involve students in a learning experience built around food shows like Alton Brown’s Good Eats. Seriously. Watch just the first few minutes of this episode. In just the first 3+ minutes, we get history (information about the Ottoman Empire), science (cooking and surface area), and math (computing surface area). In a show about kabobs.

[embedded video: "Good Eats S09E2 Dis-Kabob-Ulated" ]

What if general education was more like this? What if students read Longreads and watched episodes of Good Eats as part of an effort around interdisciplinary studies?

And then there’s Anthony Bourdain. To me, Parts Unknown was, at its heart, educational media.

I’m not from West Virginia like Craig Calcaterra (see below) is. But, I spent a lot of time in that state doing field research at the end of the 20th century. When I watched the episode of Parts Unknown that Calcaterra shares, I felt like Bourdain had really captured what I had come to know about the state and then some. Watch the episode and tell me that you didn’t learn a ton. The way Bourdain juxtaposes New York City and his fellow New Yorkers with the “existential enemy” in West Virginia is classic Bourdain."

[embedded tweet:
Anthony Bourdain went to West Virginia last year. In one hour he did way better capturing my home state than 1,000 poverty porn tourist journalists with pre-written stories parachuting in from coastal publications have ever done.

Parts Unknown is an interdisciplinary curriculum. It is about culture, food, history, politics, economics, etc. It’s about people.

[embedded tweet:
Anthony Bourdain had one of the only shows on tv that tried with all its might to teach Americans not to be scared of other people.

And isn’t that what general education is?

Replace the word “travel” with the word “learning” in the following quote from Anthony Bourdain.

[embedded tweet:
“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you... You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.” — Anthony Bourdain #RIP

Maybe we’re overthinking general education in higher education. Probably, in fact.
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10 days ago by robertogreco

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