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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. "
carolblack  canon  unschooling  deschooling  evaluation  assessment  schools  schooling  schooliness  cv  petergray  judgement  writing  art  sfsh  rubrics  children  childhood  learning  howwelearn  education  discipline  coercion  rabindranathtagore  panopticon  observation  teaching  teachers  power  resistance  surveillance  martinbuber  gender  race  racism  measurement  comparison  praise  rewards  grades  grading  2018 
june 2018 by robertogreco
The Nature of the “In-Between” in D.W. Winnicott’s Concept of Transitional Space and in Martin Buber’s das Zwischenmenschliche [.pdf]
"Despite its ability to provide refuge and renewal, however, Winnicott and Buber insist that this “in-between” world can never displace or supplant the inner and outer worlds. Whether in childhood or adulthood, we cannot stay in this realm of creative possibility and transformation forever, even if it is the most real and authentic part of our existence. Buber and Winnicott therefore refuse to become neo-romantic worshippers of feeling and subjectivity. They avoid such dualism, and discourage, in Buber’s terms, the rejection of the world of I-It, suggesting instead the interpenetration of the I-It realm by that of I-Thou.

Like the child, we must return always to the “exalted melancholy of our fate” in the I-It world: Yet Buber insists that even in this mundane sphere, we can claim a sense of meaning, for “these Thou’s which have been changed into It’s have it in their nature to change back again into presentness.”12

Winnicott’s transitional object, an illusion in itself, remains paradoxically for all persons “the basis of initiation of experience.” This intermediate area of experience, in which the transitional object shares, is retained throughout life, “in the intense experiencing that belongs to the arts and to religion and to imaginative living, and to creative scientific work.”13 Winnicott’s “in-between” world does not possess the vacillating It/Thou qualities to the same degree that Buber’s does, and remains a more stable and enduring concept, available to draw upon for the rest of our lives."



"Buber cites the category of “the essential We” to correspond on the community level to the “essential Thou on the level of self being.” Similarly, he posits a primitive We on the group level, analogous to that of the primitive Thou on the individual level: “the primitive We precedes true individuality and independence, whereas the essential We only comes about when independent people have come together in essential relation and directness.”27 Through this essential We, humans can transcend the impersonality of mass culture. As Buber writes in Between Man and Man, one “is truly saved from the ‘one’ not by separation but only by being bound up in genuine communion.”28

Buber calls for restructuring of society “into a community of communities,” which would strive to transform mass society into the essential We of Gemeinschaft. True community, however, can only occur if people take personal responsibility, and can sacrifice for the group. Buber’s social philosophy is far from utopian, realizing how difficult it is in an age of impersonal mass society to redirect human nature towards responsibility for the integrity of the total community. He embraces no one political ideology, but points to varied communities where non-exploitative relations predominate.

Although Winnicott does not speak in similar detail about the dynamics of culture, he does view cultural forms as inherently more enabling and creative. Due to his social location in Great Britain, Winnicott also seems more pragmatic and positive towards both monarchy and large-scale democratic government. In his essay, “Some Thoughts on the Meaning of Democracy,” Winnicott considers democracy a more mature form of culture, for instance, in its respect of privacy through the secret ballot.29 The main threat to democracy, however, Winnicott writes, is that its people may not be mature enough to maintain and nurture it. In this case, totalitarian systems can threaten a people through their appeal to demonic certainty, stirring in some individuals a desire to persecute others.

Winnicott finds that such a desire to persecute, or wish to be persecuted, results from a failure of successful transitional objects, often as a result of early impingement by others. In adult group life, this developmental deficit can lead one particular group to force its illusions upon another. Illusion, “which in adult life is inherent in art and religion,” notes Winnicott, “becomes the hallmark of madness when an adult puts too powerful a claim on the credulity of others, forcing them to acknowledge a sharing of illusion that is not their own.”30 Winnicott’s insight here may offer some rationale for emergence of National Socialism, which Buber’s social psychology was hard-pressed to comprehend.

Winnicott observes that the healthy person maintains his self-esteem as well as his doubts, and is able to discern the difference between inner and external conflict. “When healthy persons come together they each contribute a whole world, because each brings a whole person,” he writes. They are capable of becoming depressed, rather than automatically joining group manias and seeking domination of others.31

A rich, nurturing sense of culture can be found in Winnicott’s analogy of the holding environment of mother and infant to the wider world, which “provides a refuge or fellow feeling and the fact that we are all human.” Similar echoes of this “holding environment” can be found in Buber’s Gemeinschaft, which affirms fellowship and community while countering coercion and domination.

Illness, writes Buber, represents distortion, both because the individual closes himself off from the world and because society rejects the person, refusing to offer confirmation. It is critical that a healthy culture, therefore, offer treatment that not merely aims to “integrate” or “adjust” an individual to the prevailing society, but that seeks to restore the person’s interrupted dialogical relations.

Finally, both Buber and Winnicott find that healthy communal life requires its members to assume ongoing responsibility for the well being of others in the group. “It is human beings who are likely to destroy the world,” concludes Winnicott. “If so, we can perhaps die . . . knowing that this is not health but fear; it is part of the failure of healthy people and healthy society to carry its ill members.”32 To care for others means that, for both Winnicott and Buber, persons move outside themselves with a newfound sense of courage. Assuming such responsibility for others encourages and restores genuine relations between persons, and in so doing enables the ethical and spiritual regeneration of the wider world. The transitional space, or das Zwischenmenschliche, therefore remains critical for the preservation of a morally accountable world community, where the ability to relate meaningfully to others continues as an ever-present—and perduring—reality.
liminalspaces  laurapraglin  dwwinnicott  martinbuber  psychology  between  betweenness  community  responsibility  coercion  domination  fellowship  liminality 
july 2016 by robertogreco
On Kindness | Practical Theory
"“There’s only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.”

— Kurt Vonnegut, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater

Tonight, a bunch of people I know, like and respect shared yet another video on Facebook of someone accidentally making a fool of themselves. The people who shared it were other educators, some SLA students, folks I know from other parts of my life… folks from across the myriad pathways of my life. I can only imagine how many times that video has been seen across the world by now.

For whatever reason, tonight, that made me really sad. I wondered what those people would think if that was their student, their parent, their child, their sibling. We’ve become callous to the people in those videos, to the people behind the screen, and maybe too many of us are callous to the people we see in person every day.

Certainly, Schadenfreude is nothing new. People have long gotten pleasure in the suffering of others. But that doesn’t make it right.

More than anything else in this world, I value kindness – real kindness where we extend ourselves to others simply because we can.

Kindness is more than being nice. Kindness requires empathy. It requires listening. It actually requires asking people what they need – not giving them what we think they need, but listening to their needs and acting upon them.

When we engage in true kindness, we must remove the space between us and those around us. We must learn to not treat people as “The Other.” We must enter into what Martin Buber called the “I and Thou” relationship. And it means we must acknowledge that other people are as important as we are.

I want to live in a world where people think about being kind as a reflex. I want to see schools where students, teachers, administrators are willing to see each other, listen to each other, and treat each other with kindness and care.

I truly believe that if we can build schools that operate first and foremost from a place of kindness that our kids can build a world that does as well. Our students will learn what we teach, what we model, what we live. Could there be anything more powerful than seeing our students go out and change the world to a place where people truly cared for one another?

As Mr. Vonnegut said, “God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.”"
chrislehmann  kindness  2015  education  schools  teaching  humanism  empathy  martinbuber  kurtvonnegut  schadenfreude  behavior  vonnegut 
may 2015 by robertogreco

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