Living and Learning with Risk: Against Rubrics and Grades. How "Ungrading" Allowed My Students to Try Some New Things
I gave my students freedom to write (present) what they learned however they wanted. They were terrified; how could they get an A without a rubric??--and then they reveled in it. We took risks together, and learned together.
t’s spring in the Midwest, and I’ve been walking in my neighborhood. Mid-May is the season of flowering trees, the return of loud yard equipment, and the end of the school year, either post-graduation for college or just short of the end for K-12 schools. And, as always, I find parallels between how our society regards nature and how we regard children.
In both, I see strange mistakes made in the last century. They have to do with confusions between ends and means, and with disregard of obvious ill effects, and with non-attainment of goals except by violence.
I want to compare lawns and a fixation on degrees and credentials.
Here’s some advice:
If the goal in a residential yard is a perfect green mat with no flaws, then put down a carpet instead of a lawn. You can skip the pesticides, herbicides, runoff, bee-destruction, water waste, labor, and noise pollution.
If the goal for schooling is a credential and a degree, then offer the degree for a fixed amount of money. You can skip the cramming, textbooks, cheating, anxiety, and labor.
If the goal is college admission for the poor, then offer a lottery. You can skip the application process, the unfortunate high student-advisor ratio, the sense of low self-esteem, the suspicion about affirmative action.
If the goal is college admission for the affluent, then offer a lottery. You can skip the college admission counselors, the test prep, the summer service abroad, the Adderall, the ghost writers, the false self pretending to like resume-padding activities, the adult puppeteers in science fairs beginning in elementary school, the system-gaming with early action, the applications to twenty colleges.
If the goal is good jobs for all….then make that happen. School won’t—hasn’t—done that.
We are pretty confused as a society between ends and processes.
We have images of peaceful landscapes where harmony soothes the spirit.
We have images of restful suburban lawns emulating British aristocratic manors and estates.
We have images of docile, productive, knowledgeable children—a sort-of noble goal. We have aspirations of educated, reflective citizens.
We have a need for effective workers.
We like the idea of both equality and equity, equal opportunity and equal outcomes.
We have ideals of equality, merit, and humaneness.
But we aren’t getting what we want. We are often getting ersatz versions of what we want (with exceptions), along with a lot of serious side-effects.
In lawns and education, a rethinking is in order.
Personally, I’d willingly take a few weeds, or a lot of weeds--bees love dandelions in the early spring, when there are few other sources of energy—over the destruction of the Gulf of Mexico.
I’d take a few students daydreaming and being inefficient over drugged, depressed, competitive zombies.
Professor Marjorie Faulstich Orellana of UCLA suggested that there is a “‘Love’ Revolution” underway in education as reaction against the punitive and judgment-drenched testing, measuring, accountability tide. One of the mysterious, frustrating things about teaching in college is that we rarely admit that we do it out of love.
Strategies are the main learning outcome of all those years of school. Anyone who flunks strategy basically flunks school.
With Netta Avineri and Eric J. Johnson, I've addressed a report in the Washington Post on the many contextual factors affecting children in poverty. The well-intentioned plans to teach poor families of color “better” or “the right” ways to be parents ignores recent work that now points to a culturally sustaining education that builds on the knowledge of students of color rather than erasing it.
Challenges to authoritarian states’ control of language can be so complex that they exceed the states’ ability to manage them all. Electronic expression of resistance and increasing embrace of non-Mandarin linguistic varieties reveal powerful linguistic insights in China, which are evident too in the so-called Umbrella Revolution that took Hong Kong by storm (hah!) in fall 2014.
While a controlling state wishes to limit expression, citizens creatively employ every possible communicative modality—music, video, images, Arabic numerals, puns, Chinese characters, Roman letters, foreign words, writing, speech, sound, vision—and choose among varieties of speech and writing at their own discretion. The resources they employ reveal limits to the officially enforced boundaries—linguistic and conceptual—of China.
Why are people poor? Why do children of the poor not thrive?
The latest explanation for why children coming from disadvantaged households do not rise in this land of equal opportunity, why they do not do well in school, is that they are exposed to “thirty million fewer words” by the time they enter school.
If only it were so simple.
Read it on Huffington Post, or click "Read More"
The Proceedings of a conference, Learning In and Out of School: Education Across the Globe, held at the University of Notre Dame's Kellogg Institute for International Studies on May 22-23, 2012, are now available!
This is envisioned as a contribution to broadening the scholarly but also the public conversation about the nature of learning and its relationship to the formal institutions we know as schools. In that sense, posting proceedings is a necessary offering.
We—anthropologists, psychologists, human development and education scholars from as far as Korea and Alaska—met for two full days during a gorgeous spring week just following graduation, with flowers and warmth and the peace of an academic year just completed. We ate wonderful food throughout the day and night, and had many informal conversations along with the formal proceedings. As convener, I aimed to implement my best understanding of how people learn and how they interact by structuring the conference with no papers delivered. This is somewhat like “flipping the classroom”: the independent preliminary work that could be done in advance was done in advance—writing and reading papers and preparing comments on others’ work—and the precious face-to-face time was used for what could only be done that way: discussing, asking, brainstorming, and laughing together.
Susan D. Blum
Who doesn't think there is something wrong with education? Anthropology has a lot to offer when we think about how to raise up our young--in often unexpected ways! Join me as my thinking about higher education unfolds.
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