Day 63: Expert Amateurism in Art

Over the summer, I realized that there was a term for people like me, better than “Jack of all trades”. I have no problem being Jack, but the maxim ends with him being the master of none, remember? Well, anyway, the term is ‘expert amateur‘. David Perkins, Research Professor at the Harvard School of Education, through his book “Future Wise” introduced me to the concept of an expert amateur. I can see that I am an expert amateur in a number of things. I can file my taxes by my myself, and my dad’s, enough to understand our deductions and our investment benefits. I can draw and paint enough to make a scene convey a mood. I can photograph enough to make it not look like an early attempt at photography. I can write enough to keep you all reading now, can’t I? I don’t know the little boxes that I could open to further reduce my taxes, I definitely cannot draw eyes and lips for the ladies in my paintings, and I cannot submit my photographs to the upcoming world-wide photography competition. I am not an expert, I am an expert amateur.

One other thing that I am an expert amateur at, and brings me great joy, is home crafts. I love upcycling products, and sketching stuff up to put up on our walls. I hadn’t done crafting in a while – life had caught up – and it bothered me. I remember getting some idea in the middle of the night, feeling that strange urge to get up and execute it, then reminding myself of the schedule for the next day, and going back to sleep. So, this Sunday, I finally decided to act on one of these ideas, dusted those sharpies and canvases, and the following happened.

Live, Love, Life. No?

“It’s always fun to have you doing all this again, S. Now I can rest in peace that I am not the only one messing up the house anymore. There’s as much of your stuff scattered around as there is mine, and that’s equality, bro!” Scotch


Scotch’s mess 

in the kitchen today. Martyrs: 4 Tupperware boxes, 1 cardboard box, and a packet full of sesame seeds

Day 62: The futility of exams 

I’ve complained about this concept a couple of times now, but the recently concluded mid semester examinations have reaffirmed the futility of the concept of examinations in my mind. It’s not a complete hatred for any form of evaluation, as it is for this specific form of summative assessments.

Especially for the Masters programs, and for courses like the Bachelor of Education, I believe it is counter-productive to expect the students to prove their learning or understanding through a 2 or 3 hour, written paper. Are we really expecting teachers, tasked with training students for the rest of their lives, to prove their qualities as a teacher by writing a 3 page essay? The problem is compounded when you are testing them on subjects like Philosophical bases of education, Child psychology, or Methods of teaching. Would you rather have me demonstrate a class using the Jurisprudential method of teaching, or would you have me write an essay on how to use it effectively? And how can you guarantee that my rote and repeat syntax of using that method is actually going to be effective when I eventually implement it in class?

Or, is that no longer the true purpose of these assessments? Are we testing if the students understand what has been taught well enough to put it to use in real-life, or are we simply testing if what was taught has been remembered by the students?

As I argue about these flawed testing methods with my teachers and other educationists, a common complaint that I hear is the lack of time considering the number of students in class. How are we to objectively evaluate a class of 60 students, if not through a common set of questions for each? The answer is already in the system: Continuous Internal Assessments (CIA). The CIAs, at least in my Uni, are mis-interpreted to short, summative evaluations every other month. I hear some departments actually have class tests and quizzes as the CIA. In fact, our mid-semester exam is considered one of the three CIAs in a semester. Beats the entire purpose of calling it a CIA now, doesn’t it?

Instead of these half-assed approaches to CIAs, what we need is for class discussions, presentations and debates to be the core of the assessment. How well a student is able to rationalize a theory of philosophy to class, should tell the teacher how well they’ve understood the concept, and therefore how well they can create new knowledge out of it. Anybody can memorize the various steps to a curriculum development process three hours before the examination and repeat it in the paper. But how well a student can actually create a mock-curriculum based on a student-audience that you’ve provided to them will truly gauge how well they’ve internalized the steps to the process. From what I see around me, just being able to successfully participate in a flipped classroom is a great assessment of their learning.

The CIAs, at their core, address the issue about having not sufficient time to evaluate each student. As you provide different, small tasks to the students, and evaluate their performance in each of those small tasks, you will be able to build a complete picture of their learning over a period of time. By splitting your effort and evaluations into smaller, logical chunks, you are technically reducing the amount of energy spent on your front as well. And let’s not give up on a process, and pick a regressive technique like a written examination, because its convenient for the teacher. It’s after all child-centered education now, isn’t it?

Day 60: 2 months of Journaling

It’s Day 60. Except for a few days where I had to hold off the blogging for another day, because of work, stress or lack of motivation, I’ve written (or ranted) consistently for the last 2 months. I is definitely been fun. I think I see enough value in this little project to keep going.

They say old habits die hard and there are a number of these ‘old habits’ from my past life that have followed me into this new one. They’ve been mostly received with appreciation, and some amount of awe, and I think I’m not letting go of those in the near future.

So, I decided to run one of those process – oriented tools on my blog. I went ahead and did a Start-Stop-Continue analysis on the journal.

Start

  • Writing on a daily basis
  • Including more research-based data (yes, even day to day observations can be backed by research)
  • Observing and reporting on the little things that matter

Stop

  • Putting off for tomorrow what can be done today
  • Making every post sound like a rant
  • Chasing Scotch around with a phone camera

Continue

  • Chasing Scotch around with a phone camera
  • Using Scotch as the anti-ego to all posts
  • Having fun while blogging.

What surprised me the most about the blog is the readership, something that I did not anticipate when I started off. Some of you have been regulars, following me, reading every post and sharing your thoughts and opinions on what I write about. You’re my new best friends. Hang around and I promise to give you that fast pass into my thoughts. Some of you have popped in once in a while, caught up on things that matter to you and me both, and left your love behind. Do keep coming back.

A strange aspect of my Indian upbringing, something that I wrote about as early as Day 2, is the importance I seem to associate, albeit unknowingly,  to competition. I see this part of my psyche act up when I look into the Insights section and see a spike in the visitors. I am slowly getting out of the mindset that a quantitative assessment or a number can help judge the value associated with an act. I am trying to slowly look away from the Insights feed, and qualify my experience through the few that do go on this journey with me and the kind of relationships we build over time.

So, here’s to 60 days of journaling, and at least 60 more to come.

Yes, Fun! Journaling! Exciting! Whatever! Can you get those kids off the water tank, Please? Irresponsible parenting, I say. I’m going to bark my tail off until they get down from there.” Scotch

Woof!

Day 38: Broken hand 

I took the day off to visit the doc and mend my hand. Turns out I have tendor synovitis, inflamed ligaments around the wrist. And it had to be the right hand! Turns out a cut down on the laptop, mobile phone and driving is due. I’m in a splint for 10 days and suddenly the right hand seems indispensable.

I’m already lamenting the upcoming mid semester examinations and the 2 hours’ superb of wrist ache that I have to endure. While I disapprove of summative evaluations for even school – level grades, it seems the most pointless for professional degrees like the MA and the B. Ed. As prospective teachers and administrators, there has to be a better way of proving your learning practically, then replicating psychological theories and philosophical discourses on pages. In the last year, I’ve seen a few too many students of English literature who cannot even rid themselves of their regional accent, or speak a grammatically correct sentence, and the state of their students in the future worries me.

For such teachers, a more appropriate evaluation would be an actual class conducted, or a training facilitated, as opposed to a written exam. After all, in LSRW, writing is the last skill typical taught, isn’t it? (that’s an entirely different rant for another day)

“A broken hand, you say? Could it be the mad leash pulling that I do when we’re out for a walk? No, right?” Scotch 

The breeze, aah the breeze. 

Day 9: Of growing women and sex education

It has always pricked my mind to ride a car to college all by myself. For someone trying to be considerate about one’s impact on the environment, avoiding this selfish, fuel-guzzling mode of travel seems like the least one could do. But when circumstances forced that to be the only feasible mode of transport for me, I started exploring options to car pool, so that we are at least sharing the load on poor mother earth. While this might make me come off as overly clingy (doesn’t she have other friends!), or a little psychopathic tending towards a sex offender (Cmon! Who offers a car ride without some ulterior motive, right?), I was doing it purely to share the ride with another.

And so, Tooti and I drove back from college together. She is a peppy kid pursuing her undergraduate course in bio-technology, and a great bharatnatyam dancer. I’ve noticed her before for her quirky whatsapp status messages and that’s exactly what got the conversation going today. “You reveal more than me and yet I’m always criticized. Why? A distressed crop-top asked a saree

There began our ride talk and it went from the culture stereotype that a saree brings in, to even the 9 yard revealing more than what it should, to teachers always having to confine to the stereotype of being saree clad for being taken seriously. This was some ten minutes into the ride and I completely lost track of time or the flow of thoughta after that.

We spoke about sex education in schools, or the lack of it entirely. It seems that even now, the tenth graders get a gist of sex education, through a gruesome video that is cringe-worthy. We commented about our mutual disbelief at how little our parents are ready to talk to us about sex, and how most girls learn about sex from their friends or cousins, or the all-knowing porn industry.

We realized that the problem was worse with men, who are barely given information about menstruation and the associated problems. Most men see their mothers, sisters and even wives go through it and yet it’s a topic of utmost taboo to talk about. Imagine the quality of life of a married couple, where an entire perspective of the wife is unknown to the man, and they choose to not even talk about it.

All my friends are making out for at least 40 minutes every day“, she said, wondering aloud if she did a mistake by breaking up with her boyfriend of three years. That led us to talking about pop culture and peer pressure and how it drives our relationships these days. Girls flaunt the ‘bases’ that they progressed with their partner, like a baseball trophy to be proud of. This peer and media-induced pressure is making girls like Tooti wonder if they were wrong by holding their ground and not putting out. “What if it was really love, and I should have allowed him to experiment?“, she questions herself.

We laughed at our parents and how unsure they are about talking to us about these sensitive topics. While her generation seems to have progressed and her father was okay about her watching a kissing scene on TV, I only remember awkward side-glances when someone on TV got cost when I was growing up.

All this talk made me realize that a major gap in Indian education system is the lack of awareness given about these real-world issues. What if each school had an S, for the Tootis and others in the school to go and ask their doubts to, and get answers alone – not judgements? What if the counselors in schools are able to build such a rapport with the students that they are able to have such ride talks, and walk out with a smile and a ‘we definitely have to talk some more’? What if the education system broke all stereotypes in the society and let children be children?

Deep, man! I’m just gonna lie here while you rant about sex ed and what not. Poor lasses like me don’t have to worry about such things. 

For us, the struggle is more real: like will I get 1 egg for lunch or 2.” Scotch 

Napping, leaving the worries to the world. 

Day 5: Of communications, miscommunications and Bulimia

Communication

We had a productive two hours with this gentleman, independent research reviewer at the University. He was definitely able to set himself apart from the canned academia that I see in the college and was able to bring in a research vocabulary that was different from the masses too. While a lot of what he suggested was simply repackaging the same old wine, he reaffirmed my belief that a smart talker can make even a curse sound poetic.

A few things that I observed at the end of the session were:

  • Teachers, more than students, need to be taught about the basic etiquette of formal conversations. Cutting in when someone else is talking is uncool at every age. When your point has been heard and is being countered, listen! I’m sure that repeatedly stating your view point doesn’t make it the popular opinion.
  • It is always, always, good to accept your mistake the minute you realize you’ve made it. Go drink a sip of water and set things right. Almost always, the audience can know the exact moment when you realized your flaw: your eyes give you away.
  • Keep personal vendettas out of public forums. Nobody wants to hear or see you wash your dirty linen in a common learning space.
  • If you’re quoting books and authors, you better know more than just one. Going back to the same one over and over again doesn’t prove much about the depth of your knowledge: not even if that one book were the Bible.
  • A degree doesn’t define your true caliber. When I see M. Phil and Ph.D scholars attend such learning workshops in silence, with not a question asked or a point countered, I wonder if they are already all-knowing or if the degree were just a farce.
  • The smart and awesome ones are always taken first. 🙂

Miscommunications

The junior MA class is a place I do not want to be in right now. I am confident that being a Master’s class of three is better bet than a Master’s class of 12 lost in a group of 40 Bachelor’s. That’s probably a scene that I would have quit and left soon enough. Destiny set me up right and I dint have that choice to worry about.

But I worry about the current batch. So do some of them. I wanted to talk to them about it, as a group, and also fold in an informal freshers lunch into it. A and I went to our designated location at the designated time and found not one of them. We waited for 15 minutes and left feeling cheated. We resolved not to expend any more of our energies on them, for it was their battle to fight and not ours.

We walked back up to the department and a bunch of the juniors came running, exhausted, wondering why we stood them up. Turns out they waited for us at a concrete park with some pebbles, while we waited for them at the pebbles park with some concrete. Ha! Meeting postponed to Monday.

Bulimia

All that is OK, but why am I behaving like the bulimic supermodel? I love to eat it all, but puke that and half the garden out immediately so that it doesn’t show on my waist. 

No pictures today, please” Scotch. 

That’s all you get on sick day. 

I am officially ‘old’

The inevitable is always around the corner. As much as you may try to sneak around it, try not to look it in the eye or shut your eyes and will it away, it is there. So, I knew that my growing up growing old was as expected as the ice cream that melts and the nose that runs. But, now that I see it here, I am trying to shut my eyes and will it away.

How do I know that I am old, you ask me?

Lists! It’s those darned lists, I say. I am sure that I’ve grown old, not grown up, because of these darned lists.

You see, it was sometime in the course of my late teens that I had assured myself that I would never grown old. It was a simple logic; I would never make lists and only old people kept lists. Hence, me no grow old.

Oh! Those little, cryptic words, meaningless when looked out of context, scribbled on minuscule  pieces of parchment. Folded and folded again, to fit into little crevices in giant bags. Referred and re-referred to at every opportunity and scratched off and written on over and over again, till they become the very reason for your existence.

...would look just like this one

My very important to do list…

Lists!

I’ve started creating these monsters too. You will find me surrounded by these devils, passionately stroking one to completion. These little sheets seem cryptic and yet hold much more meaning than I can attribute to any other entity in my life. I wake up staring at the new list perched up on the wall. I spend the day planning activities that revolve around me striking items off  ‘the list’. I go to bed thinking of new items that are worthy enough to make the cut. I dream of innovative ways of making lists and striking them off.

Do you know what the worst of it all is? I truly enjoy it! I love to watch that list, the little savage of things-to-do, grow. And then I fall in love with it all over again when it’s time to scratch things off. Yes! The heavenly pleasure associated with running a crisp pencil (a pen comes close too) across the engraved words, thereby rendering those very words completely meaningless, is unspoken of. The true indulgence of that trivial activity can only be felt from within. Deep, deep within.

Identify Paper - Land Pen - Fire!

Identify Paper – Land Pen – Fire!

That is also where none of the modern day inventions come close. Where is the pleasure in pushing one little button and marking a task done? The pristine tasks apps don’t quite emote the energy and pain that was put into completing that activity. It would be more genuine if you could crack the tablet’s screen a couple of times, spill pasta over it, create some coffee mug rings on one edge and scribble a love note at the top right corner. Now all that talks about the sheer will power put into completing the tasks. What these digital apps miss is everything that depicts the true gravity associated with a list scribbled on a 4X4 post-it note.

The true gravity associated with a list scribbled on a 4X4 post-it note?

Oh my dear lord! I am officially old!

I'm officially old

I’m gonna cry in my little corner now