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 59: Keto fun

The exams have had a strange effect on me. The pointlessness of it all breaks me every few hours. Are we still expecting students to prove their knowledge by cramming lessons a day prior and puking it out for 2 hours. When the question instructions say ‘answer not more than 3 pages’, you know the testing priorities are screwed up.

I landed up starting my preparations the morning of the exam. By 11am, I had studied enough to ace the noon paper. That gave me a lot of time after the exam. So I made the best of the evening. I keto’ed.

I experimented with these amazing Keto crepes. They tasted heavenly in their intended form, oozing with the buttery filling. Since I’m not a huge Cinnamon person (anymore), I replaced that with nutmeg and it worked out just fine.

I had sufficient to have this another day. I got more fancy this time and substituted this for my dosas craving. So, I skipped the butter filling, brought along some peanut-Chilli Powder as sides, and it rocked.

If I weren’t on the Egg Fast, I’d try adding some coconut flour in to match the dosas consistency. Right now, it was a little eggy and was a taste to be acquired for sure.

Acquired taste? You give me a drab oatmeal with veggies for lunch and you make such fun things for yourself? Let me acquire some of this new taste. 

Dogs can eat eggs and butter. So, share some, will you?” Scotch 

Day 57: Nice People

I’ve always been all ambient, an introverted extrovert. Left in a novel situation, I’d rather be by myself than take the first step and interact. But if I’ve been put out there, I do not hold back and I’m my ‘charming best’. A stranger surprised me today and made me wonder if I should work on changing my introverted ways.

A and I were breaking off exam prep monotony with a cup of tea, when this girl walked over, patted on my shoulders and asked if I was from the Student Council. I remembered her from the Open Forum I chaired recently. Thus far, any conversation that started with ‘Are you from the Council?” had gone on into a ramble about leaking toilets and overly priced sanitary pads. Don’t get me wrong; I strongly believe in the power of student voice and I’d like to help in getting that heard where possible. It’s just how tuned my brain was to what I expected the upcoming line of discussion to be, that I was caught completely off guard by what really happened.

In three quick sentences, she appreciated me for the way I conducted the open forum, congratulated my command over the language and said how impressed she was with the way I carried myself. She reiterated how very people are able to say a little yet mean a lot. And she left.

My mind was so unprepared for compliments, especially from a stranger, that I just stood there, frozen, nodding. I might have mumbled a Thank you back at her. I wondered what was that command she was appreciating me for when I was stunned by such an innocent exchange.

I admired the girl’s courage for walking up to me and speaking her mind. I’ve been in such a position, of awe and admiration towards another, in the past and I kept it to myself, smiled, enjoyed the feeling of contentment and walked away. I should probably do this more often; let people know that they are appreciated.

It might just make their day after all. This beautiful young girl sure made mine.

It’s always nice to let people know how awesome they are, S. Especially in this mean and cynical world. 

Let me say a quick Thank You to Elvis and James who are out here scratching me right now.” Scotch

Day 56: Growing old with parents

I was 16 when I sat behind the wheels of a car for the first time. Our phoenix red Maruti Omni seemed like the perfect testing ground and I was super excited. We hit the under-construction inner-ring road post-midnight and after a few debacles with the clutch-accelerator pedals, we were go. And in a few, I was cruising down that road; it was a time when Bangalore did not have the manic traffic problems of today. I had heard from friends about the gears and shifting, and I was switching over seamlessly when my dad let out a strong yell and I hit the brakes immediately. 4th gear? I was just a newbie and I had switched to the top-most gear? We’ll wait for some hours of driving before we get there, OK?

 

Driving has always been portrayed as an overly-technical feat that requires extensive hand-eye-leg-brain coordination. Add to that the general societal stereotype about women driving and it is made to seem like a humongous achievement. When dad got his first car, the phoenix red Omni, mom got behind the wheel as well. To this day, her driving down the roads of Bangalore and Coimbatore are shared as humorous anecdotes in family gatherings. This comes mostly from relatives who have been driven around by their husbands all their life. When I came back to India and started driving again, I felt the need to ‘practice’ before I got on the road because of the huge task that driving on Indian roads was made out to be.

 

Add the importance attached to driving to the Indian mindset of gaining one’s parents’ approval to be considered successful, and I was always conscious about my driving around my parents. When the folks visited me in the US, there was always an extra attempt to be the responsible driver. A smooth lane transition, a successful overtaking maneuver or a last-minute save-our-lives braking and the ears were always perked to hear that nod of appreciation. Most drives were spent in utter silence, and I could feel my parents holding their breaths, not letting conversation distract their attention from the road. Somehow, the thousands of miles driven and the 8-hour non-stop drive back from Niagara falls were all validated only by the approval from the boss.

 

This week when the parents visited though, things seemed very different. The pressure was strangely gone. And they did not mind me driving them around as well. I did not have to do the usual fight when dad is around, to get into the driver seat. Very few have won that fight with him and I did not even have to make an effort this time. There was very little pillion-driving as well, and except for an occasional remark, they continued on their conversation, almost unaffected by the driving.

 

As I thought some more about this, I realized that we had all grown up a lot since that night from 2000. My parents had grown to accept me as an adult, specifically in the last few years. I had grown to accept them as human beings, with their fears and insecurities. We had grown confident in each other’s strengths, and weaknesses, and turned to each other for advice when needed. We knew when to hold off on those uncalled for suggestions. And i think that maybe my need to prove my worth to them was all in my mind after all. Maybe they knew from the beginning that was good at it; I was their child after all.

You will always have my nod of approval, S. Who else lets me sit up front while in the car!” Scotch