How We Judge Learning (and How It Judges Us)

Today, I had an incredible, exhausting, inspiring hour today with Matt, the relentless and caring personal trainer at our gym.  Before we dove into the tough stuff, he tested me with astonishing precision, creativity, and care to see range of motion, strength, flexibility, all that.   Because I was in a bad accident several years ago, he was especially careful to test there, to gauge and have a baseline to build upon.   I felt in entirely competent hands.

And then today was grueling . . . in a good way.  I was willing to work far harder than I would ever work on my own, to push to places I would have thought too difficult or even scary on my own because he was consistently and carefully there. His expertise, too, was part of what I was relying on.

My motivation was at 100% from all that. Far more than it would have been if he hadn’t been there, incomparably more.

So there’s a teaching practice and a metaphor and a question here:  I wonder how motivated I would have been if someone had told me, before hand, that Matt was required to grade all of his clients on a bell curve and that he would be giving failing grades to the bottom 20%  of us.

What if my gym boasted its “high standards” and judged its trainers on their ability to weed out the bad ones among us.  What if he could only be judged “excellent” and “professional” at what he does if he was willing to fail some subset of us . . .



The Futures Initiative
The Graduate Center, CUNY
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New York, NY 10016-4309