The school game

Marcy Bauman (marcyb@UMD.UMICH.EDU)
Mon, 12 Aug 1996 13:15:50 -0400

On Mon, 12 Aug 1996, Beth W. Baldwin, Ph.D. wrote:

> I would also say, though, that those kid students are remarkably like
> adult students (say grad students, for example) who operate from a similar
> array of motives. I mean is there anyone on this list who can say with a
> straight face that he's never played "the school game"?

Beth has put her finger on what's been bothering me about Mick's
situation and the discussion which accompanied it. It seems that no
matter what Mick might or might not have done, the student's responding
to the assignment in the way that he did put the fact that school _is_ a
game irrevocably into the spotlight. Whatever went on between Mick and
that student from that point on was pure power moves, it seems to me:
either Mick could construct the situation so the student won, or so the
student lost -- but the student's learning was no longer at issue. Early
on, Mick said that the student could in fact do the required coding, and
Mick and he both knew it -- and at the time, I wondered what purpose the
quiz was serving, if in fact Mick had been able to determine people's
coding abilities in other ways. Was the quiz a game? (I don't mean to
imply that Mick _intended_ it to be, or even _knew_ that it was, if it was.)

The cynical me thinks that there's no way to construct situations
that can't be turned into games. As a result, I've got a lot of sympathy
with the students who simply did the quiz and who _didn't_ try to be
clever. I do think that Mick's student was using his cleverness to
somehow level the field, to establish his equality with Mick, to set
himself apart from the others in the class. (And yes, I've done that,
myself: I remember once in high school being asked to write a book
report on the historical implications of _All the KIng's Men_ -- and
writing a book clearly and distinctly about Warren's writing style, in
the style of the book itself. My "cleverness" prompted the teacher to
overlook the fact that I hadn't really completed the assignment because I
didn't _ever_ mention any historical implications, in which I had not the
slightest interest. But it was a _History_ class.)

I'm not sure what to make of such moves. I'm hesitant to reward
them. I wish that there were real learning and real engagement taking
place (and maybe that the dynamic in the classroom weren't so
teacher-centered), in which case people wouldn't feel the need to be so
cute. But I'm not sure that we can ever completely create those situations
within school walls.


Marcy Bauman
Writing Program
University of Michigan-Dearborn
4901 Evergreen Rd.
Dearborn, MI 48128

Web page: