Peer Evaluation

Look at this clip on consensus democracy taken from the group at Occupy Wall Street:-

…. this is democracy. This is the democracy that good education should empower. Where has it come from? Apologists for the education system would cliam that it came as a by-product of how these people were educated, but if you ask them they say that they are against the system.

I surmise that it has grown out of similar movements globally. From the movie “The Take” – a discussion of cooperatives that grew out of the financial crisis in Argentina, Horizontalidad worked on a 3-stage process leading to the cooperative:-




Perhaps this is the model that #ows is working on.

What is impressive – as can be seen from the consensus democracy clip above – is that these people are dedicated to genuine democracy. They spend time making decisions, they have a process which ensures that all people who want a voice have one, and they are not satisfied with token representation that enables individuals to be corrupted.

There are criticisms of #ows that appear in the media. Personally I think these criticisms are there as divisive tactics, but I will answer them in terms of democratic principles. Let’s start with the issue of representation. I have discussed it here but to rehash briefly representation allows for an individual to be syphoned away from the collective strength. Whilst it might be easier to discuss between individuals, in practice it was never a disc ussion between equals, and because the membership did not participate there were always doubts around the process. As for representation in a a voting democracy the process has been completely flawed by opportunists seeking power and financed opportunists seeking to subvert democratic power. As a result the current governmental process that some would argue had a democratic basis, in practice leads to a system that supports the corporatocracy – the 1%.

As for demands we have another red herring. What is wrong with the system? It doesn’t work. Why? It doesn’t represent the interests of the people. It is a democratic system that is not democratic. The demand is to call for a democratic system. Isn’t that enough of a demand? What isn’t clear about the demand? What the system actually wants is for the demand to be changed because they are unwilling to deliver it. In the US if Obama actually carried through with his electoral platform there would be the beginning of a reform of the democratic process, but there are evident doubts that what Obama promised were little more than a platform to get votes; certainly the administration he put in place had no intention of implementing his electoral promises. As I wrote here, when a plane breaks down and you ask for it to be fixed you don’t expect the airline to ask you how you want it fixed?

Demands have become a strategy of control in which the powerful are able to mainpulate the process. Take a list of 10 demands, cut them in half and give token agreement to the other five. This is demand negotiation. The existing system of demands and representation has no intention of being successful, and by successful I mean democratic, and that is why for such a long time it is only apologists who have called the system democratic.

The issue of the system as it stands is there is no intention of representing the interest of all the people in the democracy. For a school educating for democracy the education issue is not a discussion of representation but a question of empowerment and the need to develop a sense of collective responsibility as well as responsibility to the collective. This cannot come from a history of democracy or token representation on a school council. It needs to come from genuine power in which students desires can be enabled once established. In schools all the participants of the education process are disempowered, so why would it be different for students? Perhaps the most vehement critics of student representation are the teachers who have seen these students in action. Their demands are generally superficial, such as no homework. But that is because they have been disenfranchised, and they react by being superficial.

There are two areas of democratic involvement that need to be considered:-

Classroom democracy
School democracy

For classroom democracy I have already broached the notion of peer evaluation. OK I am going to place this democracy in a context that makes it practical – within the context of natural development. There comes a time when parents know that they must give their children autonomy, I suggest this time comes at the time of Piaget’s fourth stage. I have already described the notion of autonomous mastery. This autonomy is developed throughout the school as part of WCAM, but if it is not empowered in some way then this autonomy will not yield democracy. Using Piaget’s model thios autonomy is going to come to feruition during the fourth stage of conceptual thinking, and it is at this stage their autonomy needs to gain substantive power. This can begin with the quality portfolio being peer-assessed. Earlier in the school there copuld havee been dry runs but at the stage of year 10 they coujld actually create the quality portfolio. How? Earlier in the school whilst encouraging the autonomy the teacher can begin to explin trhe values of critical assessment for example. by thed time students are in year 10 they would understand these values. With the evaluation dry runs they will have seen how their evaluations fit in woth these criteria and what is ewxpected by their teachers and by their peers – the fellow students. Once such evaluations become meaningful students will demonstrate collective reponsibility.

The radical aspect of this proposal comes in school democracy. Initially that sounds a daunting prospect to allow immature people to evaluate their education but in truth the evaluation is a only a problem if the education system is not designed for all the students. In other words if the system is designed for student failure how can their involvement be constructive as such an objective is not in their interest. The negativity which many students adopt when interfacing with the education system is a clear indication that deep inside they recognise that failure inherent in the system. Perhaps they don’t attribute that failure to design as do I and a number of others (John Taylor Gatto, Alfie Kohn, etc.). When whole communities become alienated – including those initially motivated to participate (as in the case of the UK Afro-Caribbean community in the 60s and 70s), there needs to be a recognition from the authorities that the system needs fixing. Attempting any of the educational changes I have proposed cannot work in this system within the corporate paradigm designed to fail the 99%, but if it were a system to educate 100% then there is no reason for the 100% not to participate. And there would therefore be no reason to assume that peer assessment and evaluation cannot work – no reason to believe that the students could not work within a school run by consensus democracy.

In fact once you begin to open your minds to the possibility of students actively participating in their own education then you can begin to expand your educational objectives. Who knows the students better than the teachers? The students. If their evaluation could be trusted how much more useful information could be taken from school to the workplace? As a Buddhist I know that which is lacking most in society and that which is most needed is sila – moral integrity. If you look at Zandtao , you will see that sila is the basis for the Path and and for a happy mature life. Suppose you add sila to the Quality Portfolio, who best can assess the moral integrity of those in the class than the students themselves? Of course the arguments used against such an approach are based around current behaviour of adolescents in school. We assume that jock-worship or cheerleader egotism is inherent in adolescents, why? These are responses to their environments – schools that are failing them. If schools become places where adolescents participate, then we have students supporting each other. Then we have the best judges.

Some of the classes I taught the students were motivated. Within all classes there are far more dynamics than teachers are aware of, how can teachers be that aware? They are not included in all activities. Do the students know who are the best at a subject? Of course. If I taught a technique they soon knew who had grasped it. As I always encouraged work-based discussion (as opposed to chatting) conversation occurred about the work – hopefully, and this meant that the solution tended to get passed on from the best to the worst. This was not students asking all before finding the correct answer – they knew. They did not wait for assessments to know who had grasped the ideas, they knew. They also knew who would cooperate, who was good, who would work with each other and so on. They knew. Students know so much – even about you the teacher. At the moment that knowledge of the teacher is used disruptively – when the teacher is at a low ebb we can have fun etc. But what if that knowledge could be used in assessment positively? This is what I envisage with peer assessment through the quality portfolio. Then not only will we get work-based evaluations as we do at present – who has passed which exam, we get skill-based assessment with the attribute of the quality portfolio I discussed before – insight, critical thinking etc., but we also get different qualities that teahers cannot assess the best – peer collaboration, sila etc.

Through Occupy I have learnt the value of consensus democracy in the classroom, and this has led to an improved Quality Portfolio. Sad really as all this improved education is based around a system designed to educate – not the corporate paradigm design of failure. Schools are designed to create the 99%. Sad.


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