Chapter 5: Three Problems with Observation​ (review by James Edmonds)

Part of the Collaborative Book Review of Structuring Equality: Handbook for Student-Centered Learning. The book is available here. This post reviews Chapter 5, “Three Problems with Observation” by Arinn Amer.

Arinn Amer articulately lays bare the hierarchical, disciplinarily distinct, and voyeuristic problematics of teaching observations in her chapter, “Three Problems with Observation.” She indicates through both written word and animation the way in which teaching observations often do not make teaching better but reinscribe and privilege certain types of teaching and relationships. For example, a rather old looking and bald man is seen sitting alone at his desk filling in paperwork designed to evaluate a faculty member’s teaching, and a woman is seen crying in a bathroom stall equating her with the individual with less teaching experience being evaluated. This juxtaposition could be initially glossed over because of the embeddedness of “classed, racialized, and gendered expectations” within the academy, particularly around teaching (Ashton, Preface). However, by intertwining animation with text, Amer is able to illuminate the problematics of power relations and the reproduction of correct teaching practices engendered with disciplinary norms evaluated through the singular event of the class rather than the process by which individuals learn.

Her solution to challenging these entrenched norms pulls from Paulo Freire’s conception of the student-teacher. This student-teacher breakdown relaxes hierarchy and gazes at the process of mutual learning to implement new methods for observation that simultaneously “undermine disciplinary surveillance” and create “better teachers and better students, living in a better world” (Amer). The chapter establishes what is fundamentally at stake for several of the other chapters. However, the solutions for creating ‘better teachers’ could be a bit more tangible. In attempting to structure equality, the lack of specific tactics to ‘undermine disciplinary surveillance’ often leads to the continuation of current practices. I do not think this necessarily takes away from the overall argument but rather makes room for additional experimentation to take place.