"Judgment is the enemy of experience," I would intone as we started talking about what experience-based feedback might look like, "Jot that down in your notebooks, and let's unpack that idea." And I could see my friend and CITYterm colleague squirming in agony out of the corner of my eye as we began class. Later she would say, "You drive me nuts. How can you say that? Judgment is what we are striving for; it is what we want them to achieve. How can you say that it is the 'enemy of experience?'"
And she is right, judgment IS what we are trying to get students to have. After all, if they don't have judgment, then is there any way to judge quality, depth, sophistication? We want them to form opinions objectively, authoritatively and wisely; we want them to be judges. Books like The Primal Teen explore (in interesting ways) the underdevelopment of the prefrontal cortex in adolescents as being the root of poor decision making and, therefore, judgment. There is a strong case to be made that judgment is precisely what students need more than anything else.
But in the world of experience-based learning, judgment is a bit like the idea of discrimination. We want want people to be discriminating, to make fine distinctions, but being discriminatory has obvious connotations that exhibit a darker side as well. Judgment is a nuanced idea with double meanings. So how is judgment the enemy of experience?
Some of the difficulty lies in the way we are inclined to set up problems. Before we make a judgment, we have almost always created a structure that will determine, in large part, how the judgment wll be made. The point is this, how you set up the problem will determine the range of answers you will get. As Einstein is often quoted as saying, "If I had an hour to save the world I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem and one minute finding the solutions."
I remember listening in a junior American Studies seminar in college to the lists of thesis titles that were coming out that year. What I was struck by was the number of titles that created dichotomies-- "John D. Rockefeller: Robber Baron or Christian Saint?" or "Wounded Knee: Military Necessity or Genocide?
They sounded a little like country-western titles- "I Don't Know Whether to Kill Myself or Go Bowling" or "I'd Rather have a Bottle in Front of me than a Frontal Lobotomy." In a truly disconcerting way, it sounds a bit like the way Democrats and Republicans are defining the issues (and each other) right now. The problem from an experience-based point of view is that you get caught in an "either /or" set-up that provokes debate rather than exploration or dialogue.
And this is where we start each semester at CITYterm (and in my history class at the Masters School) trying to figure out how to "un-learn" the most common ways that problems are set up in our culture. Look around, see how many choices you are given in a day that are either/or choices. There seems to be a preternatural need for some people to set up issues as dichotomies; I sometimes wonder if part of the heritage of Western culture is binary. The other day on a CITYexpedition we ended up in a Hindu temple in Flushing, Queens and got ourselves into a wonderful dialogue about religion. One student asked the priest, "What about the evil? Who plays the role of the devil in Hinduism?" The priest looked blankly at him and replied that he didn't really understand the question, but that perhaps the student "was trying to describe the cycle that contains both creation and destruction. And, in that case, we should talk about Shiva." The priest was framing the issue as one of exploration of a process, we were reducing the problem to a dichotomous set of categories that would, we thought, grant clarity.
So, at the beginning of each year, we try to move away from the dichotomous ideas of "like and dislike" as responses to a text, and move toward the more unifying idea of "engagement." The expression of "like and dislike" is a "#gamechanger" because it terminates any exploration and declares for one side of the other. If one's opening response to any text is framed in a dichotomous like/dislike framework then you have short circuited the opening process of making that text an experience. This is why this framework is an expression of a judgment and, therefore, the enemy of experience. Cultivating the spirit of exploration must be the opening gambit for generating experiences; the ability to "wonder and wander" is essential to being open to finding oneself in the DKDK zone.
But my friend is right, we do want to strive to arrive at good judgment--but in its time. I have the feeling there is more to say here--maybe another blog post later is in order.