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Filtering by Tag: The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games & Critical Literacy, Post 4 of 4.

Part 4, Conclusion – The Hunger Games

(Navigation: Part 1, Part 2Part 3)

I've defined critical literacy as the ability to both:

#1 observe, analyse, deconstruct a system (aka the observer’s perspective, from without), and

#2 engage with the system, complicitly but seeking agency.

Now then, The Hunger Games, in a long line of texts where the protagonist seeks an exit sign from a curated system. 

The Hunger Games is a critical literacy lolly-shop. It is metacognitive bliss. It goes to the heart of reality and representation. Katniss Everdeen’s first-person journey switches frame and context throughout the series, each context deconstructed around dilemma-questions amounting to “In whose interest is it that I see reality this way?” aka “who is exploiting me here?” The actual Hunger Games at the centre of the books is a metaphor for the wider game being played across the districts and the Capitol.

The Hunger Games in The Hunger Games is, of course, no game at all, but a political apparatus. The distinction between 'game' and 'system' collapses. It is an invitation to the reader to deconstruct their own contexts, and ask “Whose game am I playing here?”

Hence my obsession with game-language being applied to schooling. Schooling is a system. Game-language helps us recognise systems as systems, drawing attention to artifice, implying the quesion: "How might this be redesigned?"

Collins’ grotesque portrayal of the media, especially reality TV, diagnoses Mode #2 disguised as Mode #1, i.e. I engage the media as if in the shoes of an outside observer, but am in fact, without knowing, complicit in a Mode #2 system. This is the worst possible scenario: I think I’m observing, but I’m participating. It may indeed be a critique of my very distinction between Mode #1 and #2.

For instance, refusing to play ball, is still playing ball on a wider playing field.

You can quit your job, and live in the desert in a shack, but this still constitutes a legitimate game move, employed by many others in the past, and many to come. It’s a clichéd move, not original at all. It amounts to participation, albeit with the illusion of pure Mode #1 detachment. Many escape strategies turn out not to be escape strategies. Observation is participation. Even not-observing is participation. 

Annnnyway, Katniss:

Katniss finds herself at the nexus of an epistemological and ontological crisis. Who is she? How does the system define her? She can't not participate. No neutral moves for her. A context she does not want is defining her. Her actions, and words, are repurposed by others, come to mean something new. What makes her such an interesting character is the messiness of her engagement with messy dystopic systems.

Superior to the mythic simplicity of the Twilight series in every way.

Katniss Everdeen by ~graysee on deviantART

There are no easy answers, fortunately. Yet the books offer wisdom in the form of functional processes. I mean to say: practical wisdom. Some rough words I would put to these, from The Hunger Games, are:

-          Watch out, someone’s playing you.

-          Don’t get cocky about WHO is playing you, and why. You might be wrong.

-          Even people who play the system are themselves played by the system.

-          Suspect and deconstruct your own actions, even as you engage with them.

-          Be prepared for frame-shifts, be ready to reinterpret your story-so-far based on new evidence.

-          Above all: suspect ideologies that define in-groups and out-groups.

-          Others are looking out for you. You’re blessed. Recognise this, it’s precious, at the heart of everything: acts of kindness, self-sacrifice for others.

-          At your best you’re looking out for others in the same way.

-          At your worst you’re complicit in systems that marginalise. Kindness between two individuals crosses all boundaries. Suspect the boundaries, embrace kindness.

I found the series surprising didactic, surprisingly direct with a surprisingly clear message, considering the utter ambiguity around Katniss’ navigation of systems. That is to say: the system is ambiguous, but the rules of engagement are straightforward, if painful: doubt, deconstruct, love.

Doubt, deconstruct, and love. We would do well to apply these lessons to schooling.

They feed into critical literacy. We’re not duped, but we don’t disconnect either. Or, we’re duped, but suspect that we’re duped, and look to minimise the harm. All this an antidote to hubris.

I think we need to be paranoid about getting duped. That's The Hunger Games: watch out, lest you become a pawn in someone else's game.

What to do, where to go from here?

I, for one, am explicitly and deliberately on the lookout for texts and mindsets that mesh Mode #1 and #2, and suggest this mode of engagement to others. Game based learning is one avenue: I play the game, but I am not the game. Texts like The Hunger Games are of great value at exploring what critical literacy looks like in action, in all its rawness.

For our own perception of school:

Meta-language is always helpful. Stand back, observe, analyse.

But afterwards, into the fray! There’s a system to reinvent, so let’s get cracking on it.

Beware the lessons of the French revolution (a sidetrack, a whole new post).

For our younglings:

We need to draw attention to the artificial nature of the school system, and teach kids to see beyond it. Gaming language provides an excellent way of doing this. 

I'd love to think that many young people are intuitively 'wised-up' and become at least somewhat systems-literate by virtue of computer games, and texts like The Hunger Games. I wouldn't want to leave it to chance. 

Teacher readers, I ask you as I ask myself: while we establish learning environments, do we also promote a second thread, a deconstruction process, to wise up our students to its arbitrary nature? They need Mode #1 as much as Mode #2. Do we teach them to flick between the two? They need Mode #2 as much as Mode #1 (we're not trying to breed smarmy Bachelor of Arts students here! Doers, not observers!)

Does this all sound too theoretical (I've did a B.A.)

What I mean is, when the teacher is in teacher mode, student in student mode, playing out their roles, locking horns, in the pressure-cooker classroom, dehumanised by a relic system of the industrial era, SNAP OUT OF IT. These are two human beings, who'd get along great in any other context. The snapping out happens via a shift into Mode #1 disinvestment. The shift can be as easy as a laugh. A moment of humour. But it can go much deeper than that. The de-fusion process can be embedded in business-as-usual.

Critical literacy for the win! 

(Navigation: Part 1Part 2Part 3)

The Hunger Games & Critical Literacy, Post 3 of 4.

Part #3 – Game Thinking Promotes De-Fusion from the System

(Navigation: Part 1, Part 2, Part 4 tomorrow)

I've defined critical literacy as the ability to both:

#1 observe, analyse, deconstruct a system (aka the observer’s perspective, from without), and

#2 engage with the system, complicitly but seeking agency.

My earnest interest in game-based learning is entirely to do with the perspective switching between Modes #1 and #2. When we engage in a game, we recognise the system as arbitrary, curated, as this way, yes, but it could be that way instead. The system is a technology, artificial, artifice. Mode #1. But, hey, let’s play along (Mode #2).

Modes #1 and #2 come together wonderfully in games. We are complicit in the system, yes, but deliberately so.

The dynamic is similar when we read fiction or watch films. The term is “suspension of disbelief”. I suspend my disbelief, laughing, crying, engaging. My heart is in it. I’m not the cynical observer. And yet, simultaneously, on some level, I am aware it is a fiction.

Schooling is a fiction. Systems are fictions.

This is necessarily so. Narratives approximate reality. That’s the whole point of them. They give us a lens to assist our sense-making. Mode #1 allows us to recognise narratives as narratives, separate the map from the landscape, opening up a myriad of new possibilities: rewriting, mashing up, switching, tinkering. Mode #2 allows us to wear them like clothing, participate in others’ fictions, contribute to culture, meaning, community.

When we employ game-based learning structures at my school, we mesh Modes #1 and #2. Students have a language for identifying the system as arbitrary, malleable, even while engaging deliberately (or resisting deliberately, knowingly). That the games are episodic only intensifies the benefits. Students learn to frame-shift, but also to describe their own frame-shifting.

Look at the language my colleague Chantelle Morrison uses in her planning for our Year 5/6 Science simulation unit:  “The disparity between academics will become evident in the simulation as students try to improve their employment.” And an outcome, “Students will: Experience the social hierarchy and imbalances of power of the various groups.” This simulation, of one term’s duration, involves explicit cues to the students that they are entering a parallel universe, a curated system. For 75 minutes a day, they don lab coats, take on the fictional roles of employees in the “Ministry of Science”, able to climb the greasy poll by earning DNA and Amoeba points, or gamble currency on Chance cards, all the while navigating a rigorously curated and sophisticated curriculum. The game structure is an external layer on top of core learning activities.

They’re learning Science as they go (complicit, Mode #2), but Chantelle has gone one better, using gaming to embed Mode #1 thought in the meta-language surrounding the experience. Debriefing with the students regarding the unit has been nothing short of fascinating. They have the words to deconstruct the context of their learning in a way that would be much more difficult if we started discussing ‘school’.

A game-design mindset can help teachers think in non-linear ways about learning pathways. When I play “Lord of the Rings Online” I can head in any direction through a curated landscape. With game thinking, Chantelle can map out a veritable learning landscape. Every child takes a different path. It’s all mapped to outcomes, the inspectors will be glad to see, but it is not linear.

Linear programming is dead, as is the piece of paper with a linear learning sequence plus some lip-service to the two ends of the fictional bell curve. A technology for three different groups? With game-based structures, Chantelle curated a learning landscape where 180 students completed 180 different programs, AND developed Mode#1 Mode#2 critical literacy at the same time. 

Some detailed (if rough notes) on design language around this sort of unit is here.

The possibilities when you align physical space, virtual space, learning culture and team teaching are endless. You can allow freedom on three axis: space, time, activity, without chaos. Harness initiative, cure endemic passivity. Systems design is an artform. Systems make us. We're often asked by visitors how students who can't self-direct cope with our learning structures. The question is in danger of presupposing that passive reliance on authority is inherent rather than trained/encouraged by teacher-centric pedagogy. 

In the modern factory era, hierarchical structures meant that schooling successfully spat out Mode #2 kids ready for Mode #2 jobs. Is that too harsh a generalisation?

I can read, write, rithmetic, and do what I’m told. I can haz job? You can haz! 

Yet businesses don’t want that anymore, they want better. They want Mode #1/Mode #2 employees; creative agents to turn a company from is to becoming. Perpetual re-invention, innovation. This is process AND content, becoming AND being.

No room for Platonic essentialism if you want to be around in 5 years. Working within the system, without expending effort in the alienation/reinvention process of Mode #1, means you stay the same. Kodak did that and it killed them

A game-design approach to schooling is a framework that can promotes complicity and critical agency at the same time: Modes #1 and #2. 

Part 4 - The Hunger Games, tomorrow.

The Hunger Games & Critical Literacy, Post 2 of 4.

Part #2 – Schooling is an Arbitrary System

(Navigation: Part 1, Parts 3 & 4 tomorrow)

I've defined critical literacy as the ability to both:

#1 observe, analyse, deconstruct a system (aka the observer’s perspective, from without), and

#2 engage with the system, complicitly but seeking agency.

So much of my thinking in recent months has been about schooling as a highly particular and arbitrary system. The great harm of schooling comes from the fusion of its agents, in mode #2. I mean that the agents of the system (the players: teachers, students, etc) fuse with the system à la Mode #2.

Many adults are haunted by internal wiring, social roles, raw nerves, and other wounds inflicted in their tender years navigating the school-universe. The adolescent might become the resistant reader, kicking against the system, but this does not necessarily imply thought mode #1. I can rebel against a system I am fused with. I am a rebel. Schooling allows rebels. The rebel is on the map. We know what to do with you. Let’s play out the script: the argument door is third on the left.

Ask an adult about their schooling years. This is often like peering under a rock, and the grubs come out. The distortions from their formative years. Saturday night at dinner, a very close friend told me how, as a tiny thing, he had an anxiety attack at his 'Quartile 1' on his report card, thinking the higher the number the better. This is his early years, right? Doesn't matter that he interpreted it wrong. He's coming up against the game, but doesn't have language to identify it as a game. It's reality. These moments stay with people. It's so meaningless.

From the teacher’s perspective, in mode #2, homework, compliance, ‘management’, programs, assessment, outcomes, are the circuits of the CPU. Hey, teacher, leave those kids alone! All in all you’re just another brick in the wall. My hand is straight up in the air admitting culpability, letting the cultural DNA, the great archetype, the Toxic Myth, that hideous platonic form “SCHOOLING” brutalise myself and my students over the years. I relate to the proposition “every teacher feels guilty”.

I cannot tell you how much it bugs me that when our school is inspected, the inspectors sit in a room and examine bits of paper called programs. What are these bits of paper? They would appear to be crucially so important! In fact, the most relevant, telling, information-yielding element in a school would appear to be its paper-work. The litmus-test! Therefore, the summun bonum! The students are a means to an end?Functionally, is this not how it plays out? I have a precious hour to invest. The inspectors are coming. I had better tidy up those bits of paper!

What use that hour could be put to, otherwise! Count the wasted hours! The French K to 10 syllabus, for instance, has 8 quite workable outcomes, but then they go spoil it with 50 substatements. Try mapping them! Some Mode #1ers got carried away, is what happened. Lovely system on paper.

Ye God of Bureaucracy, all yield!

The paper is irrelevant, because this child missed breakfast, or is sleepy, or already knows long division, or cares not to learn it, or doesn’t get it.

The bit of paper is “the violence inherent in the system”. Outcomes? <shakes fist> OUTCOMES!? Gamified schooling: teachers affirmed for pristine paperwork.

Watch out what you incentivise!

Part #3 – Gaming Promotes De-Fusion from the System, tomorrow.

The Hunger Games & Critical Literacy, Post 1 of 4.

Part #1, Introduction – A Definition of Critical Literacy (Parts #2, #3 & #4 TBA)

I’ll define critical literacy as the ability to both:

#1 observe, analyse, deconstruct a system (aka the observer’s perspective, from without), and

#2 engage with the system, complicitly but seeking agency.

The more you’re #1 without #2, the more academic and functionally useless you are. Such wisdom! Such rags! Your insights are very likely too clean for the messiness of reality. You’re well armed with exquisite simulations of a world that does not exist. Arm-chair commentator! Critic! Voyeur! All perspective, no action.

The more you’re #2 without #1, the more functionally blind you are. You’re subsumed into the system. You’re an oblivious component part of something bigger. Cog in the machine. Blissfully unaware; your brain belongs, functionally, to another circuit. The very words you use to think are given to you. Your thoughts are musical riffs by another composer. You sing with the choir. Pawn in the game! Such unison!

But tragically, it feels to you like you’re calling the shots.

Indignant I may be, this is MY choice. But it ain’t.

I guess we all straddle both, but both can be intensified, cultivated, without cancelling each other out. The learning process is disconcerting, painful, disorientating. Self is context, domain-dependent: take the escalator to the gym. To call out others’ contradictions, easy. To call out yourself, and then be the contradiction, harder.

To what extent does ‘SCHOOLING’ (capitalised, mythic, archetypal, writ large) position its players in Mode #2? 

Post #2, tomorrow.