Evaluation and its effect on the super-ego

One of the key points that led me to embark on this discussion of the foundational aspects of the learner was consideration as to the effects of evaluation upon perceptions of self within the social hierarchy.

As a result of the long winded, rambling sentence above, I have decided to defer to outdated and rarely used Freudian terminology. If for no other reason, then the fact that I like it.


A brief introduction to Freudian terminology as I understand it and plan to use it:

Id (the it): Actions and understandings developed from libidinal drives – these are unconscious

Ego (the I): Actions and understandings developed from perception, social interaction, repression, etc. – the are conscious

Super-ego: Social understandings of the self – generally a reprimanding agent – this is unconscious

Our perceptions and understandings (ego) are shaped by unconscious elements (id and superego). While we cannot easily articulate the manifestations of our super-ego it will affect our perceptions of personal self-worth, social-validation, etc.

I have mentioned previously about the use of evaluation to develop a social hierarchy, and understandings of self-worth within young learners.

First let us consider the reasons for summative assessment and why they exist in the forms they do:

  1. Standardized curriculum and learning goals
  2. Social indoctrination, value tied to production set criteria (work training)

Two key effects of summative evaluation to be considered are,

  1. Establishment of external ideals – goal-oriented work versus mastery-oriented work
  2. Hierarchical conceptions of self and others

Establishment of External Ideals:

By working towards set ideals, learners are trained to meet expectations. There is an extensive amount of literature regarding the differences between goal-oriented assignments and master-oriented ones.

Goal-orientation allows students clear ideas of what they need to produce. They are then “judged” by their alignment to this established ideal. Students work towards external goals and as such value their own creative exploration of ideas are valued far less. In this traditional system, independent creativity is disincentivized because it will produce non-standard (and therefore less-ideal) results.

This type of education breeds complacency and obedience to methodologies, rather than exploration, depth of understanding, critical assessment and errors.

This has a strong effect on perceptions of learning. It changes learning from being learning through exploration (which young children are naturally inclined to) to learning through discipline. It establishes the self as inferior to developed social understandings.

This is not to say that learning through discipline has no merit. Many challenging ideas require a lot of focus and obedience to learn. However, there is a difference between memorization and rote recall, as opposed to deep engagement.

Hierarchical Conceptions of Self and Others:

As discussed in the previous post, our understanding of the world is based on our class, race, gender, age, social allegiance, etc. Inherent in the conception of a superego is this idea of how oneself relates to society as a whole.

This is a concept that is certainly reinforced by summative assessment in the classroom. Students perceive themselves in relation to their social groups, and in any classroom, specific cliques form. It is rare to encounter a classroom where students aren’t aware of performance divisions between themselves and their peers.

By creating established learning goals that define student performance as a value, especially when this definition is based off the production of an external artifact, what is being validated is the product that the student produces. This external assignment of student value creates a materialistic sense of self-worth and can be damaging to the student’s perception of self-efficacy.

If we consider high-performing students, we can see that their own self-esteem will be deeply tied to what they produce, and not necessarily in their own capacities. By putting the value on production, we engage in effective training for the work-place, but potentially create hazards of fragile self-confidence if work is poorly received.

Low-performing students can often end up in a cycle of poor quality work because their self-efficacy has already been deteriorated and they therefore do not have the drive to work and produce high quality material. In fact, when they begin to work, they can shut down because of debilitating censure from their superego.

Mid-range students can find the “sweet spot” of average performance, establishing themselves in an acceptable and stable position as mediocre, and “coast.”

It is important to note that summative assessment is a fact of not just our education system but also our society as a whole. However, when considering a whole student perspective, we need to look critically at the effects our systems have on individuals, because we can praise, challenge, or replace any of them.

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