Friday Philosophy: Judgment

I should be busting my ass grading the quality of work submitted by my students.  But I’m a bit under the weather.  I don’t enjoy feeling like I can’t catch my breath.  The new drug helps with that somewhat. but there is a dizziness factor that comes with.

So I let my students down a bit.  I didn’t go in to my office on the day the projects were due.  We can hopefully work things out by Monday.  Monday is when grades are due.

I don’t enjoy grading.  No good teacher that I know of enjoys the grading.  It is fraught with disappointment that the students didn’t do better.  One has to establish a bit of distance and concentrate on the fact that what they did learn probably outweighs what they didn’t.

When one has small classes it becomes easier to confuse judging the work done in a class with judging the human being.  How much value does one assign motivation, curiosity, and understanding the larger picture, to the ability to understand that this patch of learning is but part of a larger tapestry.  All one can ask is that the students give honest effort.  But how elusive is the measurement of “honest effort”?

Some of my students must, in the deepest parts of themselves, know that they have failed to give that effort.  In some cases a short term strategy they developed to cope with a moment ran aground when confronted with the long range goals.  Those are hard to absorb, because it speaks to the teacher’s failure to motivate the student…failure to connect…failure to flip the switch of desire.  It’s difficult to keep in mind that our successes are not negated by those failures…and that sometimes the failures are only temporary…and maybe can be salvaged if a lesson in life is learned…if behavior and/or perception changes.

On another level, I’m up and typing because the main cause of the coughing seems to be lying horizontally.  So sometimes I’ll have to pause and fish for the point.  Maybe listen to a song or two.  Maybe like the Dr. John piece over there.

If I get really motivated, I can download the projects from BlackBoard.  Maybe print them off in some size I can read.  But that all seems like working and I’d rather play.

If I was really clever, I’d figure out an allegorical story about the disconnect between the teacher and the grader, and the fact that the former would almost always prefer that the latter didn’t exist, but since there is this requirement, there isn’t a better or fairer way to measure than to let the teacher do the measuring.  If you can’t trust the person who is the expert in what was being taught that particular semester to know how much each student learned, then there is no more hope for educating the members of our species.  We’ll just go the trained clone route.

I’d rather teach at Commie Martyrs than More Science, if the truth be known.  But the world is what the world is.  People are rarely interested in listening to teachers speaking honestly about the ways in which we have screwed up the world or how we might change that.  The best we can mostly do is teach a few people and maybe share a few thoughts that are taken to heart…plant a few seeds that just might germinate and result in someone helping to improve this world, maybe even someone we shall never meet.

Every once in awhile we are allowed to look over at the rest of the world with bewilderment.  That especially happens when what people think ought to be allowed behavior interferes with the teaching process.  Unfortunately that happens too often.  Like the clone production thing.  I’m keeping my eye on that.  Once we cross that line, it’s time for me to retire.

Once upon a time a group of people who had been to a conference on critical thinking and focused critical thinking about the subject of critical thinking and how to teach it sat down to talk about what a world full of critical thinkers would be like.  I remember thinking that I needed to remember the adage

Everybody has something they cannot think critically about.

And I have to wonder about choices I made as a teacher, maybe as a result of getting older, of boundaries I have laid out in order to see if my students had the temerity to push at them, as a measurement of my own abilities.  And I wonder who has the right to measure my success or failure in doing so besides me.  And I wonder whether indeed that is why I do what I do.

And I wonder about whether my students accept that I have always performed my duties with what I perceived to be their best interests at heart, until it came to the best interests of society, that the progress of society often trumps the temporal desires of the individual.

This time of year is always a time of contemplation…along with nervous exhaustion.

The Scales


At what point

does passion for teaching

become extinguished

by resistance

to learning?

When exactly

does a teacher know

when the time has come

to walk away?

–Robyn Elaine Serven

–May 9, 2008


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    • Robyn on May 10, 2008 at 12:04 am

    Maybe I can think of another song that needs listening to.


  1. If only we were in a post secondary culture really attuned to the passion for learning.

    My newest project is learning how to ride a motorcycle. It scares the piss out of me but I also enjoy it. I worry that if I only stick to things I already know I am semi competent at, I will just sleep walk through life something in our consumer culture that is so achingly easy to do. And I am a consumer. While that is not akin to an intellectual endeavor, it does require focus and concentration.

    I actually wouldn’t mind going back to school. But. From a professional point of view, the most logical thing for me to do is get a bachelor’s in nursing, something, I have no interest in doing. I fancy doing a fine arts degree or a philosophy degree particularly because most people think of them as useless and lacking in market value. Well, I already sell my labor in the market, so I don’t give a rat’s ass.

  2. My first two years of school were Montessori.

    I never recovered from that….as far as conforming to public school standards. That…

    … and the fact that I never really gave a damn!

  3. how it is for teacher to grade papers. what they feel about the results of their lessons… strewn before them on lined paper…

    hmmmmmmmmmm… thanks. for giving me something i’d never thought of before.

    also think your poem is great.

    haven’t seen much of you around. and feel better!!!

    • Alma on May 10, 2008 at 12:22 am

    when you really love a students personality, and outlook on life, but they just can’t grasp the subject matter, and you have to give them a poor grade.  That would be very depressing.

    • Viet71 on May 10, 2008 at 12:37 am

    is giving a good test,

    which depends on good teaching.

  4. I used to have an adjunct job teaching legal writing to first year law students.  I did it for about 4 years.  Long story short, some students really understood what it was all about and could write the assignments well, and some, despite my best efforts, didn’t.  I knew I couldn’t take credit for the ones who could write well; I felt though that I was responsible for those who couldn’t.  I realize that’s illogical, but it hurt nonetheless. When I started, I believed I could teach anybody how to do it.  That, it turns out, was wrong.  I wish I could teach everybody, but I can’t.  I tried mightily anyway, and eventually, I gave up.

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