Posts Tagged ‘Wendell Berry’

Grading the harvest

November 1, 2012

Grading. I always dread it, because there will always be a percentage of essays written so sloppily or slap-dash as to be literally painful and embarrassing to read. But then, when I’m actually doing it, I rediscover the other and better– not necessarily greater– percentage of thoughtful,  careful, amusing, even inspiring essays that almost redeem the whole business. Just don’t rush me.

My problem with grading ultimately is not the time-consuming process of reading and commenting on essays. That, after all, is one of the best ways I get to learn, and learning is the great boon of teaching for us all.  My problem is with the false implication that assigning a grade is the most accurate form of student assessment and evaluation. I agree with Alfie Kohn:

The best evidence we have of whether we are succeeding as educators comes from observing students’ behavior rather than from test scores or grades. It comes from watching to see whether they continue arguing animatedly about an issue raised in class after the class is over, whether they come home chattering about something they discovered in school, whether they read on their own time. Where interest is sparked, skills are usually acquired. Of course, interest is difficult to quantify, but the solution is not to return to more conventional measuring methods; it is to acknowledge the limits of measurement.

Anyway, back to it. Wendell Berry’s work poem this morning is on point.

Whatever is foreseen in joy
Must be lived out from day to day.
Vision held open in the dark
By our ten thousand days of work.
Harvest will fill the barn; for that
The hand must ache, the face must sweat.

No, of course it’s not that hard. Grading isn’t farming. But it’s true, as in farming a good day’s grading has it’s moments of stress and strain. But overall, it elevates a teacher’s sense of mission. Spiritualizes it, even. It’s our version of bringing in the sheaves.

When we work well, a Sabbath mood
Rests on our day, and finds it good.

So, back to the field. The crop’s got to come in.

making plans

May 6, 2010

Our relationship with time really is a puzzle. Older Daughter solves it neatly when she reminds me: “the past is history, the future’s a mystery, today’s a gift. That why it’s called the present.” Says she got that from the Kung-fu panda.

There’s a lot to be said for the present-time perspective. For instance:

Once attention is shifted from the future and we begin to enjoy activities at the time we do them and for what they are, we have transcended the mentality that views life as a process of mediation toward distant ends.

That was John Lachs in Intermediate Man.

Albert Camus in The Rebel: “Real generosity towards the future lies in giving all to the present.”

Wendell Berry:

We can do nothing for the human future that we will not do for the human present… [One] who works and behaves well today need take no thought for the morrow; he has discharged today’s only obligation to tomorrow.

The Devil’s Dictionary defines the future as “that period of time in which our affairs prosper, our friends are true, and our happiness is assured.” Neverland.

On the other hand, Carl Sagan: “Our future depends powerfully on how well we understand this cosmos in which we float like a mote of dust in the morning sky…”

Michael Chabon:

Parents are betting on their children, and their children after them, and theirs… If you don’t believe in the future, unreservedly and dreamily… I don’t see how you can have children.

Jaron Lanier:

We have to think about the digital layers we are laying down now in order to benefit future generations. We should be optimistic that civilization  will survive this challenging century, and put some effort into creating the best possible world for those who will inherit our efforts.

Dan Dennett:

One thing that makes us unique as a species is that for the last five or ten thousand years we have been the beneficiaries of conscious planning by our parents and cultures. Today we are actively concerning ourselves with what the world is going to be like in the future. We have strong beliefs about this. They play a role in what homo sapiens is going to be like a thousand years from now.

Finally, Bill McKibben says of the climatically degraded world we’ve been carelessly combusting: “We still must live on the world we’ve created– lightly, carefully, gracefully.” That’s going to take some serious conscious planning too.


go slow

November 29, 2009

Another wonderful installment in Maira Kalman‘s “pursuit of happiness” series. Slow down, you move too fast… and be happy.

(But I still agree with Mr. Clemens: young people should not be pessimists.)