This Morning

This morning, honestly, I’m thinking about how much I have to teach my students still, and how little time I have to do it. I’m thinking about whether or not literature can be parceled  into discrete packets called “reading assignments,” and whether there is any point to assigning reading homework to people who don’t read. I’m thinking about whether it’s better to comment extensively on essay drafts, or to hand them right back and just say, “Make it better.” Independence or guidance?

On the one hand I have the pedagogical establishment in this country, which wants me to differentiate and scaffold and make all learning student-centered, preferably student-generated project-based collaborative group multimedia discovery projects. I honestly have no idea how to do this, but I suspect it is both transient and unsustainable: that too much effort would go into planning and organizing the perfect project units, and in pre-teaching protocols for students to follow in generating their own discovery learning projects, and in trying to make the groups work fairly, particularly with low-interest students; and within five years, pedagogists will have discovered a new element that should be added — though nothing will ever be taken away. The new element will not make this more practical.

And on the other hand I have Eugen Herrigel’s Zen and the Art of Archery Herrigel was a German philosophy professor who studied traditional Japanese archery in Japan, and his book is credited with helping to popularize Zen in the west. His archery master has the perfect system: he shows the students how to do the thing — how to draw the bow, aim, and fire at a target (Also, most importantly, how to breathe) — and then he has the students do it, and he points  out their mistakes. Then he does it again. And again. That’s it: modeling and expert critique. There is no explicit  instruction at all.

There is precisely one reason why I have to rush, why I have to assign reading packets rather than whole novels, or better yet, just read whole novels with my students and discuss them as we go, and it is time. The determination that one class lasts for fifty minutes, that one week is five classes, that one semester is eighteen weeks, that one year is two semesters, that an education is thirteen years. We are in a hurry, all the time, forever, particularly with our children. That’s what ruins everything.

If I could teach anything, I would teach this world to take its time.

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