Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Home is Sweet

Here's  a not-too-profound thought: the sweetest place on Earth is home, wherever that happens to be. Susan and I returned home to Oklahoma day before yesterday from a great trip to New York City. The most vivid memories of that trip are going to be of the astonishing array of people we encountered. I must have heard 25 languages. At least. And for me, a southern-born and bred guy, the utter strangeness of the sight of tall buildings, sidewalks, and pavement for as far as the eye can see in any direction. Nothing you read can possibly prepare you for the reality of one of the world's great cities--I imagine Calcutta, Hong Kong, Beijing would all be equally overwhelming to the first-time visitor.

But nothing beats just being home. Because everything is familiar, because you're back to your important "stuff" that you had to leave behind, because you're again with friends and family, because you're back where you belong. There's great comfort in belonging somewhere, having a place you can call home . . . which makes my heart go out to the many, many people who actually can't say they belong anywhere: refugees, displaced persons, Palestinians.

I come home an overstuffed mailbox, both real mail and email. It was easy to cull out the trash from the former; the latter I'm having to trudge through more carefully, and in a certain order. Family first, which is how I received the link to a two-part column by Stanley Fish in the New York Times* which addresses one of favorite rant topics: the weight given to student evaluations of university professors. And, perhaps worse, the defense of the practice by people who should know better. (I can't live with the notion that people who have reached the age of reason can actually defend the practice in good conscience.) I've been over this before. I think the practice of determining the quality of a university professor's teaching much less his or her suitability for tenure on the basis of what some empty-headed kid thinks about it is beyond absurd. But we are all the victims of the market now, so education has to debase itself to the level of popularity contest and road show. What's good and worthwhile is what sells. That's it. We're at the portals of hell, people.

I close the way Fish did. What can I say but a resounding "AMEN"?

I cannot leave the topic without remarking on the passion voiced by many who took the time to respond. A Teacher lets it all hang out and speaks for many: “Sorry kids, you are not the authority in the classroom. Me Teacher. You student. Me Teach , you learn. End of discussion . . . Education is not a business. You are not my customer. My classroom is not Burger King. You do not get to ‘have it your way.’”
And, finally, I am pleased and amazed to report that one poster actually answered what was thought to be the impossible question: What exactly is good teaching? PES realized years after encountering it that he (or she) had been its beneficiary: “I had learned without knowing it almost, how to see three sides of a twosided story.”

*Link is to the second column, the link for the first part is in the opening paragraph.
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