“Good taste” is not, as most debates regarding the phrase assume, a term in the logical sense—a discreet idea signified by words. It will, for this reason, fare badly in argument; anyone who has tried for five minutes to defend the notion of “good taste” against the aesthetic relativist recalls the exasperating embarrassment of finding himself unable to define, let alone defend, the principle of which he nevertheless remains convinced.
My favorite nineteenth-century novel, George Eliot’s Middlemarch, spins its plot from this premise: What happens when a person of fervent ideals is born into a place and age that cannot support them?
Is it ethical to use a man’s emotions to persuade him?
In the electric atmosphere of today’s propagandistic politics, that question is charged. By and large, even teenagers expect that the vast majority of the campaigning, advertising, and peer-pressuring they will encounter is based solely on emotion; this is the definition of propaganda, of persuasion that is untrustworthy and manipulative. The haunting assumption that the persuasion directed at them respects neither people nor truth is one reason for teenage cynicism’s ubiquity.
For as long as I remember, I have turned to words to bestow names, and through them meaning, on my experiences. Yet for the past five weeks, since the birth of our first child, this chain of significance seems reversed: in every day with our baby boy, new experiences uncover treasures of meaning in words I thought I had already mined.
One of these words forms the central metaphor of the brief and beautiful Psalm 131:
Lord, my heart is not haughty, nor mine eyes lofty: neither do I exercise myself in great matters, or in things too high for me.
The only time I have ever been a consistent coffee-drinker was during high school, when a daily cup sustained me through hours spent hunched over my desk struggling through math homework. (Perhaps the resulting associations form part of the reason I have not been a coffee-drinker since.) Unlike my humanities studies, math never came easily for me; it was my homeschooling mother’s commitment to academic rigor rather than any personal motivation that ensured its prominent place in my curriculum each year until I graduated.
As summer days speed by, and a new year’s round of classes draws nearer, teachers have the leisure—so often pressed out amidst the demands of the school year!—to think more broadly and deeply about the content, method, and objectives of their courses and teaching practices.
Often, when a conversation leads me to explain why I love teaching, I find myself saying something about the ways that my education shaped me, about the shaping power I believe education possesses, about the wondrous opportunity the classroom provides for shaping the lives of students. Only recently did a wry comment from my husband prompt me to probe the metaphor I’ve hitherto used so glibly: “Doesn’t say much about what shape they end up in,” he said.
Do you care if you’re remembered after death?
When the Grading Session begins:
Remember that writing is not like mathematics or grammar, but like music and sports. It is learned not by problem-solving and checking, but by practice and coaching.
Remember that, as in coaching, not all errors or weakness should be addressed at one time. I must limit my critique so my students can focus their practice.
Further thoughts for cultivating a culture of memory, this time in the classroom: