Tuesday, June 20, 2006

ON TEACHING: "Reviewing the School Year -- Failures and Successes"

Failure #1
I gave into the use of irony, which is basically a lack of genuineness and directness, much too often this year. Instead of saying to the students exactly what I meant to communicate (like "Please don't whisper while someone is talking"), I sometimes sent a message in a circuitous and muddled way (like, "We have lots of work to do today, folks. We don't have time for silliness"). Instead of speaking clearly and pointedly to a student, I often used the kind of vagueness that I deplore in my students' writing. When I should have said, "You were an excellent listener today", I sometimes said "You were some kind of rare student today!" ("I wonder exactly what he means by that?" the student might have said to him or herself.) It may seem like a small point, but to me, genuineness and directness is extremely important in dealing with young people. I think kids usually want to know that what is said to them by adults is exactly what is meant. They don't normally enjoy playing games like "See If You Can Guess What I Really Mean." This is why I try to avoid irony, if at all possible, when I'm around students. Basically, irony (including, of course, sarcasm) is a form of deception, even though it's often employed with no harmfull intent. It's a way of confusing a listener by throwing obstacles in the path of simple understanding. It may seem humorous and all-in-good-fun, but to me, anything that deceives a person (especially a young person), and leads him or her away from the plain truth, is a mistake.

I guess what I want to do next year can be stated pretty simply: Say the exact truth at all times. Be always genuine and direct. After all, the truth is a good thing, so why not stay as close to it as possible?

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