Monday, July 14, 2008


M is for Mercy (instead of Judgment)

As strange as it may sound, understanding my students is more important to me than judging them; showing compassion toward them is more important than evaluating them. This, I’m certain, does seem a bit odd, since judging and evaluating have traditionally been considered among a teacher’s primary responsibilities. We have been taught by the entire culture that a teacher’s role essentially consists of assessing, appraising, grading, and passing judgment on scholars. Almost everything we do in the classroom could, in a sense, be considered a way of ‘sizing up’ our scholars, ‘estimating’ their various abilities and accomplishments. I’ve played this role in a dutiful manner for many years, but now I find myself drifting more and more away from it. I’ve become more interested in what I guess might almost be the opposite of judging: call it showing mercy, perhaps. When I judge scholars, I accept their strengths but brand their weaknesses; when I show mercy, I accept everything about them – everything. This doesn’t mean I won’t help them in their desire to become educated people; in fact, completely accepting them on their own terms at their own particular stage of life is, I’m realizing, the very best way to teach them. I guess I have simply grown weary-- and wary -- of our culture’s constant emphasis on passing judgment. Everyone relentlessly judges everyone, including themselves, and I’ve come to see it as a pointless and groundless game – pointless because judging rarely leads to improvement, and groundless because none of us, not even a trained teacher, has the wisdom necessary to pass judgment on anyone. Where, really, do I come off thinking I can sit in judgment on the utterly complex and mystifying human beings who come to my classroom? Yes, I can play the game of scoring essays and assigning grades, but what I must keep in mind is that it is a game – just a traditional amusement our culture has created to help us ‘make sense’ of the thoroughly enigmatic process called education. I must always remember that I can’t take all this pedagogical judging seriously. Do my contracted job, yes. Carefully grade, score, and rank the scholars, but remember to show mercy at the same time. Remember that they are entirely good, every one of them, and that their inner vastness as unlimited human beings makes it absolutely impossible to truly judge them -- and take the judgment seriously. I’d rather take mercy seriously, because that’s what my scholars, and all of us on earth, most desperately need.

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