Friday, July 11, 2008


“So far, so good.”

Over the last few years, the old pedagogical habit of praising students has been roundly denigrated in articles and books, but I must confess to still being fairly addicted to it. I think my scholars, as individual persons, deserve to be praised – all the time. Certainly their actions sometimes deserve criticism, but their inner character always deserves praise. At heart, they are good people – now, tomorrow, and forever. I absolutely believe that, which is why I have always appreciated the above idiom. At every moment of every class, I could say to each of the scholars, “so far, so good”, because at that moment, as far as they’ve come on their life-long journey, they are so good, so just what they should be at that instant, so perfect for that particular split second of time. They may not know how to use semicolons or what the symbolism of a James Joyce story means, but for that specific moment of their lives, they are just right. I guess what this suggests is that I don’t believe in the linear theory of learning and human development. I don’t believe my scholars will necessarily be smarter students or better people tomorrow, or next year, or twenty years from now. Wisdom and maturity doesn’t move step-by-step along a straight line. I know teenagers who, in very real ways, are just as intelligent and good as 50-year-olds with Ph. D’s. I suppose, when I think of the young people in my classes, instead of a straight line I think of a circle with an infinite diameter, and each scholar is always at the center. No matter how many days or years pass by, no matter what the students do or how many books they read or how many courses they take, they will always, at each moment, be at the exact center of the universe – precisely where they should be. They will always have come so far, and be so good, and deserve so much praise.

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