Over the last several decades, the old pedagogical practice of praising students has been severely disparaged in articles and books, but I must confess to still being fairly enthusiastic about it. I think my students, as individual persons, deserve to be praised – all the time. Certainly their actions sometimes deserve criticism, but their inner lives – their hearts and souls, you might say -- always deserve praise. In the most fundamental ways, they are good people – now, tomorrow, and forever. At every moment of every class, I could say to each of the students, “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 or how to always listen carefully when the teacher is speaking, but for that specific moment of their lives, they are, in their own special ways, 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 students will necessarily be smarter students or better people tomorrow, or next year, or twenty years from now. Wisdom and graciousness don’t grow gradually along a straight line. I know teenagers who, in very real ways, are just as gifted and good as 60-year-olds with advanced degrees. I suppose, when I think of the young people in my classes, instead of a straight line I think of a circle of an infinite size, and each student is always at the center. No matter how many days or years pass, no matter what the students do or how many books they read or how many courses they take, each of them 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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