Friday, July 29, 2011

Spectacleshards [iii]: Pirsig's

[UNDER THE STORM poetry anthology information here. If you care for my well-being, you will click this link, "like" my entry and share this fuck of an entry with your friends and you'd cry rainbows with them after the quasi-LSD experience.]

Resumed reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig. Am half-way through. Attention span's getting worse. And productivity level's at par with it. Sharing this food for thought. God, these are chunks of paragraphs. I hate this book for having too much quotable portions. Or, maybe, I am easily amused.

Mountains like these and travelers in the mountains and events that happen to them here are found not only in Zen literature but in the tales of every major religion. The allegory of a physical mountain for the spiritual one that stands between each soul and its goal is an easy and natural one to make. Like those in the valley behind us, most people stand in sight of the spiritual mountains all their lives and never enter them, being content to listen to others who have been there and thus avoid the hardships. Some travel into the mountains accompanied by experienced guides who know the best and least dangerous routes by which they arrive at their destination. Still others, inexperienced and untrusting, attempt to make their own routes. Few of these are successful, but occasionally some, by sheer will and luck and grace, do make it. Once there they become more aware than any of the others that there's no single or fixed number of routes. There are as many routes as there are individual souls.

***

A memory came back of his own dismissal from the University for having too much to say. For every fact there is an infinity of hypotheses. The more you look the more you see.

***

Phædrus thought withholding grades was good, according to his notes, but he didn't give it scientific value. In a true experiment you keep constant every cause you can think of except one, and then see what the effects are of varying that one cause. In the classroom you can never do this. Student knowledge, student attitude, teacher attitude, all change from all kinds of causes which are uncontrollable and mostly unknowable. Also, the observer in this case is himself one of the causes and can never judge his effects without altering his effects. So he didn't attempt to draw any hard conclusions from all this, he just went ahead and did what he liked.

The movement from this to his enquiry into Quality took place because of a sinister aspect of grading that the withholding of grades exposed. Grades really cover up failure to teach. A bad instructor can go through an entire quarter leaving absolutely nothing memorable in the minds of his class, curve out the scores on an irrelevant test, and leave the impression that some have learned and some have not. But if the grades are removed the class is forced to wonder each day what it's really learning. The questions, What's being taught? What's the goal? How do the lectures and assignments accomplish the goal? become ominous. The removal of grades exposes a huge and frightening vacuum.

What was Phædrus trying to do, anyway? This question became more and more imperative as he went on. The answer that had seemed right when he started now made less and less sense. He had wanted his students to become creative by deciding for themselves what was good writing instead of asking him all the time. The real purpose of withholding the grades was to force them to look within themselves, the only place they would ever get a really right answer.

But now this made no sense. If they already knew what was good and bad, there was no reason for them to take the course in the first place. The fact that they were there as students presumed they did not know what was good or bad. That was his job as instructor...to tell them what was good or bad. The whole idea of individual creativity and expression in the classroom was really basically opposed to the whole idea of the University.

For many of the students, this withholding created a Kafkaesque situation in which they saw they were to be punished for failure to do something but no one would tell them what they were supposed to do. They looked within themselves and saw nothing and looked at Phædrus and saw nothing and just sat there helpless, not knowing what to do. The vacuum was deadly.

One girl suffered a nervous breakdown. You cannot withhold grades and sit there and create a goalless vacuum. You have to provide some goal for a class to work toward that will fill that vacuum. This he wasn't doing.

He couldn't. He could think of no possible way he could tell them what they should work toward without falling back into the trap of authoritarian, didactic teaching. But how can you put on the blackboard the mysterious internal goal of each creative person?

Grades suck. They make me feel conformist to some extent. Anyway, grade-conscious people suck more. Grade conscious people bragging about their grades suck best. Though most all knowing people I know, somehow, have something to brag about. What am I saying? What is Pirsig saying? A pleasant morning. I hope I've made your mornings better. Oh, no, I didn't type all of these. Copypasted them from the ebook version I have just downloaded. Pagination of the e-copy and the print material differs, by the way.

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