Shadows

everest

This afternoon a colleague told me she had to spend more time with the students not doing well in class. “I need to spend time with all of them!” she added. “But I’m going to pay closer attention to the ones who need some prodding to get things done.”

In an effort to be professional, I bit my tongue. But you know the analogy: When there are several people who are having problems on the mountain climb, help the ones most likely to survive, not the weakest. If you spend too much time with the weakest, everyone might die.

A bit extreme, I know. But go with it for a moment.

I have students who are doing almost really well but for that extra information, that little bit of one-on-one. They try hard, they do the work early and thoroughly, but they could use just a bit more assistance to see them to the end. I also have students who need a lot of help; who barely made it out of some developmental class; who forgot all the information taught in high school or in other English and writing classes; who are smarter than the first group but couldn’t care less about the material. If spending extra time with these students means not spending enough time with the very first group, then everyone suffers. There might not be much I can do to help these students get far, and I might neglect the ones with a real shot at moving on successfully.

In other words, the students who aren’t trying or aren’t up to the task are draining time away from those who are. Either the first group shouldn’t be here and should rather be at UVA or Tech or any other four year institution with an enormous endowment and well-placed grads, or the second group should be out working for a few years longer to find out how badly they really do need this information, and then they can come back later. I’ve said this before. Either way, someone shouldn’t be here.

Well, just a short time ago in the copy room two faculty members were planning a “brown bag” lunch discussion to review pedagogy for improving ill-placed students into faculty tutoring sessions so they (the ill-placed students) might better address their shortcomings in college. They made a list of assignments for various committee members to review before the meeting along with plans to seek out documentation on such programs at various other colleges to support their beliefs.

Then it was all so perfectly clear: I don’t belong here.

These hallways are packed with indifference, lined with skepticism, and overflowing with doubt. Everyone walks in shadows, wanting to commit but not knowing what to commit to, not knowing who to listen to since contrary voices abound, and finding it all so irrelevant. We are running out of absolutes. “It depends” is the backbone of every argument, rule and objective.

———

Last night Michael and I brought the telescope to the river at low tide and at the water’s edge stood and looked across the mirror-like Rappahannock and Chesapeake at such an abundance of stars we could not see them all in ten times ten lifetimes. We focused briefly on Saturn, then some stars whose names I forgot or never knew. It is a state of absolute presence. Billions of years old and still spilling down on us at night, the peace found by looking up can’t be written down, let alone taught. You have to see for yourself. I took astronomy in college, read some books, try and keep up with Michael’s magazines about the Sky during the various months. But either it doesn’t stick or it can’t compare to being there, under the stars, the stark reality just out of reach. There is absolutely no pretense, no digression from the facts. And yet it is not so much science to me as it is poetry. The night sky was abundant with perfect meter and appropriate rhyme schemes.

Nature simply “is.” There is no argument, no digressions at all, no false attempt to chase illusions. No, it is all so clear. I’ve lost interest in the shadows. I’m going to quietly follow Whitman out of here:

When I heard the learn’d astronomer,

When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,

When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,

When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,

How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,

Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,

In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,

Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.

stars

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