Saturday, April 28, 2007

Teaching, Grading, Working

Sorry I've been so lax on the blog this week. Things are busy. The semester is winding to a close. I'm teaching three graduate seminars, all with papers coming due soon, and I try to take time to help the students develop their ideas and write solid papers. One pragmatic outcome is that I've often had students publish papers that were originally written for these seminars. I take pride in that. I've never seen much point in treating such assignments as primarily things to be graded or as a means of separating the good from the bad (at this level, everyone has at least the potential for doing good work anyway - if it's merely potential, my job is to help them actualize it). Term papers are instruments used to develop thoughts and ideas. Since much of the best of our thinking and idea-making comes in discussion with others, it has always seemed to me that my role is not simply to grade the final product, but to help achieve it, the Socratic midwifery role, perhaps. Oddly, many in my program seem often to think otherwise, some faculty going so far as to have students work on the faculty member's own projects as their final projects even when there's nearly zero pedagogical value to the task. This is a shame at many levels, but one important one is that it treats students not only as un-recompensed labor but also as inferiors when it is actually the case that some of the students are better thinkers than many of the faculty.

Anyway,... it's that time of the semester. Besides this, there are proposals to get out, articles to be finished and started, a book to be wrapped up, and meetings all over the place as I go through some career changes....

Here's some good reading, though. This two-part essay on one of the central problems in environmental thought and environmentalism in practice: "Even when we are trying to aid the environment, we are not willing as individuals to leave the system that we know in our heart of hearts is the cause of our problems." It's especially the second part of the essay, on work, that interests me. Although I teach environmental seminars and have done a lot of work in the area, I often revert to personal dismay with the state of both environmental philosophy and environmental activism. There are a ton of moribund ideas out there; their existence is not harmful but the fact that these moribund ideas show up in many of the ways we make environmental policy is harmful. Dividing the world into separate categories for purposes of analysis is fine, but it becomes a problem when we take those analytical distinctions to be ontological. Basically, I think this simple thesis is right:
My argument is simply that the threats to humans and the threats to the environment are not even two parts of the same problem. They are the same problem.

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