Wednesday, May 2, 2012
May 2, 2012
In the dark of autumns past I must have contemplated carefully the acquisition of peonies, for I find myself with every kind imaginable. The pale misty yellow tree peonies are spent, but in their place bright lemon ones as big as dinner plates, single pink with their red hearts showing, brilliant single white with a cup of inexhaustible perfume, multiple whites and pinks and reds, crayon pink, snow white, purple of ancient rumpled silk, white sprinkled with red, all warring with the roses to send the most scent into the air.
End of the semester, when one is taxed by one’s students sometimes beyond the wisdom of Solomon. One young man justified his performance by outlining– with fearless specificity– the ways in which his classmates cheated or cut corners or didn’t take the class seriously. “I know for a fact that she wrote all her assignments sitting there in class . . . oh, NOBODY started that until the night before. . . Oh, she just PRETENDED to take THAT seriously. . . .“ I suggested as gently as I could that there was some disloyalty in his revelations, but he shrugged and suggested back that saving his grade was more important. Clearly failure is not failure if everyone fails. He grudgingly conceded that some did not perform like that, but they were separate and fortunate in ways I did not comprehend. More than in the past there is the chorus of, “But, we did not UNDERSTAND.,” their not understanding being, of course, everyone’s fault but their own. “I know we were told forty times how a ten minute play is not like one-act play, but we didn’t UNDERSTAND.” “I know I was supposed to write thus-and-so about thus-and-so, but I didn’t UNDERSTAND.” Why didn’t you ask if you didn’t understand? The shrug, then, that suffices for all. The mood in the administration, whereby anything is acceptable so long as it manages somehow to humiliate the faculty, makes not understanding, however wilful, grounds for a grade change, so one treads carefully. I wonder if it’s just the humanities that suffer this, or is it more general?. “An ellipse is different from a circle? But I didn’t UNDERSTAND.” “You mean I actually have to speak French in French class? I didn’t UNDERSTAND.” “There’s math in astronomy? But I didn’t UNDERSTAND.” “You mean, for Geography, I actually have to know where places ARE? I didn’t UNDERSTAND.” Nor is this admission meant as a plea for help, but as an excuse for not having performed, and for not intending to now. When I was a student we declared all the things that we failed to accomplish “irrelevant.” I think that was, at least, a little bolder than standing there all helpless and whimpering, “but I didn’t UNDERSTAND.” Of course, I have allowed three or four to sweep away the delight of the hundred. Sigh. For the most part, my students are the only people I can stand for very long.
Beethoven up close, thunder in the distance.