Monday, December 13, 2004

Impossible Introspection

It’s amazing that the semester leaves so little time for any real introspection – it seems to me that it simply dies away with no encouragement. I spend all my time thinking about my students, what will work in class, grading papers, preparing myself to stand in front of the class, worrying about what they think about me – and often feeling that I don’t present myself as I truly am to them or to anyone else. But how much would I want to reveal about myself to them? I don’t know, I’m not sure – but sometimes it seems to me that better teachers actually reveal more, not necessarily in words & personal details, but in the way they embody their teaching. And then at the same time they make it more possible for the students to be honest about themselves, their motives, their motivations.

I was just thinking of that passage in the fourth Harry Potter book where the fake “Mad-Eye Moody” is saying that he disabled his truth-telling devices, because there was so much outright lying that students did – lying to teachers about why their essays were late or were not handed in or why they had not done the work, etc. I think the same sort of device would also have to be disabled at any college I’ve ever taught at! It’s frustrating, the level of artifice and dissimulation that exists between the students and us.

And then the semester just seems to eat up any motivation to do something other than teaching, or doing research (which definitely runs a poor second). This summer I was very upset about Darfur and really wanted to do something about it – but now? I went to one meeting about it and had a couple of conversations with students. I tried to raise the topic with friends, usually unsuccessfully. I don’t know why I was so unsuccessful – perhaps the presidential election just soaked up everyone’s political energies. But now at least there does seem to be some activism about it in the Jewish community. Our rabbi spoke about Darfur during this Shabbat’s service, and in the most recent issue of the Temple newsletter there was a page about Darfur.

The Klezmatics came today to give a Hanukkah concert – singing the Hanukkah songs of Woody Guthrie (who would have thought it?!). It was beautiful, energetic music. Their last song was called “On Holy Ground” – about the experience of revelation, when God demands we take off our shoes because we are standing on holy ground. Because this was an afternoon concert with songs meant for children, and many of those who came brought their kids, there was a lot of dancing down in front. I went to dance during the next to last, incredibly energetic song, and then during “On Holy Ground” a young man took off his shoes very elaborately (they were hiking books with lots of hooks and the laces took a long time to get off) and danced a gorgeous dance, as if no one else was there.

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