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“Will I miss anything important?”: About absences

Did I Miss Anything?

Tom Wayman

Nothing. When we realized you weren’t here
we sat with our hands folded on our desks
in silence, for the full two hours

     Everything. I gave an exam worth
     40 percent of the grade for this term
     and assigned some reading due today
     on which I’m about to hand out a quiz
     worth 50 percent

Nothing. None of the content of this course
has value or meaning
Take as many days off as you like:
any activities we undertake as a class
I assure you will not matter either to you or me
and are without purpose

     Everything. A few minutes after we began last time
     a shaft of light suddenly descended and an angel
     or other heavenly being appeared
     and revealed to us what each woman or man must do
     to attain divine wisdom in this life and
     the hereafter
     This is the last time the class will meet
     before we disperse to bring the good news to all people
          on earth.

Nothing. When you are not present
how could something significant occur?

     Everything. Contained in this classroom
     is a microcosm of human experience
     assembled for you to query and examine and ponder
     This is not the only place such an opportunity has been

     but it was one place

     And you weren’t here

From Did I Miss Anything? Selected Poems 1973-1993, 1993
Harbour Publishing

The Three Moving Forces

The Elizabethans of Shakespeare’s time, in response to the Question of Good and Evil, believed in three factors that shape how things unfold:

Providence, i.e., God’s will,

Fortune, i.e., luck and chance, and

human character, i.e., your diligent study, practice, training, and action.

Take care of your end, my friends: “‘Good luck’ is when opportunity meets preparation.”

A letter to Advanced Placement students…

…who have been assigned Crime And Punishment as a summer reading book:

The panic is setting in! Some folks are saying they don’t understand CaP.

Nah, seriously:

“College-level literature.” By that, they mean university-level literature. (What, did you think it would be, The Alchemist? HaaaahahhhhaaaaaaHAAAAA. Okay, let me compose myself.) Hence the exhortation to start now.

One chief reason that we recommend the Norton Critical Edition of the Coulson translation is because of the excellent essays that follow: you did notice that 1/3 of the pages are commentary and essay, no?

Read the story. Raskolnikov thinks he can do the murder — that he should do the murder — but when he’s done it, his thinking really falls apart. Human nature is being illuminated quite deeply in this rich story.

Are you seeing that? If you are, then you’re on the right track and you’re doing fine.  When you finish, read the commentary and essays. Things will click.

CaP is part of the canon. If the novel doesn’t show up on the free choice essay list, I will be a monkey’s uncle. (Even if it doesn’t, the question will say “or a work of equal literary merit,” and CaP is indeed that.) By taking your time with Dostoevsky, you are laying a firm foundation.

Take time and have faith.

Re-Imagining the Comprehensive High School

Re-Imagining the Comprehensive High School

What is the “authentic problem” of poetry?

You’re missing the point: Long-term potentiation

I get steamed when colleagues insist that “the information is all on the student’s smart phone: why do we teach just the information?” I get the point. But.

When you fall down and hurt yourself, I run up to you and I start the primary assessment. When that is complete, I start a secondary assessment. If there are more of you hurt, I start to triage.

What I am not doing is looking things up on my smartphone.  You get me?

What are the basics that need to be in the long-term memory?

(I am dismayed by the amount of high school seniors who can neither write a sentence, nor define a sentence, nor understand a sentence: how the hell did they make it to my threshold?)

Teaching philosophy: Simplify, memorize, apply.

I come from a background of training in organizations in which one is called upon to recall information and complete tasks during stressful conditions. The EMT uses acronyms and abbreviations such as AVPU and APAIL in order to run through a memorized checklist and efficiently classify the patient’s condition. The infantry soldier likewise uses training standards such as SPORTS to clear a weapons stoppage under fire.

In English, I try to simplify the processes and definitions into memorizable units, which I ask the students to master by rote.  Then we apply.

Repetitio est mater studiorum: Repetition is the mother of learning.

(In the classroom, I demonstrate the techniques and standards as they are taught, adding the elements of the physical, the choreography of it: this is one reason why the teacher and the classroom are crucial, and simply reading my blog is an incomplete experience.)

Journal: Philosophy