Viva la revolución

Evaluation. It’s a process I encourage my students to undertake every time they engage with a text in our class. What is it saying, I ask them. How does it make you feel? Do the ideas have merit? Why or why not?

This process is one I hope they will use when they’re out in the real world too, and of course I know they come to my class already knowing how to evaluate things in daily life. They can decide whether or not to get the enchiladas or the burrito, the pitcher of beer special or the twofer special. They know how to make decisions and value various things using various metrics. But sometimes I’m reminded in a big way that evaluation and perception must work in tandem, and if someone’s perception of things is filtered in such a way that their metrics aren’t right for the job at hand, then their assessments may have holes in them. And it’s not because the student didn’t take the time to think, but because they didn’t quite have the right tools for evaluation, or the full view of things being evaluated. Case in point is commentary from a mid-term evaluation I received this term.

This class has felt unnecessarily politically charged. The class is supposed to teach the students to write and analyze literature effectively (That is my understanding of it anyway), and I feel that can be done without some of the one-sided left-wing propaganda. Most of it comes in the form of implicit assertions hidden in other statements, but some of it seems rather blatant. For example: Promoting Marxism as 1 of 6 primary methods of criticizing literature seemed rather ridiculous to me. I have not mentioned this in class, as I didn’t want to be accused of disrupting the class and then be on a professors bad side, but I figured I’d leave my comment here.

Yeah. I teach a course about the literature of revolution and it was too political. Dang.

Seeing this comment was both hilarious and upsetting. I wasn’t upset because I felt attacked or anything; no, I was happy to see an articulate comment. From the clarity of the writing, it’s easy to see that the student did put some thought and effort into expressing their ideas. They maintained what I think of as a pretty neutral tone, even as they expressed displeasure. And they demonstrated engagement with the ideas presented, or else how would they have remembered the ideas themselves? All of this was good. All of this allowed me to see that the student did have solid evaluation capabilities and techniques. But what bit so hard was seeing all these good things AND the big black hole that said something like, “your work getting this student to understand that everything is political and thus has potential to be revolutionary has failed.”

I posted the comment to social media, and many friends and colleagues shared a laugh and a face palm with me. I KNOW that teaching the literature I’m teaching must by its very existence be linked to politics. I just thought I was doing a better job of showing students why it is so important to read literature and see how it helps us understand the political — and how understanding politics can help enrich what we read.

So that’s how I get to where I am now, mulling over the idea that someone can be a solid evaluator of things, ideas, people, etc., but they can still miss out on seeing the big picture. I know I risk sounding like I think the student’s critique was wrong, or improper. I don’t. But I do wonder what I could have done differently to give my student the tools needed to have a full scale by which they could assess the value of our theme.

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