Thursday, October 26, 2006

What goes around comes around

I just finished grading a whole bunch of exams. It is always a relief to finish that dismal task.

Whenever I make comments on student papers or exams, I always think back to a comment one of my professors made. I think it was my history of physics class. It was an essay exam. I had written a little essay, and I can't even remember what the topic was. I thought I did fairly well. I didn't have the most precise conception of what I was saying, to be sure, but I thought it was good enough to get partial credit. A week passed and I got the exam back. I looked eagerly to see my grade and the comments that had been written. Usually, comments on my papers were fawning and highly complimentary. Not this time. This time the only response was written in red ink at the bottom of my essay.

It said, simply, "Not so."

That was it. No explanation. No pretending to engage with what I'd written. No illusions that my response was worth more than the pencil stratches I'd used to vomit out my answer. Just a flat and simple contradiction. A pin prick to a balloon full of intellectual hot air.

Not. so.

It was a deflating moment. I was, with those two words, once again clear on where I stood in the world of true minds. I laugh about that moment today. And, every once in awhile I, too, write on a student paper the simple phrase: Not so.


Friday, October 06, 2006

I've been cited!

One of the great anxieties in my life right now is when other people actually read the stuff I write. Sometimes I wish they wouldn't. Sometimes I wish my thoughts would simply fly off into nowhere leaving only the trace of a line on my curriculum vitae. Usually, I can't stand re-reading something I've just published, and I can't imagine why anyone else would want to do so. Here are two recent citations of my work (some of my first, actually).

After reading my paper on religion and educational theory, one writer responds:
"As someone who has not bee religiously observant since secondary school, I find W's words unsettling but compelling. He seems to challenge the norms upon which our discipline is founded. Perhaps this is the paralogy that is most needed now -- a paralogy that crosses the boundary that is imagined to separate the religious from the secular. While paralogy for the sake of legitimation alone will be seen as terroristic and may prove counterproductive, this paralogy comes form an openness to the radical incommensurability of the language games that constitute our scoeity. It invites new possibilities to emerge."
Got it? I'm not sure I do either. Whatever the case, who would have thought that "unsettling and compelling" would be a way of describing me?

Another citation, less positive. After reading my paper on cadaver dissection, one writer snipes:
"The only review of quantitative research into dissection so far [footnote], sometimes misleading quoted [footnotes], deals mainly with dissection in high school classes."
Guess who quotes misleadingly. Yup, me. What's funny is the guy really liked my paper except for that little snippet. And yet, what do I get recognized for -- being "misleading."

Is it true there is no such thing as bad publicity?