The Measure of a Man

agapelove1Ben Franklin coined a saying that “nothing is certain in life but death and taxes.”  In higher education, a variation of Franklin’s wisdom might be that nothing is certain but death and assessment.

Assessment – quantitative, measurable outcomes of student learning – is an important part of any educational endeavor. College professors have been doing it for centuries through exams and course grades. Current assessment trends, however,  require professors to use measures other than grades to gauge student learning.

For example, a professor might require her science students to write essays on an ethical dilemma and how they would resolve it.  A government professor might ask his students to explain why the Constitution is important. In both cases the exercises require a quantitative score using a standardized rubric.  A lot of us feel like we’ve been turned into behavioral scientists and the students into lab rats.

My struggle with assessment is that it overlooks the most important aspect of a college education – one that is entirely unquantifiable.

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Up the Mountain, Into the Woods: Two Weeks at Wildacres

For Judi Hill

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“We need the tonic of wildness…At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature.”
― Henry David Thoreau, Walden: Or, Life in the Woods

1.  Houston

The thrill of the city is that it is always moving:  you will never run out of things to do. Houston holds out her hand, and you take, take, take:  The Alley Theater, The Houston Symphony, The Menil Collection.  I could never leave and still feel like I was touring the globe.  We don’t have to try to be diverse, multicultural, international, endlessly interesting.  We already are.  Many days, I spiral the city on Beltway 8, driving to my university in the southwest part of the city.  There is a lot of concrete, brick, and mortar around me.  Nature has been tamed for so much for our progress.  Nature punctuates the city, not the other way around.

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Zombie Apocalypse

Today in the entire history of the universe, let alone in your own history, there has never been another day just like today, and there will never be another just like it again. Today is the point to which all your yesterdays have been leading since the hour of your birth. It is the point from which all your tomorrows will proceed until the hour of your death. If you were aware of how precious today is, you could hardly live through it. Unless you are aware of how precious it is, you can hardly be said to be living at all.  – Frederick Buechner

Buechner will inspire you if you read his work. He writes short fiction and reflective Christian books. Take a look again at this quote; he wants us to imagine just the here and now. We pine for the future and carry around so much regret from the past. We always end up frittering away the precious moment in hand because we’re not careful, we’re not watchful, we’re not grateful.

We live in a world that is so future oriented. I teach college students every day. And each day it seems more and more as if we’ve just gathered together for a dress rehearsal. We’re all spending so much time, energy and thought preparing ourselves for the future: career, family (gulp), citizenship, taxes, etc.

What has ended up happening to us all is that we’ve missed the moment at hand. I don’t think college is really supposed to be a rehearsal for the future. It’s supposed to be magic, momentous, and meaningful right now – for what it is right now, not for a promised investment in the future.

I look out at all those bored and disengaged faces. What could this class have to do with my future? How is this going to help me make more money? All the while this very moment is lost again and again.

By the way, I’m trapped in this zombie movie as well. I make all kinds of speeches about “preparing for your future”. Isn’t that what I should be doing? Training current students to become future people?

It’s that Evangelical Mind again.

We are all living in a zombie apocalyptic existence of our own making. We’re dead to the here and now because we’re so completely absorbed in making a successful future for ourselves. The only antidote is to wake up and get engaged with right now. With the only reality we can possess.

Buechner encourages us to live in the present moment, to awaken and to invest our minds and souls into this very second. It’s as fragile as a lightening bug held in the shaking hand of a five year old.

But it’s all we’ve got.

So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. – Jesus

Bloglandia: Five Things I Have Learned So Far

jk_oldjournalThis essay was also reposted on July 2nd, 2013 by The Best Damn Creative Writing Blog.

Six months ago today I started blogging for Reflection and Choice, and it was this scary new thing that I had never done before.  Like many things in life, I just agreed to it because I like the person who thought up the idea, even though I knew, as I was smiling, and nodding my head, and saying, “Sure, that would be great!” that I had no idea what I was doing, no idea what I would write, no idea if I could even do this. Obviously, I had been overdosing on Snow Patrol songs and “Just say yes!” was ringing in my ears.  So, I said “yes.”

My first post was called “The End of Something,” but little did I know that it would be the beginning of something really meaningful to me, and a reminder of the big reason I love teaching at a university is that I get to learn something new every day.  Plus, nothing makes me happier than when a professor gets schooled: Consider me a permanent student in the course known as “Blogging 101:  You Don’t Know What Will Come of This.” Continue reading