Summer temperatures arrived with the solstice. It's been good to return to sunset reading by the fountain in front of the Chapel of Joan of Arc. The roses are in full bloom, and so the breezes are sweetly-scented, and there is no place of greater peace and sense of proportion on campus. As always, I find it a small miracle to have a place in the middle of America where I can have a sense of a medieval depth of time. The artifacts and architecture of America – the pure sculpting of our space – is all so historically new, and usually minimally utilitarian, that compared to Europe – from whence comes much of our heritage – America tends to feel like a vast strip-mall. Rarely are we around any architecture that tells us that human beings are meant to be anything other those economic cogs called "consumers." Most of that is so subliminal that it's as refreshing as a sea breeze to be in a space that so clearly declares something different.
I ran into a student from a few years ago the other day, someone I remembered as a squirmy or wired freshman (or maybe sophomore) who is now a rather self-assured senior getting ready for law school. We talked a bit at the counter of the post office while I was addressing my chapter to my director, and I was gratified when he somewhat awkwardly went out of his way to allude to a few things from my course and to say that he thought I had been a really cool teacher. As I am getting ready to teach again after a year's break, that was reassuring for me to hear, in a way. As I was saying to Erik the other day during a phone conversation, you remember so much more strongly the biting comments of students who didn't care for you as an instructor, outweighing at probably more than a 10-to-1 ratio the positive comments of any who did like you and said so. Given that there seems to be a certain small population of students who you will never make happy, and who see teaching evaluations as simply a chance for "revenge" rather than for any constructive comments (not that these students ever showed up for office hours or made appointments to try to work on whatever was bothering them), well, those comments can be harsh. The only thing that tends to save them from being devastating is how frequently silly they are. But they do tend to numerically outweigh those of students who actually do make thoughtful criticisms and suggestions of the sort that you can use. So, anyway, this student's words were a bit of Teaching Fuel that I was happy to receive.