Critical Mass

Not to get too meta on you (but I think meta is very over, and I find it soothing to remain passe), I wrote a bit of criticism recently, and I’m going to criticize the whole notion of criticism.  First: I don’t know that I believe in criticism.  I don’t know if I believe in charter schools or God either, though, and you’ll still find me in front of the charter school classroom tomorrow morning, and reciting prayers tomorrow night.

I get to be as critical as I want at work, and sometimes I am cutting, indeed.  Students often appreciate clarity more than kindness.  It’s easier to be critical of their behavior than their work.  Maybe I should be more critical of their work.  The problem is, it’s harder for me to know what a student is academically capable of than what he is behaviorally capable of.  You can train lots of animals to do what you say.  It’s only the humans who will learn, sloppily and piecemeal and lightning-sudden, how to write essays.

“Criticism” is a lover’s quarrel word.  Why do you always criticize me? Being convicted of criticism immediately costs you points in a personal argument.

I religiously read film reviews and restaurant reviews.  I’m concerned about spending money and time on things I won’t like.  I rarely read book reviews, other than a crowning line on the cover.  A review is not criticism, though.  It’s a funny animal: mostly word to the consumer, it often only shrugs at a creator.  A reviewer doesn’t have to know how to fix things.  A critic, on the other hand, should know, although useful suggestions might not be of much interest to the general public. Cut this into small pieces and rearrange it.  Slow way down here, and zip through that part.  Go read some Ionesco.  Get laid, and try again.

It’s difficult for me to gauge the pitch of criticism because I work with kids— they are still under guise of our protection.  Children are like artists, not because they are immature, although that is sometimes the case, but because they have to remain playful and hopeful, or they disappear.  Artists should be under our protection, too.  What worries me about criticism is how to make it fair and useful without crushing anything underfoot.  So powerful, so dangerous.  And, come to think of it, that’s the same worry I have at school, and at prayer.

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One thought on “Critical Mass”

  1. What I teach is that there’s a difference between criticism (what works, what doesn’t work from MY perspective) and judgement (what’s bad, what’s good, again from MY perspective). In doing so, I avoid the judgment call of whether someone is bad or good and instead focus on what’s effective or ineffective.

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