On Journaling & Grades

Yesterday I received this email from a student regarding their journal and how they are doing in the class. Below is my response (which Bob wholeheartedly encouraged me to post for everyone’s benefit).

Dear Andy,

I would love some feedback on previous journals to make sure I’m doing them right. Since we don’t have frequent grade check ups in this class, I feel like I have no idea how I’m doing. Hopefully if there’s a problem I can make sure to do my next entries better!


Dear [student],

With respect to your journals, I’d suggest speaking directly with Bob to get his thoughts. I’ll see if I can get around to writing some remarks on them later this week. We could also simply speak about them before or after class.

You’re not going to get any kind of “grade oriented” feedback in this class; This is one of the uniquely wonderful (and frustrating) aspects of this course. What you will get is substantive encouragement regarding which directions might be more fruitful for you to pursue further and comments about which directions might not be worth investigating. In the end, however, you have to make choices and decisions for yourself; You are being given the opportunity to develop a pattern of devising, developing, testing and trying ideas on for size, then refining them or rejecting them. The ultimate arbiter of what’s right and wrong is you (just as it is in “real life”).

In this way, we could be considered to be acting as your mentor, not unlike the one shown in the flashback scenes in the old “Kung Fu” television series of the early 1970s (with David Carradine).


Main characters from the Kung Fu television series: Caine (left) and Master Po (right).

Here’s an exchange from Season #1, Episode #5 which suggests the kinds of cryptic answers you may hear from Bob and I:

Caine:  Is it good to seek the past, Master Po? Does it not rob the present?

Master Po:  If a man dwells on the past, then he robs the present. But if a man ignores the past, he may rob the future. The seeds of our destiny are nurtured by the roots of our past.

Master Po:  Seek not to know the answers, but to understand the questions.

Our feedback will typically be focused on the content of your thinking and your overall conceptual approach. When it comes to grades, the best thing we can suggest is to keep working harder, pushing yourself further and seeing how you’re able to challenge your own preconceptions and affect real growth within yourself. Coming to authentic realizations about yourself and your attitudes as the course progresses is the best measurement of your progress, so only you truly know how much progress you’re making and if you’re investing sufficient effort. The potential for personal growth in this class is almost without limit.

Whether or not there’s a “problem” with your journals, you will always be able to “do better.” If we detect a serious problem, we’ll let you know.

Approaching Bob or me with particular questions or issues that puzzle you might be even more fruitful than asking for general feedback such as “how well you’re doing with your journals.” The real focus of this course is on the content, the ideas, the concepts and your own personal development. It is decidedly not on grades. You would do best to ignore thoughts of grades altogether, even though you’ve very likely been trained to do exactly the opposite. Focusing on grades often tends to lead students to look for the “best” answer or the “right” answer (which is not the intention of this course) rather than the answers that might feel most challenging and emotionally risky, ones makes you feel like you’re “going out on a limb.” If you feel like you’re suspended in mid-air like Wile E. Coyote then you’re probably headed in the right direction.


Andrew Raimist

PS I haven’t had time to work on the UPLOAD function, so please continue to email your journals to both of us.

Wile E Coyote in space

Wile E. Coyote in space (image courtesy Warner Brothers).


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