Saturday, June 19, 2010

heck if I know

We humans are pattern-finding machines. This has obvious survival advantages, but we're so good at it that we find patterns even where they don't exist, like the Bible Code, conspiracy theories, and intelligent design. At Tassajara, in the winter a creek runs almost outside the zendo, and apparently during the practice period, as you're sitting 9 times a day, you start to hear voices in the creek. That sort of thing.

This leads us to strange competencies. My favorite story: one day at my first house in Redwood City, I was chatting with the mail carrier. Suddenly the dog next door barked.

"Ooh. Rottweiler."
The dog barked again.
"Oooh. Big one."

I can't recognize a 100-pound dog from its bark, but I have similarly arcane fine-grained judgement in other things, like software, aikido, and people's faces.

Naturally, that kind of judgement exists for teaching of all kinds: it's legendary in Zen teaching, to the point of myth, but classroom teachers develop it, too. Good classroom teachers seem able to see where the students are learning and where they need help, how to best handle student disruptions, what they can say or do to move the enterprise in the right direction.

On the eve of giving my kids an oral test, I don't feel like I've got much of that sense. I see each group once a week for an hour, and after two months, I'm basically hoping they can remember a list of body parts, a few moods like "happy" and "sad," and introductions. How well do they know it? How could I respond to them in more helpful ways?

I have no idea. I kind of have to settle for letting them know that I care about them, and that I think they can learn and I want them to do so.

Then again, maybe that's not "settling."

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