Monday, November 15, 2010

The Pleasure of Seeing the Deserving Fail
By Alice Fenton
for The Chronicle

As teachers, we rightfully celebrate our positive victories in the classroom: the poem well taught, the student for whom light dawns in the middle of the semester, or the freshman who starts out unable to string two words together but becomes a writer of supple grace by senior year.

None of those moments, however seemingly negligible, should be underestimated.

But equally pleasurable, although much less discussed, are a series of what might be called negative victories—moments when our worst fears or lowest expectations are fulfilled. Gore Vidal once said, "It is not enough to succeed. Others must fail." And in these straitened economic and intellectual times, it may be a little cheering to make space for the grimmer wins of teaching. Here are a few such moments.


  1. Wow, the Chronicle comments are really negative. I do think that once a while, I am relieved to know that I really have done all I can do for a student and then the kid still fails. I know I tried. I used to take these failures personally, and say what they say, "But I tried SO HARD." However, to say what I say, "That's great, but I don't want somebody "trying hard" to fix my broken leg.

    I tried. I failed. The kid failed. Moving on.

  2. "In order to succeed, others must fail." I freaking love that quote. When all these rich people complain about how they earned their salaries and taxes just punish their success, it's hard to explain to them the cost of their success. And here, Gore Vidal does it so beautifully.

  3. @AM: That's not what Vidal said. He said that succeeding isn't enough for some people; they need to gloat over those who fail, too.

  4. Wow, if the chronicle commenters thought that was negative and demeaning, what would they make of this place, or RYS before it?

    To those of you who want CM to reach a wider audience, that's who you'd reach, and that's what you'd get in return. The sanctimonious among us--that is to say the majority of academics and non-academics who think they care about academic issues--just can't handle the truth.

  5. Let's hope this place never gets on the Chronicle radar screen. Probably too much to hope for, though.

  6. Yowza. I had no idea the comments would be so vitriolic. My impression of the piece was that I wish I had thought to write it. It was clever, cute, and 100% appropriate. Some of those commenters are clearly turds.

  7. the chronicle would be lucky to get a glimmer of our evil fires.

  8. I miss the regular snowflake smackdown, though...that was a constant at RYS.

    CM gets the bonus of the comments, but RYS was a tighter (and DARKER) and much more consistent site.

  9. The true winner sentence is: "Although one of the greatest pleasures of teaching is to see a bad student suddenly blossom, one of the greatest pleasures of life is to see one's beliefs validated."

    That says it all!

    The comments are negative but we're all entitled to feel how we feel. It's actions we have no rights to.

  10. "CM gets the bonus of the comments, but RYS was a tighter (and DARKER) and much more consistent site."
    - Smooth Ben

    It was also slightly Islamophobic; I don't know if you remember the Muslim woman from Philadelphia who was slammed by somebody (possibly a somebody who had been to Israel on a Taglit tour) with the standard "Hamas is raising a generation of suicide bombers in Gaza" line - we never heard from her again, nor did anybody speak up in her defense.

  11. Strelnikov seems to be referring to the followings posts from RYS in September of 2009:

    Mitch's initial post.

    Two replies to Mitch.

    Parveen's claim of Islamaphobia.

    Two replies to Parveen.

    That exchange took place in the same month as the debates about our poor English department colleagues, so it's not unusual that maybe it got a little lost. But never did it seem to me that the blog was taking any sides on the issue.

  12. I don't remember the series of posts, but I've read the ones linked above and don't see where Strelnikov gets his opinion. It's fine, of course, but I don't buy it.

  13. I don't like the idea of deleting comments and pushing people away. I would, if I could, ask Strelnikov to recognize that some readers (me included) have been put off by some of his comments, some that I agree are clearly designed to hurt or attack and not at all constructive.

    Please, Strelnikov, could you consider that this is a shared space.

    Thank you for considering it.

  14. I didn't particularly notice that RYS was a boy's club; I got published there with reasonable frequency; but I'm not always as sensitive to that as I should be. Now I wonder if I should read through it again and count posters by gender.

    re: anti-Muslim bias on RYS: I think the issue is more complex than a brief discussion here will be able to address. But the posts in response to Parveen were certainly intentionally personally insulting to her. I would certainly hope that we would not use the same condescending, snide tone here, to anyone.

    re: Strelnikov: first, I have never noticed any similarity between his posts and Mathsquatch's - is "typography" the word you mean, incidentally? Because the fonts etc are set by the blog here, so they're all the same.
    But I have never noticed Mathsquatch being even mildly offensive, though he is frequently very amusing (hi, Mathsquatch! Please, keep it up!)

    However, Strelnikov, you do sometimes slide over the line into personal attacks. For example, in the comment above, you discuss responses to Parveen's post, then discuss the difference between Hamas and al-Qaeda (here I skimmed), and then suddenly went into a personal attack on "Tex Watson". I have no idea what you were responding to there, but it was unnecessary, and discourteous. Do you think you could stop doing that sort of thing? The rest of your comment was fine, to me.

  15. I thought parts of RYS were sexist, racist and homophobic at times.

    Relax and recognize that not everyone has the same sense of humor. Offensive humor has made a lot of folks famous: Lenny Bruce, George Carlin, Richard Pryor, all greats. All offensive.

    We're all amateur humorists here, and likewise back on RYS. Sometimes it falls flat. Sometimes it doesn't work for you. Think of it as amateur night at the Improv.

  16. Hey! There were 22 comments on this last night and now there are only 15, not counting this one. What gives?


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