Friday, March 05, 2010

"Rubric's" Cube?

Somewhere along the way the word “rubric” failed to stick in my brain. The closest thing I have in my dwindling vocabulary inventory is “Rubik.”

That would be Erno Rubik, the Hungarian architect who invented that colorful cube puzzle that became a craze in 1980s. Boomers twisted and turned the cube’s moving segments for hours trying to align its six colors. The Holy Grail was one color to a side.

Today, of course, Boomers’ children and grandchildren play video games. The cubes routinely show up in garage sales next to Hula Hoops, pink telephones and electric typewriters.

I mention this — in case you were wondering — because yesterday a colleague at the community college sent the following cheery but perplexing memo to me and several others on our faculty.

Hello! Would you please review the possible rubrics we could use to evaluate our students' work in regard to Critical Thinking as a college core outcome: Critical Thinking: Identify and investigate problems, evaluate information and its sources, and use appropriate methods of reasoning to develop creative and practical solutions to personal, professional and community issues. We need to agree on one rubric and evaluate the student papers from J 201, Mass Media and Society, for level of Critical Thinking. Send info on which one(s) you prefer. Thank you!

Maybe if she had avoided the term “rubric,” I'd have understood. The word stopped me cold. I bounded to the dictionary.

Webster’s tells me that a “rubric,” at its most basic, is a title or section heading. Because it is often written in red, it’s called a rubric, which shares the same etymology as “ruby.”

In the context of the memo, the most appropriate definition seemed to be an “explanatory comment.”

It suggests something nearly as concise as the two-syllable word itself.

But how could the complex task of evaluating student work as it relates to critical thinking be reduced to a rubric, a mere comment? Somehow “Identify and investigate problems,” “evaluate information and its sources” etc. fell short.

Should you dare to click the link my colleague provided, you will discover that others in academe agree with me. But their “rubrics” aren’t pithy rubrics at all. Some teeter on being billowing dissertations. One or two may have been leather bound and earned their authors full tenure.

These “rubrics” go on and on and on, lists sub-sections within ranks of sections — as if the writers were trying to solve an academic Rubik’s Cube. (Perhaps they mixed up “rubric” with “Rubik” too. Not likely. Professors are certifiably smart.)

I wrote back that I was utterly confused by this request for a rubric.

I can only hope my response prompts critical thinking. A rubric is optional.

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Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Listening to Being

Recently I’ve played with the idea that I live in a spiritual bubble. Perhaps we all do. The contents are a swirling mess. Kind of like this study of mine. Bits and pieces everywhere. I keep moving ideas around.

Shuffling books and their partially tapped wisdom.

I also have in the mess notes to myself. Journal entries. To do lists.

Also, artifacts. A hand-warmer in a velvet pouch, a quill pen housed in a glazed jar, a magnifying glass, a typewriter (no, two typewriters with more, many more, in the basement), a teal ‘60s-vintage Hermes crank adding machine, slide rules.

Someday stuff. Saved for someday when I can let go.

My spiritual bubble is not “someday.” It is now. Recently I’ve been full of questions.

Being a Quaker invites them.

Quakers turn life’s (and death’s) largest questions back on the individual. No shortcuts here. At least among “unprogramed” Friends. No priests or prophets, no dogma or sacred texts. Oh sure, you can refer to whatever you like, but the questions are yours to answer in your own way.

Quakers must find their own truths. And once found, we work to live by them.

So here I am with my messy, joyous spiritual Quaker bubble.

These days my questions spin around whether I’m a Quaker atheist, a Quaker non-theist (is there a difference?), a Quaker Christian (I think not), a Quaker follower of Christ’s teachings (before the spinmeisters got to them) or a Buddhist Quaker (we Friends have more than a few of those.)

Or maybe I’m all of them. Or none. Maybe the whole “label thing” keeps us from our truth.

I’m a firm believer that putting names on things, whether tangible or intangible, makes them “other.” Sucks the spirit right out of them. Keeps us from absorbing them, and them from absorbing us.

We could use some mutual absorption these days. Not more self-absorption, but self-less absorption. The label-less kind. I find it in the silence of Quaker worship when I banish words from my being — and just be.

Some Friends say they “let go and let God.” I stop with “let go.”

That’s when the bubble bursts and the membrane between “my” spirit and Spirit dissolves. My being flows into Being. Timeless, spaceless Being. And I realize, it has always been this way. The bubble was just another label.

The bubble-label needs to burst with those around us too. How about regularly scheduled spiritual perception checks? Every 3,000 miles or every week or every day. As the operating manual says: “Whichever comes first.”

Share the messy joy of it all. Perhaps that’s why Quaker Friends worship together. Why we worship in silence, without words, without labels.

We listen in stillness to Being.

We can, and should, talk later.

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Monday, March 01, 2010

Europe to Gates (and Obama): Peace is the way

A.J. Muste’s familiar saying, “There’s no way to peace; peace is the way,” is being questioned by none other than America’s very own Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

Last week he publicly bemoaned what he described as Europe’s “demilitarization,” saying that the coolness for fighting was jeopardizing the war in Afghanistan.

Jeopardizing war? That sounds like what Muste had in mind. The way to peace is — peace.

A New York Times story on Feb. 23 noted that polls in Europe show that the Afghanistan war “has grown increasingly unpopular in nearly every European country.”

As Gates noted, NATO members just aren’t putting enough money into guns. The story had Gates complaining that “only five of 28 countries have reached the defense spending target of 2 percent of gross domestic product. Here in the USA — where we still have underfunded schools, miserable health care and a crumbling infrastructure — we spend more than twice that percentage on fighting or preparing to fight.

Indeed we spend more on “defense” than all the other nations on the planet combined.

One nice thing about small democratic countries is that what the people want they get — health care, education etc. Here, we leave it to corporations and the defense industry to call the shots. Vis. the recent Supreme Court decision on corporate political contributions.

So Europe, a cluster of relatively small nations, which feel the impact of Islam’s presence far more than we do, is turning thumbs down on Mr. Gates’ (and President Obama’s) war.

The counter to Gates (and Obama), of course, is Muste (and Gandhi and King and Jesus).

If you want peace, don’t fight wars.

With regard to Afghanistan, there’s a long conversation that Mr. Gate should have with the Russians and the British of the 20th Century. The problem is this: that was then and this is now.

History is not on Mr. Gates’ side. Nor, it would seem, is Europe.

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