Grading papers as foot-washing, courtesy of Jamie (alias Dr. Most-Gladly).
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Thought on this one: Why do I always seem to encounter the insights that might have helped me make sense of and/or endure some difficult task, long after I have put that task long behind me, probably for good? I had to do some grading of papers as a TA a few times, and I did it back then with the expectation of a working life spent doing things like grading papers, among other things.
But I haven't put grading behind entirely, right, what with the whole homeschooling thing? Still doing it?
Not even close. Grading your own child's papers, or the papers of a friend's child whom you know well, is NOT the same because the intimacy of critiquing lacks the discomfort, that sensation of boundary-crossing. I am supposed to help my child grow up, navigate the requirements of adulthood, which here are communicating like a thinking person in a thinking world, and sending the correct social signals. I am authorized by human sociobiology itself to perform such tasks for my children (and, I believe, for the other children in other family groups close to me). Bathing your own child, however grimy, isn't even close to foot-washing. Hey, mothers, if you've done time in the volunteer nursery -- isn't there a REALLY SIGNIFICANT difference between changing your own child's diaper and changing someone else's child's diaper? Admit it. Your own kid's poop doesn't stink quite as badly.
The essence of foot-washing is that it violates a boundary we would all prefer not to violate. It knocks down an imaginary wall that we put there for our own protection against a number of uncomfortable truths: the sort of truths that are common to human beings. There is something in it that reminds me of the confessional (as it should). There is something in it that reminds me of Snowden's terrible secret in Catch-22.
I wonder if Jamie might find some irony in the discomfort of critiquing existing alongside the imposter syndrome -- the collection of all such critiquing is the way imposter syndrome is communicated from teacher to student, in a sort of intellectual laying-on-of-hands. (Personally, I would be a little bit concerned for a budding academic who entirely lacked that sense of uncomfortable self-awareness. It's a useful faculty, if it can be channelled.)
It might be a little funny to think of such a thing in the banality of grading papers, but I think there is a lot to be said for the comparison. Someone did it for you, and now you're to turn around and do it for others. It's thoroughly uncomfortable for everyone involved, but it has to be gotten through and everyone is the better for it, even when nobody's very well-practiced at the task. It requires the will overcoming the reluctance that persists, for a good natural reason, in our nature. And the will has its own reasons -- not wholly natural ones -- why it is good and right that it should prevail.