Grading, and much more

The grading part

I enjoy teaching, I really do. I like interacting with students, I love the occasional moments in class when they seem to get it—and show it, by coming up with something I had never thought of that, upon their explanation, makes perfect sense and is even better than the example I gave. But grading? Grading is hard. It hurts my eyes, my writing thumb, sometimes my very soul.

On the day I finally finished reading and grading all their papers (on which I have to say once again, google is really a bad writing strategy), Kevin Drum points to a Brad Delong post on student papers:

  1. Nobody ever told them—or they have forgotten, or they are too stressed for time—to revise. They are handing in first drafts.
  2. Nobody ever told them that if you are going to hand in a first draft, an easy way to significantly improve it is to, when you are finished, cut the last paragraph from the paper and paste it at the beginning. Your final sum-up paragraph—written at the end, as you have by trying to write down what you think discovered what you really do think—is almost always going to make a better first paragraph than the first paragraph that you wrote.

I tell my students about no. 1 all the time, and I’ve repeatedly found no. 2 to be true in my own writing. It not only works for whole papers, it works within paragraphs—I find that after a couple of sentences of mucking about, I often realize that my third or fourth sentences fit just right when placed at the beginning. I’m sure this would mortify Professor McClintock (by far the hardest but best writing instructor I ever had), who told me that without a good title, a writer doesn’t know what he or she is writing about; I imagine that would apply to an introductory paragraph, as well, but revisions have to fit into the process somewhere. I think he agreed with that, after all.

The much more part

Kevin Drum hits a double, with a second post, this one about voting rights, prompted by a Jonah Goldberg op-ed. It reminded me of a nice comment on the subject of voting by Clay Shirky. Shirky writes:

In the line at the polling booth, the guy with the non-ironic trucker hat and nothing other than an instinct for who he trusts cancels the vote of the politics junkie who can tell you the name of Joe Lieberman’s Delaware field manager.

In Is Social Software Bad for the Dean Campaign?, I suggested that Dean had accidentally created a movement instead of a campaign. I still believe that, and this is one of the things I think falls out from that. It’s hard to understand, when you sense yourself to be one of Mead’s thoughtful and committed people, that someone who doesn’t even understand the issues can amble on down to the local elementary school and wipe out your vote, and its even harder to understand that the system is designed to work that way.

You can ring doorbells and carry signs and donate and stay up til 4 in the morning talking with fellow believers about the sorry state of politics today, and you still only get one vote. If you want more votes than that, you have to do the hardest, most humbling thing in the world. You have to change someone else’s mind.

Internet culture is talking culture, so we’re not used to this. In our current conversational spaces, whether mailing lists or bulletin boards or weblogs, the people who speak the loudest and the most frequently dominate the discussion.

Imagine if a mailing list had to issue a formal opinion on the issues discussed, and lurkers got a vote. The high-flow posters would complain that the lurkers votes would not reflect the actual discussion that took place, merely the aggregate opinions of the group, and yet that is how the primaries work. Talking loudest or most or even best means nothing.

Yet more

If you made it this far, give yourself the Total Drek Commendation for Wading Through Long Posts. I never realized how many surface my house has until I tried to clean all of them (in some cases, cleaning, stripping, sanding, staining, and then varnishing them). But we seem to be about done, after all: The house officially goes on the market tomorrow, at which point you can all look it up on the internet and judge me.

Amid all these transition-related events, I have even accomplished some dissertation work, but I’ll leave discussion of that for later. Short version: Survey research is hard.