Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Wed, 21 Jul 1993

As I pounded the asphalt streets this morning, I was thinking about grapefruits and students. My wife had gotten up early this morning. Darling as she may normally be, she is not a happy camper in the mornings, especially if she thinks my rummaging through my dresser drawers like a "clunky elephant," (her words) groping in the dark for a pair of jogging shorts awoke her from blissful slumber. To bribe her, I made coffee, cut a grapefruit, and offered her a half. As I sat across the table eating my half, trying to use my innocent smiles to parry her stares and sneers, I dared not disagree when she asked if my grapefruit was as bad as hers. Secretly, I liked the taste of my half.

Having escaped with my life, I ran out the door for my walk. I had not gotten far in my travels when the question of what is a "good" grapefruit suddenly popped into my mind. And I started thinking as my body struggled to cut through the wall of water we called humidity down here. When I got back to the house, I said to myself, what if I took all the grapefruits out from the two small bags and put them on the kitchen counter to compare and contrast them. I could arrange them according to size. I could take out the food scale and weigh each. I could array them according to the color of the rind. I even could separate them according to the color of the meat. Having done this, I thought, what would I have accomplished. I would not have discovered the "good grapefruit." I would not have learned very much about the quality of any one of the grapefruits. No, if I wanted to know whether I had a "good" grapefruit, I first would have to know all about the particular grapefruit I have. Then, I would have to eliminate my subjective judgements, for while my wife likes her grapefruit on the sweet side I like mine on the sour side. And finally, I would have to discover just what constitutes an absolute, "good" grapefruit. At that moment, I recalled John Locke saying something about man's view of nature which may apply here. He might have said that such things as "good" grapefruits may not have real existence. They may be the creations of man's mind and the quest for order rather than the work of nature itself.

Evaluating students is not much different from my problem with the grapefruit, except the evaluation problem is even more complex when it comes to human beings. We can try to know who is the student we have is in our classroom, that is, if we really care. But, like grapefruits, we only can compare and contrast them by looking at their personal experiences, their past academic performances, and maybe a battery of evaluating tests. But, I thought, after all was said and done, would we be any closer to knowing what constitutes that Platonic absolute, "good student" by which all real living and breathing students are judged? Or, as Locke said, are we creating an artificial order for the sake of convenience and other less noble reasons?

It seems to me that such constructs are far more in the interest of us teachers than in the interest of the student. Moreover, are the criteria we use in our quest for the holy grail of the "good student" legitimate? After all, didn't we once, and regrettably still do in some perverse circles, heavily weigh physical appearance, race, cultural background, and gender in our evaluation? Didn't these criteria color our judgements, distort our decisions, and limit our actions?

It seems to me that we have to take great care with such imageries, for they may inadvertently be no less a danger to our essential concern for the sanctity and development of the individual student than any other bias, stereotype or prejudice. If we have to have such images for the sake of convenient conversation, we can't make them absolute truths. Remember, they are always contestable and fallible.

Anyway, like the grapefruit, we can try to know what a student was and is. I am, however, less certain intellectually, emotionally or experiencally of what the student will be or should- -just as I can never know what an absolutely "good grapefruit" is like.

Make it a good day.


Louis Schmier  (912-333-5947)
Department of History                      /~\    /\ /\
Valdosta State University          /^\    /   \  /  /~ \     /~\__/\
Valdosta, Georgia 31698           /   \__/     \/  /     /\ /~      \
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