Sunday, February 3, 2008

Setting the Standard (100x14)

“Standard” is a word with an identity crisis, a built-in neurosis. Oxymoronical, schizoid, it has its head in the clouds and its feet in the muck. To be standard is to fail to meet the standard. To aspire to quality (to wish to exceed whatever standards are in place) is to acknowledge that reality is essentially shoddy. Standard operating procedure, beloved of bureaucracies, is the enemy of originality, of innovation, of excel-lence. Where standardization is the rule, the individual voice is silenced. Pop culture, peer pressure, what everyone learns in eight grade: don’t be different. It isn’t worth the price.

Process Reflection: The topic/word/prompt for the day: standard. I thought about attempting some sort of narrative, but then found myself thinking about the two different senses of the word: the nominal (“a level of quality or attainment”) and the adjectival (“used or accepted as normal or average”). So I started pushing into that, one thought at a time, trying out different ways of articulating the different senses of the word. Toward the end I found myself thinking back to my first few years as a middle school teacher, when you could almost sense the hostility in the air when anyone in the classroom (other than the teacher, of course, who was assumed to be hopelessly uncool anyway) said anything remotely out of the ordinary or admitted to any enthusiasm for anything academic: nerd alert. That was the surprise in the exercise for me. I didn’t expect to end up there, in that space.

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