In an entry entitled "Wishing I Was Simon, Knowing That I'm Paula," Timothy Burke does an excellent job of describing the difficulties I'm facing this weekend as I grade student web sites.
RIT doesn't attract writers with the skill of those at Swarthmore, but it does attract talented web developers. So grading midterm web sites brings up for me the same kinds of dilemmas and questions that Burke raises. He compares the blunt, unsparing honesty of Simon Cowell to the gentler, apologetic approach of Paula Abdul, and concludes:
I watch Simon Cowell and I sometimes wonder if maybe that�s a mistake, wonder if it's a bad idea to be a Paula. A very select few of the people that Simon dished up abuse towards didn�t seem unspeakably bad, and even he observed that a few of them might have careers as singers in bars or local theater or Broadway or weddings. Isn�t that another kind of kindness, to tell people that they�re dreaming the wrong dream? Certainly it wouldn�t be kind or right if you knew one of the truly wretched to tell them they�re great singers or marvelous performers no matter how much you loved them or enjoyed their company. Anybody who has to grade the work of students is running errands for meritocracy, in the end, and it ill-serves us to self-delude too much with gentle words about the dignity and self-worth of all people in all things that they set their minds and hearts to accomplish. But maybe Paula's the best of both worlds: the meritocracy guarded, while the pain dulled with soothing words.
The whole thing is worth reading. As is most of what Burke writes. I wish he'd ping weblogs.com or blo.gs or blogrolling.com, or create a hand-rolled RSS feed, or something that will tell me when he updates. As it is, I try to remember to stop by there once a month or so to see what he's got up for me to read.