Quote of the Day: Smilla’s Sense of Evaluation

Last week, I began re-reading Peter Hoeg’s great novel, Smilla’s Sense of Snow. Smilla, the narrator, is a Greenlander. When she’s not investigating the murder of a dear friend, Smilla muses about the European tradition of demeaning Greenlanders in the name of scientific progress. The last time I read this book I was not a teacher, so the following quote didn’t grab me the way it does today. (Note that Smilla is arguing against “grading” people and cultures, not grading in general.):

“Any race of people that allows itself to be graded on a scale designed by European science will appear to be a culture of higher primates.

Any grading system is meaningless. Every attempt to compare cultures with the intention of determining which is the most developed will never be anything more than another bullshit projection of Western culture’s hatred of its own shadows.

There is one way to understand another culture. Living it. Move into it, ask to be tolerated as a guest, learn the language. At some point understanding may come. It will always be wordless. The moment you grasp what is foreign, you will lose the urge to explain it. To explain a phenomenon is to distance yourself from it.”

Sound advice for all those who are so quick to judge and criticize the work that teachers and students do every day. You can’t understand the classroom until you’ve lived it.

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