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Walking on Water: Reading, Writing and Revolution Paperback – April 30, 2005
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Writing teacher Jensen doesn't believe in the traditional grading system, which he calls "a cudgel to bludgeon the unwilling into doing what they don't want to do," so he opts instead to give his students at Eastern Washington University check marks: one check mark for turning in a piece of writing, four for editing that writing into perfection. For this opinionated offering on writing, teaching and the state of the world, Jensen deserves four checkmarks for courage. His ideas are always radical and often inspiring. He rails against the public education system frequently and with refreshing humor, telling students their papers "have to be good enough—interesting enough—that I would rather read them than make love." Drawing on his personal experience, he castigates what he sees as formal education's lack of creativity and flexibility for personal style. Jensen's strength lies in his honest, provocative, passionate approach. The rawness of his ideas is this book's virtue, but it's also its vice. When Jensen makes seemingly random forays into commentary on the demise of the environment or political consciousness (subjects he explored in earlier books like The Culture of Make Believe), his writing becomes long-winded and unfocused. He loses sight of his own seventh rule of writing, which he so dramatically relays to his students: clarity. But more importantly, Jensen's first, second, third and fourth rules of writing are "Don't bore the reader." In that effort, he succeeds masterfully.
"[Jensen]…deftly wraps his politics in humor, poignant teacher-student encounters and a clear passion for young minds. Jensen is an important, alternative voice of our times."--Mercury News
"The clarity and force of these ideas cut like a scalpel in the hands of a surgeon, preserving the vital, removing the diseased. Mr. Jensen burns sharp holes in the dark places of those rituals we have been tricked into believing are education. We owe him a debt of gratitude for these transformational insights. Read this book!"--John Taylor Gatto, author of Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling
About the Author
Derrick Jensen is the prize-winning author of A Language Older than Words, The Culture of Make Believe, Listening to the Land, Strangely Like War, Welcome to the Machine, and Walking on Water. He was one of two finalists for the 2003 J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize, which cited The Culture of Make Believe as "a passionate and provocative meditation on the nexus of racism, genocide, environmental destruction and corporate malfeasance, where civilization meets its discontents." He writes for The New York Times Magazine, Audubon, and The Sun Magazine among many others. He is an environmental activist and lives on the coast of northern California.
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Jensen is a skillful storyteller and harsh critic of "industrial education" in which teachers seat their students in neat rows and deliver information that will later be regurgitated, and of modern civilization which, in an analogous manner, seeks to cultivate citizens who fulfill their role dutifully and do what they're told. In Jensen's classroom, however, questioning authority, showing up authentically, exploring creativity and demonstrating respect for self and others are essential; grades, obedience, and "getting the right answers" are not.
"Walking on Water," is not a "how to" guide for teachers, nor, as he admits, is his approach right for everyone. Ultimately this book is a graceful yet urgent call for us all to wake up, think for ourselves, and passionately dedicate our lives to what is meaningful. Similar to Edward Abby's "Desert Solitaire," Jensen reminds us that our planet is in danger and time is short. "In this deathly culture the most revolutionary thing anyone can do is follow one's heart" and guide others to do the same.
"Here is what I do know: I hate industrial civilization, for what it does to the planet, for what it does to communities, for what it does to individual nonhumans (both wild and domesticated), and for what it does to individual humans (both wild and domesticated). I hate the wage economy, because it causes - forces is probably more accurate - people to sell their lives doing things they do not love, and because it rewards people for harming each other and destroying their landbases. I hate industrial schooling because it commits one of the only unforgivable sins there is: it leads people away from themselves, training them to be workers and convincing them it's in their best interest to be ever more loyal slaves, rowing the galley that is industrial civilization ever more fervently - enthusiastically, orgiastically - to hell, compelling them to take everything and everyone they encounter down with them. And I participate in the process. I help make school a little more palatable, a little more fun, as students are trained to do their part in the ongoing destruction of the planet, as they enter the final phases of trading away their birthright as the free and happy humans they were born to be for their roles as cogs in the giant industrial machine, or worse, as overseers of the giant factory/enslavement camp we once recognized as a living earth. Doesn't that make me, in essence, a collaborator? Hell, drop the in essence."
- Derrick Jensen -
"Mathematics, science, economics, history, religion, are all just as deeply and necessarily political. To believe they're not - to believe, for example, that science (or mathematics, economics, history, religion, and so forth: choose your poison) describes the world as it is, rather than acting as a filter that removes all information that does not fit the model and colors the information that remains - is in itself to take a position, one that is all the more powerful and dangerous because it is invisible to the one who holds it."
- Derrick Jensen -