- Paperback: 232 pages
- Publisher: Chelsea Green Publishing (April 30, 2005)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1931498784
- ISBN-13: 978-1931498784
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.5 x 8.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 11.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 64 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #752,666 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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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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Derrick Jensen teaches writing at Eastern Washington University and a high security prison. He invites us into his coaching mind and classrooms. I missed at first that it was really a college level class, thinking he was addressing a group of high school kids or dropouts. It quickly becomes apparent however, that some language or comments could be inappropriate for certain of these groups. I do not mind so much the expression he employs, more to the point and very simply, the style will probably only be relevant to particular audiences. His passion challenges the boredom one encounters at school with entertainment and wit. I am no longer in the school system he criticizes, not in jail either, not bored, and I have self-motivation. Can I still be interested in reading this book? Jensen covers a wide range of subjects that do not exactly fall within the rubrics of READING, WRITING, AND REVOLUTION, as indicated by the subtitle.
His main contention is with the traditional education system. True, this system can be stifling. However, is it really why there is such a level of illiteracy in American schools and universities? Traditional education in other industrialized nations is perhaps just as stifling, and probably even more so in some instances. But with less recreation and sports and more instructional hours, the level of literacy is higher. I also speak from experience since I am an educator working in a public university system in the U. S. and consider as alarming the current level of remedial help needed. Data evidence shows a clear decline in literacy in the last decade. From this standpoint, if Jensen’s quirkiness and spirit can motivate a creative form of learning, we need more people like him.
Most of us I believe can remember long hours in school, bored, and just waiting for recess. Here Jensen’s investigations are absolutely relevant: “What else did I learn? I learned to not talk out of order, and to not question authority—not openly, at least—for fear of losing recess time, or later of losing grade points. I learned to not ask difficult questions of overburdened or impatient teachers, and certainly not to expect thoughtful answers. I learned to mimic the opinions of teachers, and on command to vomit facts and interpretations of those facts gleaned from textbooks, whether I agreed with the facts or interpretations or not.”
These few lines trigger some memories of my own; learning facts, lots of facts, learning by rote instead of developing critical thinking skills. I recognize how this applies at all levels of study, and how one needs to stay critical of one’s learning processes.
“I learned how to read authority figures, give them what they wanted, to fawn and brownnose when expedient. In short, I learned to give myself away.” Is there any possibility that we may do this as well in other areas of our life, beyond school? Giving ourselves away just like that? How vigilant are we? Could my own contributions lean in a particular direction, follow a particular opinion, just to satisfy what I think is expected? I believe this can be continually examined in one’s work, one’s writing, whatever creative pursuit one is engaged in. Vigilance can be invited in this manner throughout one’s life. It also questions how one is committed to developing a life of personal meaning and support the unfolding of an authentic voice. From this standpoint, I find Jensen’s questioning to be relevant beyond what I thought was directed to a particular audience needing “rehabilitation.”
“We hear, more or less constantly, that schools are failing in their mandate. Nothing could be more wrong. Schools are succeeding all too well, accomplishing precisely their purpose. And what is their primary purpose? To answer this, ask yourself first what society values most. We don’t talk about it much, but the truth is that our society values money above all else, in part because it represents power, and in part because, as is also true of power, it gives us the illusion that we can get what we want. But one of the costs of following money is that in order to acquire it, we so often have to give ourselves away to whomever has money to give in return. Bosses, corporations, men with nice cars, women with power suits. Teachers.”
What society values most is money, Jensen writes. He points to schools preparing minds, from a very young age, to become the future earners, the cogs in the big money machine. This perspective creates some discomfort for sure as there is more to life than just harvesting achievement through money. We do read that liberal education is fast disappearing. Education concedes knowledge and the development of critical abilities, to money which becomes its directive agent, and primary purpose.
The author asks his students, if they were given a million dollars, would they stay in school. They want a little more than a million, but even with that, most of them answer they would leave. They would have better things to do with their life. Similarly, if people who work in my college department were given a million dollars, would they remain in their current position? I do not believe they would.
What is wrong with this picture? Traditional education can be blamed for failing to meet the creativity and liveliness students need. Similarly, the traditional workplace continues in the same vein, falling short to satisfy basic human needs: feeling valued, having a sense of purpose, worthiness, and making a contribution.
Jensen’s book raises ideas that make one think. It is a mixed bag at times, even longwinded, as I caught myself skimming entire pages or sections. However, we witness a creative mind hooking the interest of his students, at times breaking into their psyche in whichever way he can, all of it meant to inspire and give confidence.
Derrick Jensen has written a number of other books: 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 also writes for The New York Times Magazine, Audubon, and The Sun Magazine among many others.
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 -