The Moon and Sixpence

So many thoughts keep talking to each other after watching Dan Pink’s TED talk on motivation, reading Alfie Kohn’s “The Case Against Grades” and Liu and Noppe-Brandon’s “Imagination First”, I want to make a simpler but hopefully more interesting post that could help me release some of the tension of thinking, and also perhaps can add some thoughts, too (still being contradictory, can’t stop…).

Well, I am going to tell a story of a Straight A sleepwalker. He was a stockbroker, making good amount of money in London. He had a beautiful and considerate wife, raising two adorable children, a son and a girl. They lived happily together all the time and will live happily ever after…

No. I know you are expecting something different. Here it goes. After a summer vacation with the family, the man wrote a letter to his wife saying that he decided  to abandon them and would never come back. Then he moved to Paris with little money, found a stinky and shabby hotel and started to paint. Well, nobody liked his paintings and he fell prey to hunger and illness every now and then. Yet, he finally, for the first time in life, started to feel real happiness.

You may have caught me. That’s a stolen story from the novel “The Moon and Sixpence” written by W. Somerset Maugham in 1919 and it is believed to be based on the real life story of Gauguin, a great French artist.

While the story is trying to explore the relationship between arts and livelihood and is way more complicated than what I told in the above, I  saw it another way right now:

Sixpence is the grades and the Moon is our intrinsic motivation, our imagination, our urge to direct our own lives and the desire to get better and better at something that ourselves think matters.

Although there is a long way to go to delete the system of grades, and there are still a lot of issues related to this revolution (some of my thoughts are shouting: grading is more efficient; pure subjective comments can lead to corruption; etc.), I am fully supportive of DELETING GRADES or DILUTING GRADES. I believe those issues can be solved eventually.

Finally, to echo my favorite Zen master example in “The Case Against Grades”, where the master says “If you have one eye on how close you are to achieving your goal, that leaves only one eye for your task”, I want to cite Maugham here:

“If you look on the ground in search of a sixpence, you don’t look up, and so miss the moon.”


4 thoughts on “The Moon and Sixpence”

  1. Great post. I haven’t read “The Moon and Sixpence,” but you have definitely piqued my interest and I will have to look it up!

    I have been struggling with the same sorts of doubts in response to the resources this week. How could we possibility have a university of 30,000+ run efficiently without grades? And, as much as I would like to believe people are honest and without prejudice, this is simply not that case and narrative assessment may be a very easy way for dishonesty and prejudice to manifest themselves in the assessment process.

    Thinking on these problems, I think at a least partial answer to the question of efficiency is the hire of more teaching faculty/teaching assistants to reduce the demands of the narrative assessments on the faculty already trying to teach classes, submit grants, mentor graduate students, etc. As for the potential corruption, I think a system of checks and balances or at least a system of appeal for students would have to be implemented in order to protect against unfair assessment. What do you think? Do you have any other ideas?

  2. Wow. I am going to steal that metaphor. Thinking about the education system since the industrial revolution I wonder how many moons we have missed because we are only looking for the sixpence. Unfortunately according to the readings it is problem that is only getting worse in our current system. Thanks for a great post.

  3. I love the title the moon and the sixpence. It fits so well, describing the difference between work and passion.

    Haha; feel bad for the guy’s wife and kids though.

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