Application Season

Are people at Hampshire College or UC-Santa Cruz ever haunted by the impression that their non-graded “narrative evaluations” of students are vague and infantilizing? I have read hundreds of these, and I can never completely block a tone of patronizing faint praise. (Of course I have learned to compensate for this reaction and do my best to give the student a fair shake.) Even when the work described is hard and there is evidence of achievement, the report seems to be telling me how nicely the kindergartner lines up blocks of different colors. “Evan had not taken a course in philosophy before, but showed increasing mastery of phenomenology over the duration of the quarter. His report on Being and Time adroitly compared ‘Dasein’ and ‘das Man.’ His final project on ‘Weltlosigkeit’ was, in the opinion of the other students, insightful.”

Understand, please, that I am not complaining that the teachers are snarky– it’s the format that imprints snark on whatever praise you try to push through it.