Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Lesson not learned get learned

Finally, a topic to restart “On Second Thoughts” that has nothing to do with the recent presidential election: Grade Inflation.” (You see, I promised myself I would not fall into the trap of trying to figure out why Trump won and Clinton lost, or what a future run by the demons and devils that will get swept into power along with Mr. unpredictable, and it took a while since announcing I’d relaunch to come up with something other. Especially since I have been so assaulted with regime change prediction and analysis that it is hard, really hard, to notice anything other. And here I am writing about that very thing. Segue!)

Grade inflation this the award of a higher gradation than has been earned, and is usually caused by one of three things:

1.      Probably the only excusable reason is awarding a student who did not come into a graded course with requisite skills but who worked hard, diligently, and above expectation, but who just missed the mark. Bump him or her up? Okay.
2.      A wholly unacceptable reason is a teacher giving a favorite student a far better grade than earned, and one certainly not deserved. This is ego gratification by the teacher, something that deflates and/or dilutes the efforts of better, hardworking students.
3.      Ugly — but sometimes necessary — grade change arises because a teacher’s success depends on the success of others, namely her students. An administration, perhaps only an administrator, has an expectation that all students must do well in a course to justify allowing the course at all. This is the “Keeping Your Numbers Up” requirement.

Now why, when I have been on record for years been vocally anti-grading, am I talking about this? Same reason I can be anti-snow and still drive through it. It exists, and must be dealt with.

Here’s the specific reason: Lately (like, two weeks ago) I ended a long term temporary teaching assignment for a teacher out on maternity leave. She interviewed me, and subsequently hired me because of my experience in classrooms, my familiarity with the subject, and my history in the profession. I was, in her words, far further in qualification than every other candidate. No brag, just fact. It supports a conclusion: in her classroom I knew what I was doing, and did my best.

Problem was, even when I gave softball assignments (their own form of grade inflation) a larger than expected students simply did not do them. As a consequence, a gross number of students failed, and some failed inalterably. Curiously, those who failed in the highest numbers were the upper lever students, those who had taken and passed levels 1&2. These were, also, the favorites of the teacher (Again, her words.) In all likelihood they resented my being there at all, preferring her romper room style to my much more strict and regulated style of teaching. They say on their hands, and failed.

I grade simply, based on first my dislike of grading, and from a belief that work is its own reward: do the work, get the credit. I am rarely interested in content, which can only be judged using my preferences, and therefore prejudices. I am, however, interested in construction, craft, intent, technique. These can be counted, and being counted they fit into a system that awards points based on Quantity, not Quality. (I think a course whose grades depend on Quality is already prejudiced against those who want to learn. Those who already learned or mastered float naturally to the top, skewing all reasonable grading.) It is easy as pie to get good grades in my classes: just do the work.

Okay, enough background. What prompted my second thought is I recently uncovered that the returning teacher deflated all assignments I had the students do. Her technique for doing so is irrelevant. It is the consequence of her doing so that is relevant. The first consequence is most obvious: those who were her do-nothing and failing favorites now have A grades. Not so obvious, but just as consequential, is that those students who struggle, have little prior learning, but who try darn hard will now be degraded, and will become subject to what amounts to a whimsical evaluative system. They will suffer.

Most consequential, however, is what she has just taught the students: Work has no meaning, only approval and alliance have meaning. This will become quite evident to the students who did more work than necessary, because I award for more than required effort, and who will now go from nearly a 110% grade in a 100%=A course, to less than that 100%. (in all likelihood.)

In business there’s a saying: Those who do get into trouble. Those who don’t do get promoted. If schools are supposed to prepared students to be good citizens, she failed them all, A to F. If schools are supposed to prepare students good entry into a workforce, she succeeded, because of the truth in that aforementioned saying. From my perspective, however, a student prepared to be a good citizen is also prepared to be a good employee or, better, a good employer. But a student only prepared to get ahead by doing nothing is neither prepared to get ahead as an employee or as a good citizen.

Which, unfortunately brings me back to the election, and the promotional politics that got us here. The campaign and election of Donald Trump will flavor everything that can be valued as American. Everything is not an overly stated absolute. He ran on a campaign that said, essentially, “American Workers, you don’t have to do a thing. Like me, want me, stick by me, and I’ll make sure you get what I think that you think you deserve.” (Which, assuredly, is a lie.)

Those who worked hard, and worked hard over the past forty, fifty years, who scrambled, sacrificed, fought, got denied again and again, who were vilified and who had their dignity assaulted, suffering all in order to get what they knew that all deserved, will see all of what had been hard won get washed away, deflated, or diluted to valueless. Just like the lazy ass who now has an A in her romper room class for doing nothing.

Nobody gets what they deserve by doing nothing.