A RhetNet SnapShot Reply:


Neal Lerner

Lynne, I just finished up a semester teaching a writing class in [which] students are fulfilling various "competencies," several of which are writing related. In my class, students were to produce a single research paper by semester's end, which I then evaluated in terms of whether the paper met a certain level of achievement. While I always have some fears that my own standards are products of ideosyncratic judgment or unexamined ideology, I did sit down with a senior colleague beforehand to get a sense of "norms." If students' papers haven't fulfilled the competency, they keep working on them, resubmitting until they've met the standard. Perhaps not a perfect system, but one I found much better than the usual carrot and stick.

Lately, it's seemed that efforts Eric describes, our attempts to "distribute authority" by putting the onus for evaluation on our students, are so anomolous not only to most of the rest of the students' educational experience, but to their working and political lives outside of and after college. I'm thinking of the recent announcement by AT&T that 30,000 folks will be fired. Will these 30,000 have much power of this decision? Can they argue that they've achieved the performance criteria they and/or their managers established and thus should be retained? Somehow I doubt it. Similarly, the current federal budget standoff and the machinations in Washington further instill a relative powerlessness on our parts (and hence our nation's abysmal voting turnout).

In many of our students' classes, the criteria for success are quite clear: you memorize the appropriate body of knowledge and you get the corresponding grade. Writing classes that involve students deciding upon criteria for success and then judging how well the've met those criteria might seem like worthwhile experiences at the time but seemingly out of touch with so many dominant experiences in their lives.

Sorry to be so cynical on this snowy day in Boston, but I guess that's what happens when I listen to news radio too much.


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