grading ourselves to death

Eric Crump (wleric@SHOWME.MISSOURI.EDU)
Mon, 2 Sep 1996 14:48:40 -0500

I'm still trying to catch up on this discussion, but going through some
mail came across this comment from Tom Abeles on vu-newtech. Couldn't
resist passing it along. He cites comments in the recent EduCom Review
about the migration of higher education into corporate environs with
traditional universities filling subordinate niches of one kind and

"so worrying about quality and assessment is like worrying about grabbing
the pet bird when the house is about to collapse from a earth quake. It's
an interesting diversion which avoids having to deal with the hard

I reckon Tom's onto something there. Many educators are all too
complacent about the robustness of the institution. Grading (and so
many other practices that make up the system) is such a quaint and
outmoded practice that by hanging onto it so tenaciously it almost looks
as if we *aspire* to our future marginalization.

--Blacksmiths in reconstructed frontier villages
--Civil war battle re-enactments
--Museums filled with primitive farm implements
--Model T cars trotted out for parades twice a year
--High education

Do we really want to reside on that list? Do we want to become a site for
nostalgics to revisit for a fix of the Good Old Days?

The hard questions Tom refers to might include: How does institutional
education serve society? How does it serve students? Does it function as
a site of learning, a place to pursue curiosity, to acquire skills and
knowledge? Does it perform those functions in a way that society *of the
next century* (not the previous) will find valuable?

And if grades (etc) do not contribute to the future shape of the
university, accepting them as inevitable just because they've been a
habit for a few decades seems like a mighty shortsighted thing to do. We
really don't have any time to mull these things. We'll be museum pieces
before you can blink.

--Eric Crump