Re: grading ourselves to death

Bob King (kingbx@HAMLET.UNCG.EDU)
Thu, 5 Sep 1996 21:28:40 -0400

On Thu, 5 Sep 1996, Marcy Bauman wrote:

> I think Steve's right to remind us that most of our
> students see college as a ticket to a better future

A better civic future, or a better personal future? As it stands, when
students in my classes have said they're coming to college in order to
have a better life, they are talking about the latter.

If we're teaching for citizenship, then grades make little sense. If
we're teaching for personal betterment -- particularly to see ourselves as
ahead of others or in competition with others, then grades make a lot of

Re: teaching for citizenship. In this area, talking about empowerment
makes a great deal of sense. There are high schools (one in Boston that
has been going for many years now) that actually run democratically.
Imagine that! Student council gone real. It's in situations like this
that empowerment is more than a slogan.

So in a way we have a pretty clear reflection of our larger society, once
again, in this bifurcation between captitalism and democracy, and the
winner is? Well, this is where economics come in. Advertising is about a
billion dollar a day industry, pitching personal betterment as the end-all
in life. Educational institutions gather a lot of money, too, but
basically buy into the personal betterment ideology as well, via
competitive grading and tracking practices. So I'm in support of
education getting firmly behind teaching for citizenship, because I figure
the private sector is teaching for personal betterment.

BTW, some interesting studies of teacher behavior around the issue of
competitive tracking (grades bumped up to the next level) indicates that
teachers carry the effects of having competed for their own good grades
right along with them, and compete with other teachers for "the good
classes" and so on -- c.f., Merrillee Finley's _Teachers and Tracking in a
Comprehensive High School_.

Also interesting is Steve's comment about the community of this list being
pretty invested in this conversation about grades. It does seem to me
sometimes that there is in effect a Rhetnt-A list, a Rhetnt-B list,
a Rhetnt-C list, more so than that there is a Rhetnt-L list! -- just to
bring this all back home a little bit. . .

Bob King