Friday, September 01, 2006
I hate grades -- hate giving them, can't stand getting them (unless,
of course, I get an A+, and then I think I'm cool for a minute, until
I start to feel cheap and silly).
Giving grades drives most thoughtful teachers up a tree. It's one of
the worst moments in teaching -- an insistent reminder that we are all
cogs in a larger certification machine, that thought and care and mind
and heart are not the main things about school, that hierarchy and
one's place in it is more important than engaged thinking, and that
schooling is largely disconnected from learning and only loosely
linked to education.
Grades are distorting in many ways. They drive curriculum and narrow
everyone's perspective. They mean more to some students than to
others, they tend to reward obedience and conformity, they are more
important to students than to teachers, they undermine trust and
cooperation, they twist relationships and encourage toadyism, and they
discourage inquiry, risk-taking, creativity, and much more. They are
about monitoring, controlling, and punishing. They close down
thinking where education is supposed to open it up.
How will you grade when you are teaching? Don't say, "I'll have to
see what system they use." They'll likely use a system like the one
used with you, like the ones just characterized. And remember, we all
succeeded in those systems. So if they seemed sensible and "fair" to
us, we couldn't help but be looking through the lenses of the winners.
Did they help us learn? Learn what? How? What about others?
Should all kids learn? How? Why?
I begin with an assumption that each student brings intelligence,
commitment, concern, experience, engagement, passion, and skill to
class. School (and yes, even this classroom) may fail to access that
intelligence, passion, skill, and so on, but I take that to be my (and
the school or "education" system's) problem. It's too easy to blame
those who don't conform and submit to whatever it is the teacher
wants, to label them as backward or stupid or behavior disordered.
In this class my goal is to create a safe place for us to critically
examine teaching and learning, urban education, school environments,
and the process of becoming teachers. I want us to inquire into the
various contexts in which we teach. That's my main goal. I'd like
you to have in mind your own developing "learning agenda" for this
class -- a statement of your own goals. We'll then have to negotiate
how to meet your goals and my goal together. That won't be
"Objective grading," however, is impossible, no matter how many
little charts or percentage tables a teacher produces. "Fair grading"
is an oxymoron. So I will give you grades based on my judgment and
our dialogue about how you do at meeting your own goals and my goal.
My goal will more likely be met if you: WORK HARD IN CLASS;
PARTICIPATE CONSISTENTLY IN ONE OF THE MANY VENUES PROVIDED; HAVE AN
OPEN MIND; PUT FORWARD YOUR IDEAS; BRING YOUR EXPERIENCE; RESPECT
OTHERS; and FIND A BALANCE BETWEEN BEING A TEACHER AND A LEARNER HERE.
I will partly grade you on effort, and openness, growth, consistency,
and clarity. My bias is to grade high, admitting my own flawed and