Among the first things I told my students on the first day of class each year was that I didn’t much care about grades—except to the degree grades reflected their effort and accomplishment. I explained I didn’t give grades away. I expected them to get them the old fashioned way: they had to earn them. I explained I didn’t believe in the Bell curve, which I explained, and assured them it was possible for everyone in every class to get an “A.” I further explained as long as they did their work, turned it in on time, and actually tried, it was virtually impossible to fail. I also explained some would still fail. Some always did.
We based our grades on a 100-point system. 90-100% earned an A; 80-89% earned a B, and so on. A student’s grade was based on the total number of available points, each assignment being worth 100 points. Ten assignments—1000 points. If they earned 880 points, 88%/B. On significant assignments such as writings, major tests, etc., they had the option to redo those assignments for full credit, so long as they did them promptly. Only about 10% ever bothered.
Care to guess which students redid their work to earn the highest possible scores? Keep in mind I handed back all work, graded and with voluminous comments and corrections, the day after it was handed in. Kids knew exactly what they needed to do to earn excellent grades, and alway had sufficient time to do their work.
As I’ve so often noted, D/S/Cs make their own reality and try to force everyone else to live in it. They ignore reality and make their own. They live in the world of “ought to be,” ignoring reality, and when reality inevitably intrudes on their perfect universe, they deny it, because their ideas, their philosophies, their policies are perfect. Because they made them, they cannot possibly be wrong. They are non-falsifiable. Apparent error must be the fault of something or someone else.
Sadly, in the real world, ignoring human nature has real, and serious, consequences:
Some of the largest school districts in California are dropping “D” and “F” grades, moving towards what they call ‘competency-based’ learning.
Oakland Unified, Sacramento City Unified, Santa Ana, Los Angeles, and other school districts across the state are limiting the use of ‘D’ grades and phasing out ‘Fs’ entirely.
Instead of failing an assignment or exam, students now have the option to retake a test and have additional time to complete an assignment.
Riiiight. Anyone care to guess what percentage of kids will do that? I suspect it will be far fewer than my kids. Expect little of people, and they’ll deliver it, and less.
Proponents of the move hope it will encourage students to learn and not worry about the fear of a low grade pushing them off the pathway to university.
See what I mean by “ought to be?” Every kid ought to go to “university.” Every student wants to learn and is delighted to be in school. The only thing that is keeping them from unlimited academic achievement is Ds, Fs, inability to retake tests and inability to do assignments on their timetable.
Nidya Baez, assistant principal at an Oakland Unified high school, said:
‘Our hope is that students begin to see school as a place of learning, where they can take risks and learn from mistakes, instead of a place of compliance. Right now, we have a system where we give a million points for a million pieces of paper that students turn in, without much attention to what they’re actually learning.
Oh, I see. Up until the advent of intellectually and morally superior educators like Baez, schools have not been places of learning where kids could take risks and learn from mistakes. And that horrible system of education, which built the most prosperous, technologically advanced nation in history, absolutely must, like the country, be fundamentally transformed.
Others also criticized the traditional grading method for its subjectivity and its psychological impact on school-aged children.
‘We’re talking about people who are very young, and labeling them at such an early age as ‘less than’ or ‘more than’ can have significant psychological repercussions,’ said Patricia Russell, the head of an educational nonprofit that focuses on alternatives to grades. ‘Some things in life are zero-sum games, but learning should not be.’
Of course, which is why until the advent of this kind of academic “thinking,” our society has been such a complete failure.
Education reform advocates have pushed for a move towards ‘competency-based’ learning for years, but the pandemic accelerated the shift. Educators view the move as a way to help students after nearly two years of virtual learning.
‘We need a system that gets beyond the institutional model and provides more meaningful feedback for students,’ said Devin Vodicka, former superintendent of Vista Unified and chief executive of a nonprofit that helps districts shift to competency-based learning. ‘The future is going to require less focus on time and more focus on what we can do and contribute, and the quality of our performance. We need to prepare our students for this.’
Whew. Once again, do you see what I mean by “ought to be?”
One of the reasons I left education a year after I was fully vested—I might have stayed another year or two—was attitudes and “innovations” like this. My school district wasn’t enmeshed in CRT, and it wasn’t woke, but it was full of educrats, who in compiling resumes for the superintendent jobs they just knew they would be given for their brilliance, continually re-invented the wheel. The result was never as good as the original, round wheel, and their innovations always ignored human nature, common sense and reality.
Their brilliant new schemes were always a resurrection of old, failed concepts, but repackaged with new, colorful materials and new terms that made no sense, and were ignored by kids who were smart enough to know when they were being scammed. “Details,” in writing, for example, became “golden bricks.” I’m sure you can see how that would make writing so much easier and more effective. All of the schemes, were one-size-fits-all constructs that required teachers to do the same things in the same ways regardless of the composition of their classes, because so brilliant were these new innovations, if they were done exactly as those pushing them demanded, wasting precious and ever-dwindling class time, every student would be Einstein! Sadly, that’s no longer possible, because math is racist, but I trust you get the point.
In reality, I gave lip service to the requirements, posted the required posters and graphs, said the required, magical things, and the kids and I closed the classroom door, ignored the nonsense and went to work.
The truth—reality—is simple: people learn today just as they did in the time of Aristotle. We have more materials, and technology—some educrats believe computers and software are themselves transformative—but they are merely tools, conveniences. Learning requires hard work over time. Learning can be fun, and good teachers help kids learn why it’s fun and how to have fun, but it is always work.
New, brilliant innovations, as well as social justice, CRT, and anything woke, fail because they ignore human nature. Doing away with grades, making it impossible for kids to fail, also ignores human nature.
The second thing I told my kids that first day of class is among the hardest things to do, at any age, is to pay attention, to concentrate for any period of time on a given task. Smart. accomplished people work on that all their lives. At that point I asked how many, even as I was speaking about paying attention, found their attention wandering. About 60% raised their hands and nervously laughed. I spent time teaching them how to do that, and reinforced it, over and over and over. I did that in part by frequently changing what we were doing, but injecting fun activities, by giving them daily extra credit activities, but all of those activities required learning, memorization, paying attention, anticipation and developing habits that would help them succeed in any endeavor. They got five points for know common Latin words and phrases, for identifying significant works of music, for being able to explain important aphorisms, literary terms and much, much more.
All of that, bit by bit, was foundational, leading up to the point where I could turn them loose with a writing assignment and expect most would be able to sit for 30 minutes or more of class time thinking and working. Of what use is any teacher who does not expect kids to be reliable, competent, hard working, and able to produce work on grade level? Of what use is any teacher who does not give kids fast and accurate feedback—on their actual work? Of what use is any teacher who does not help kids see what genuine accomplishment is, and who never expects enough of them so they can experience how good that feels?
If kids don’t have to turn things in on time, if no matter what they turn in—or don’t—they’ll pass, what have they learned? What can they actually do? They don’t need to learn much of anything, and they have to do even less.
While some small portion of humanity is self-motivated, most are not. They need to be encouraged to do what they must if they are to have any hope of becoming a functional adult, someone who produces rather than takes, someone who contributes rather than destroys. In the real world, there are deadlines, expectations for performance, and failing to meet either has consequences. K-12 education is preparation for the real world, and if kids learn they don’t need to be prepared, they need not expend any real effort, who is going to support them? Who is going to pay taxes to support the current generation?
One of the most powerful teachers is failure, but only if there are consequences for failure. Only if one’s culture makes failure shameful, something to be avoided through effort and improvement. Important too is there must be recognition, reward, for success, for hard work, for demonstrated ability. Any culture that dilutes or eliminates that recognition, those rewards, dooms itself.
And so, California, and other enlightened cities and states, “help” kids, by teaching them to be lazy, ignorant, and entitled—just like their educrats, and sadly, too many of their teachers. We’re all going to experience the consequences of that kind of innovation, and soon.