Failure Emeritus



I was talking about this with my friend Road Rage this weekend, and I can’t seem to get it out of my head. Apparently, professors at many Universities are being asked by their students to adjust students’ marks based on, it seems, *anything but* merit.

Which is to say, there are people out there asking, “If I do most of the readings for this class, will you give me a B?” and “I tried really hard; shouldn’t that account for something?”

I won’t even begin to tell you how ludicrous this is. Okay, that’s a complete lie. This is more than ludicrous. I couldn’t imagine asking any of my profs whether they’d be willing to hedge my marks a little because I smiled sweetly and asked nicely and ‘tried real hard’. Because, really, it doesn’t matter how hard you try. What matters is how well you understand the material, and, more importantly, how well you can explain what you’ve learned. University is just another form of training. In elementary school, you’re trained to to basic math (in many places. I wasn’t at the school that taught math), you’re trained to have a basic understanding of the written word, and sometimes, if you’re not sick for a week, you learn about cloud formations and things like condensation and what happens when you mix baking soda and vinegar.

In high school, you’re trained to pine after Blaine Duncan.

And in University, you’re trained to think critically or you’re trained to hone your mathematics abilities and your skill with research. You’re taught, basically, different ways of thinking and different ways of learning. Which leads to different ways of looking at the world. If you can’t muster a B in University, you’re either doing it wrong or you just don’t have the ability. And there’s nothing shameful in not having the ability (and if you’re doing it wrong, you can correct it). Not everyone is cut out for “higher learning”. And the truth is, many people just don’t like it.

But if you’re not cut out for it, or if you aren’t able to do it, why the hell should you be coddled along and encouraged?

Let’s be honest, here. University isn’t about training you for Real Life. Whoever argues that hasn’t spent a lot of time at University for a very, very long time. So if anyone’s arguing that the reason you shouldn’t be asking your profs to adjust your mark based on gumption, they don’t get it either. You shouldn’t be asking your profts to adjust your mark based on gumption because *effort doesn’t matter* in the long run. University isn’t about trying hard. It’s about learning. It’s the Yoda thing, right? “Do or do not; there is no try.” That should be the motto for every University on the planet.

And another thing. Whoever thought it’d be a good idea to stop failing kids in elementary and high school ought to be stood in front of a line of thirty illiterate, innumerate teenagers whose biggest ambition in life is to not get pregnant, and that person should be forced to teach those kids basic math, basic reading, and basic LIFE SKILLS.

There’s this movement afoot that no child should be allowed to ‘fail’ a grade in school. If they can’t do the work, they simply get moved forward because some pointy-headed child psychologist figured it does more damage to a kid to be ‘left out of his peer group’ than it does to ensure the kid has a BASIC UNDERSTANDING OF HOW THE WORLD WORKS. I’m not kidding, either. At least around here, I know people whose kids literally cannot read, and the kids are simply moved up to the next grade to tackle higher concepts and more difficult passages before they’ve even mastered the previous level. And now, apparently, in Saskatoon, there is a school that is at least discussing the idea of removing ‘failing grades’ from the high school. This would effectively replace the “45” you get in arithmetic in grade nine with “tried real hard” or “no mark”. So, what, when you reach grade 12, instead of getting a diploma, you get a blank piece of paper and are asked to clean out your locker with the other mooks?

The whole idea of achieving excellence by lowering your standards really casts a serious pall on this province.

But you know what? I say sure, go ahead. Let those kids who can’t read pass grade two. Take away failing grades. Raise your kids to feel entitled to succeed simply because they were born. Go ahead! But don’t come whining around here when they smash the windows in your car and ask for a minimum sentence because they ‘tried real hard’ on probation. And don’t you dare complain that they’re still living at home when they’re 35 years old, with no job and no ambition and no goals. And ultimately, just think about this: these illiterate, spoiled kids who figure the world owes them the high life on a platter are going to be deciding mill rates and taxation systems in another 30 years. They’re going to be in charge of your retirement funds. And if you really want a bunch of folks who figure they should get special treatment because they had a tough time in high school running the country the way they’re running their own lives, you go ahead and put all your support behind lowering educational standards down past the point where they have any meaning.

I’m waiting on tenterhooks for the day when my kids come running home in June shouting “Mama! They’ve removed all standards from my classroom, so now I get to be just as smart as the stupid kids!”

  20 comments for “Failure Emeritus

  1. cenobyte
    2 February 2010 at 1:25 pm

    That’s just a paraphrase of Yoda. That Thomas Aquinas…he was *always* stealing stuff from Yoda.

  2. Amy
    2 February 2010 at 1:25 pm

    Synchronicitously (it is so too a word!) I was recently presented with the following quote from Thomas Aquinas:“The test of the artist does notlie in the will with which he goesto work, but in the excellenceof the work he produces.”And I liked it.

  3. Platypusnboots
    2 February 2010 at 1:25 pm

    I’m split on this. On one hand I went through school with a couple of kids who were held back early on (grade 1). One guy ended up in the same classes as his younger sister. He turned out – just fine. In fact he was much better off for it since he learned to read while repeating grade 1. I went through grades 1 – 12 with him. If anything I think, the earlier you put them back a level the better.On the other hand my grade 4 teacher accused me of lying because I was reading Shakespeare and wanted me put into remedial classes. For the record I may not have been getting some of the finer nuances at age 10 but I was still comprehending the big picture. And if the question is peer group socialization – does that mean they’ll start breaking classrooms up into jocks and skids so their unique socializations don’t interfere with one another? How precisely does one go about defining a social peer group? (I have some excrutiatingly technical answers for that but I’m aiming for something less psychological and a little more philosophical).

  4. Smarty Pants
    2 February 2010 at 1:25 pm

    To touch on your main point, Ceno, I agree that this is a silly thing to do to schools.Skill sets and all that aside, “The Real World” offers success and failure both. To not teach kids *that*, is one of the biggest disservices of all.

  5. cenobyte
    2 February 2010 at 1:25 pm

    Yeah, I’m pretty surprised you remember to wear trousers most days, Smarty Pants. It’s a good thing you convinced someone to marry you, ‘else you’d be cold and hungry in an alley somewhere, writing ads for pocket change. There were also the times when teachers became teachers because it was a job, and they needed money, and couldn’t care less about the kids, whether the kids learned anything at all, or, if they did, whether what they learned was actually appropriate or culturally relevant.

  6. Smarty Pants
    2 February 2010 at 1:25 pm

    I’m finding with *my* children’s schooling that teachers aren’t “called” anymore. In the days following the death of the last Mastadon, teachers generally liked kids. Wanted to help them. Encouraged them to succeed. Went to the wall for the “special kids”, the “norms”, and the “Poindexters” equally. They went above and beyond.Now days I’m left feeling that the person teaching my kids is there 9 to 5, punchin’ a clock same as me. No desire to give extra help where it’s needed, no desire to further challenge where it’s warranted.On the other hand, when I was five, my mum was told by some evaluator that I was one step above retarded and she shouldn’t even bother putting me in school at all. Pretty close to the money there. :-)

  7. cenobyte
    2 February 2010 at 1:25 pm

    I don’t know that I believe there are a great number of teachers who want to push people down. I don’t *want* to believe that. I do know that once a teacher starts burning out, there’s really very little you can do about it but watch the downward spiral. When I was a kid, we had special needs classes for special needs students. This was before the big thing was to try ‘mainstreaming’ special needs kids with ‘all the other kids’ (which was, IMO, an abysmal failure. Special needs students have, well, special needs. If you throw everyone in a class together and don’t modify the curriculum or the one-on-one time a special needs student might have received in a special needs class, you’re doing EVERYONE a disservice).There are plenty of assessment tools used to ascertain the needs and requirements of students. My thought is that there should be more work done honing the assessment tools rather than trying to force everyone into the same square hole.Which doesn’t address your brother. I hope you and your mum reported this teacher to the principal and to the administration. I also didn’t even know you had a brother.

  8. Aelius
    2 February 2010 at 1:25 pm

    I agree for the most part. I tend to think to some degree though that the teachers suck.My younger brother was told he was ‘special’ by a teacher, and that he should have to go into a ‘special’ school becase he was not smart and OBVIOUSLY had a learning disability.My brother was crushed when told by this teacher that he would not be able to go to Campbell where all his friends were going, and would have to go to a ‘special’ school because he was not smart.My mother and I went and met this teacher. And after 2 hours of trying to discuss this situation, we were plainly told that he was stupid and there was no way to change that. I’ve never yelled at a complete stranger or called someone names, but I did on that day.We let my brother go to Campbell, and he passed all his classes there. He was indeed not special and to this day I despise teachers out there who allow personal opinion to cloud their judgement.And yes, this is perhaps an isolated event. But it also brings to mind the fact that there could be a number of teachers out there who merely don’t care, and will go out of their way to push people down.

  9. brielle
    2 February 2010 at 1:25 pm

    I understand the various experiences people have gone through, both good and bad. I’m a teacher. Ok stop throwing rotten tomatoes now. I didn’t go into it for the money, or the fame(once upon a time I had a wee bit of that) I went into it because I loved children. I also made a personal oath that I would change the world of at least one child. I know…because I have been told..that I have done that. I am also very aware of the burn out c3n0 touched on. Its very real and the last person to see it is the teacher. I took leave before I did any damage to children. But it was very difficult to leave. They were my children. And to leave them to a sub for the rest of the year felt like abandondment. I was torn. But I knew this was the best for my students.I took a huge pay decrease. I have four years of my pensions to buy back. Would I do it again?If it meant the emotional safety of my students then FO SHIZZLE!I’m going back now slowly, one class at a time. Let me tell you going to subbing from a provincial curriculum developer and delivery position is not an easy pill to swallow. So please. When you talk about the crappy experiences that you had as a child, or someone you know did, remember this. I went into it because I love helping children learn. In no way ,shape or form would I ever…EVER say these things to a child. There are better teachers out there. Much better. Its too bad the rotten ones are all people see.

  10. cenobyte
    2 February 2010 at 1:25 pm

    Ah, it should never be about peer group socialisation. That’s something that’s incidental about going to school. School is supposed to be (fancy this) about education. You learn socialisation because you’re in a room with more than no other people. And there are *always* going to be conflicts among peer groups. A very, very, very smart woman said once that you can’t shield or protect children from everything. You can’t even shield or protect them from *most* things. But if you teach them how to work things out (ie – edumacate them, and give them the tools to figure it out on their own), chances are *really* good that they will. Figure it out on their own, I mean. Look, I went to a school where I was accused of lying because I knew how to read. It wasn’t a big deal. In high school, one of my english teachers told my mother at a parent-teacher interview that my technical skills were all right, but that I just wasn’t very creative. Teachers get it wrong; they’re human. But I’m willing to wager a bet that they’d be doing more damage in the long run by not holding back a student whose education has not met accepted benchmarks than they would by simply shooing him up with the next grade to ‘spare his feelings’ and ‘give her a sense of self-worth’. If your self-worth is dependent on which kids you go to school with, I think there are bigger fish to fry than simply whether or not you move up a grade. Really.

  11. Silent Winged Coyote
    2 February 2010 at 1:25 pm

    Ok so let me tell you a little story about a student named Coyote. This student totally fucked up his first time going to University, and after a decade plus of horrible jobs, he figured out what he wanted to do and is now currently going to town in his classes and truly enjoying his education experience.Now recently in a class, perhaps about the author who told of us the loss of paradise, the professor asked this question. And brought up many of the points that Cenobyte has brought up. And I voice my opinion. And I’m sure there was at least one student in the class who hated me after my comment and at least one other who went ‘Yeah, he’s right! I gotta put in a better effort.’ So here was what she said, somewhat paraphrased.All classes in the arts department (I’m not sure about the others, but for arts this is true) there is a required amount (minimum 5% I think) of the total grade which goes to ‘class participation.’ This is to represent the Professors estimation of your effort. So it’s already codified into the classes. Now most of the classes I’ve been in that participation mark is actually 10%, and some (Like a couple of the creative or prose writing courses, and a few of the honours seminars) where this grade is as high as 25%. And so this is what I have to say.You want the professor to know you’re trying? Ask questions! Comment, even if you’re completely wrong. Accept that you don’t know everything, and might get it wrong. I know I do that frequently and GLADLY accept the correction from my professors and fellow students. But if you’re too fucking shy to say anything, then fine, sit in the back and be happy with your 65% grade, and just pass. I know that I am blessed to be here in class and I’m not going to waste this opportunity. And let me tell you folks something. I’m not that bright. I try my hardest though. I work continually on my classes, doing readings beyond what is required, and following up with all the concepts I don’t know. I’m sure my professors find me to be a huge pain in the ass as I’m constantly requesting meetings to go over my writing and ask questions that are a part of my own curiosities. Do I get the highest marks in my classes? Hell no, I get above the average but I know there is quite a few who kick my ass on the ole GPA. Do I bitch to my professors and ask for higher grade? Again, no. In fact, FUCK NO! Instead I go to them and ask how I made mistakes, and get them to explain it beyond their comments and work harder the next time. Even when I do get 85% on a paper I ask what could have been improved. I’m fanatically that way.So if you want a grade because of the effort you put in? Fuck you in your stupid goat ass. (I said something similar, without the swears, when I expressed this opinion in my class) If it was only about effort, well then I’d be graduating with 100%. You want grades for your effort? Then participate in class. Otherwise, can it.Back to your regularily scheduled Cenobyte.

  12. cenobyte
    2 February 2010 at 1:25 pm

    Well, it’s the rotten ones folks remember. You tend to remember the bad times because they stand out. You don’t always remember your kindergarten teacher who drew a kiss on your hand to give to your mum when you got home so you won’t feel so lonely. You don’t remember your music teacher who taught you to hear the difference between a C and a C#, by hitting two different wooden blocks. You remember the time you got punched on the schoolyard after school when all the other kids except the bully had gone home, and you remember the bloody nose, but you don’t remember the teacher who drove up into the playground and sat you, blood and all, in the passenger seat and gave you a peppermint from the ash tray, then chased the bully down and delivered him home with a shameful story…and took you right to your front door and waited with you until your Da got home. You don’t remember Mrs. Oleksyn who taught you about the number line, or Mrs. Spademan who taught you cursive. You might remember Mr. Toews because he smacked you over and over with a ruler. Take some time to remember all the people who helped you *pass*.

  13. Parmeisan
    2 February 2010 at 1:25 pm

    The rotten ones are not all people see, they’re just the ones that are being brought up in this conversation. When I think of my teachers, I think first of the four or five who were just incredible, then the one or two who were horrible, and then the rest. But first of the great ones. :) And I have plenty of anecdotal evidence that most people remember their good teachers quite fondly.I also wanted to mention a case where a good friend of mine was held back a grade. I stayed friends with her (until I moved away from the city a few years later). You don’t have to lose your friends to stay a grade – and I know nobody here suggested it, I just wanted to bring it up. Sure, it’s hard to be in a new classroom with nobody you know, but I absolutely agree: it’s probably much harder, later in life, to realize you’re missing basic skills because those in charge of education think a) young kids are wimps and b) they need to stay that way. (Because by staying back a grade you’re learning both the skills you need AND a double serving of the social skills).

  14. Silent Winged Coyote
    2 February 2010 at 1:25 pm

    You get to rewrite an essay?! WTF?! I don’t get to do that!!

  15. BPM-IV
    2 February 2010 at 1:25 pm

    Here’s a fun factoid: of the ~8000 students in a GTA school district, *8* were failed in the 06-07 school year. One teacher was quoted as saying that they ran into a student who thanked the teacher profusely for not failing them – but the teacher *knew* they had failed said student. The administration, though, decided it was in *their* best interest to keep the student moving forward. It’s about numbers – in particular the number of failures. If 5% of your students fail – are you, as a school, performing as well as you could? Obviously not! Not if students are failing! So, the admin just keeps moving students along. Especially known troublemakers / gang members / criminals. That way they’ll be out sooner. This way, the school division gets to brag about how great a job they are doing, the students don’t notice until they’ve left and no parents complain.————–And as for Coyote’s comments: Yeah, I hear ya. In a first year English course I’m in, there were about 50 at the start of the year. There are about *6* of us who speak up at least once a class. There are some people I know I’ve never heard utter a word. These will be the same people who will be begging for an A later.And it’s not that tough! Between 10% for “participation” and the option to rewrite any one essay over the course of the year, along with copious amounts of commentary provided with the essay marking – it shouldn’t be too hard to figure out. If *I* can figure out how to manage my time, someone without a wife, kid and household should be breezing through it.

  16. platypusnboots
    2 February 2010 at 1:25 pm

    My tip for unversity classes, particularly English classes. Every once in awhile (frequently) the assigned essay topics were boring (to me). So I would propose an alternate essay topic to the prof. Usually (almost every time) it got approved. And I believe I usually got a slightly higher mark than I would have otherwise on those papers because of two factors; a. I was demonstrating interest and taking some initiative, b. The prof wasn’t reading the same thing for the 20th time. That and I’m a fan of Gen. Patton who said during a strategy meeting “If we’re all thinking the same thing someone isn’t thinking.”

  17. der kaptin
    2 February 2010 at 1:25 pm

    Well, come on, the only reason public education was invented in the first place was after child labour laws started being forced on societies by those pesky church groups who couldn’t stand to see little kids with blisters and bent backs. So then, what the hell to do with the little wasters, while the parents were down getting lung disease at the wool mill, until they were old enough to earn their own keep? Well, we get them all together and hire some sucker to look after them and maybe teach them to read and write so they can read their own pink slips, and sign their paycheques over to the company store. So what else do you want from these places? Get your expectations in line, would ya?Then there are the working conditions — get a bunch of spoiled little brats who have all the electronic gadgets in the world and resent the time they are forced to spend AWAY from all the goodies. And no real positive attitude from their parents toward learning, it’s just “yeah, I hated school too, but suffer you little vermin, I had to do it so you can damn well put in your time there as well. Let me tell you about these stupid teachers we had, and how one time we really got them good by….” School is like medicine. If it’s too much fun, it must not be working. Then you take 35 or 40 of these little distracted attitude problems and stick them in uncomfortable desks in one room, and expect one human being to deliver not only a mile-wide curriculum but also be social worker/social convenor. And then say to them “quit complaining, you’ve got it easy, you get two months off every year.” I’m sure there’s a little passive aggression coming from the school system/teachers for having this thankless task dumped on them. If the kid does poorly, it’s because the teacher’s a f**kup, and if they do well, it’s because they have bright parents. But there’s also no doubt that the whole “vocation” mentality that used to characterize all the woman-dominated helping professions — teachers, nurses, librarians, social workers, — is a thing of the fondly-remembered past. The older we get, the better we were, as individuals and as a society. Once we started letting women into the boardrooms, well goodbye to grubby-hand holding and snot rag wielding. It’s just one more changing feature of the society that we’re going to have to figure out some way to deal with. The cats are out of the service bag, and they’re not going to go back in, unless we figure out some really big shiny fish to toss in there. We’ve gone too far with this whole self-esteem thing, especially for women. With self-esteem under their belts, who is going to be so desperate for approval that they’ll do the shitwork to get it? I mean, besides artists.

  18. cenobyte
    2 February 2010 at 1:25 pm

    I got to resubmit essays.

  19. brielle
    2 February 2010 at 1:25 pm

    oh. my. god. I really DID get hit over the noggin by Mr. Towes!! He was the hugest asshat in the world. He was so mean to one little boy and picked on him all year long, that the boy actually got admitted to the psych ward.I get this I guess. I mean, I understand why we remember who we remember. And I was a numb-nuts for even bringing it up. This is about sucking swass and whining to get better grades. Nothing could be more wrong than simply giving someone a better mark just for showing. Its just absurd.Not sure if it makes a diff here, but according to Sask Learning if we as teachers think a student is failing, then we suggest a fail to the principal and they contact the parents. Now, even if we have sat with this kid for a year straight and see the struggles and either the unwillingness to try or the inability to just move forward we don’t have the final say. The parents do. Even *if* the principal stamps a huge FAIL (or REPEAT as it seems less damning) the parents still have the right to stand up and say nope. The kid moves on. Saying that, I also know that in staff meetings at the end of the year we get together and see who is weak either in academic, social or emotional skills and we base next years classroom on that information. But even that is wrong in my eyes. Look, we live in a society where we spoon feed our students everything. We want info? We Google. We want more money? We whine to the government. We want more of this and less of that an in the end we are all a bunch of whiney, greedy crybabies who really aren’t prepared for the world at all. Its no wonder we are in this state. So who do we blame? The pendulum has swayed so far from the depression of the dirty 30’s that we are just about at max laziness. I know it will slowly gong back and balance out, but in the meantime we are ruining a whole generation. Edit: when I say we and you I am talking perverbial not you-you. I have hope. I have alot of it. I see it in some student’s eyes when they really work hard and study and really make that shitty assignment mean something. But giving extra marks for just participating? My God thats just nuts. I almsot failed high school way back when we were graded on what we learned. I found out I had a learning disability later on in life, but by then I was able to teach myself better coping skills. I went on to go to university and really use those coping skills to learn something instead of concetrating on why nothing made sense. But it took growing up. Alot of growing up. So, if some administration comes to me and says, well I know so-and-so is failing but we have to put them through because the parents said so….its time to pack it in and go find another job that makes sense. p.s. mr. towes indeed. did ya know his skidoo went through the ice on the river and was never found? yeah one too many kicks at that karma stone and thats what ya get. lol

  20. Last Place Finisher
    2 February 2010 at 1:26 pm

    One of my great teachers was a man named Dr. W. Edwards Deming. Although the subject of his class involved the application of higher mathematics to the economic manufacture of products, he used the simplest mathematical concepts to make profound points.Testing is simply a measurement process. Assuming the test is fair, any set of results will show that half of the scores fall below the mean. Scoring below the mean may “mean something” or it may “mean nothing.”It’s the teacher’s job to evaluate the quality of the effort. This evaluation may transcend the scores on a test.Hey, we need plumbers too – and not all plumbers need either college or graduate degrees. I’m just saying that testing is not necessarily a good yardstick for measuring performance.In Deming’s class, everyone got an A-. We knew that on the first day of the semester so there really was no pressure. But we were all highly motivated to try to impress this man who had made historic achievements. In a class where I knew my grade going in, I never worked harder, never learned more, never changed more as an individual.

i make squee noises when you tell me stuff.

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