“The teacher don’t know about how to deal with the student body
And the underclassmen are flashing hot and cool
All your girlfriends care about the watch you wear and talkin’ about it
Believe it or not there’s life after high school.” — Darryl Hall
The headlines create the kind of stir you want. As they always say, the devil is in the details. The goal of modern journalism is to get more eyeballs and clicks. Oh heck, who I am kidding? That has always been the goal of journalism. As we were told in school, “if it bleeds it leads.” Well, I would suppose race-baiting is a close second there.
The Oak Park and River Forest administrators (Chicago) have decided to change their grading system. The operative phrasing that catches the eye is that they will make allowances for skin color and the ethnicity of students. Of course, without getting into the details of the report we have no idea of what this actually means.
In the “do your own research” era of our culture we are left with probably the least amount of actual scrutiny possible. Most will watch a video on YouTube, do a quick Google search, and call themselves experts on reverse discrimination. Clearly, school officials are reacting to inequities they see in student achievement. Of course, the question is whether the changes proposed will make things better or worse.
What I can do is acknowledge what I have seen in 24 years in education. That involves the difficult process of taking a giant step back to avoid the “back in my day” portion of the proceedings. All of us walked five miles to school, in the snow, uphill and uphill both ways. We had to beat off grizzly bears with our Trapper Keepers, and we always got docked for late assignments and were ever kept at bay with the fear of the dreaded zero.
One of the barriers to progress is the memory of how “tough” we had it. That toughness was always seen as an important rite of passage. It was something we needed to learn to be fully functioning adults. It taught us responsibility. It matured us. It made us who we are. Then again, maybe that wasn’t the best way for us to learn. Maybe there was a better way to do things. Maybe a different way would actually measure learning more accurately.
Education (like most other fields) evolves slowly over time. Over the course of those 24 years, I have seen education evolve from assessing zeroes and taking off points for late work, to simply grading for mastery. Students can retake tests to demonstrate mastery. They are not assessed penalties for late work. Absences matter less and less. We have students that miss 20, 30, and sometimes 40 days that somehow get credit anyway. They get that credit if they demonstrate mastery.
Is this a good thing? That is the ultimate question and it is a loaded question for those in the profession. Older teachers remember the days when students were docked for missing school and missing assignments. They were docked for tardies and dress code violations. They were docked for disrupting class and other minor infractions. Docking in all of these scenarios felt like the right thing to do. How else will someone learn responsibility?
This is obviously open for debate. We want students to learn responsibility and become fully functioning adults. We also want them to master the content we teach them. The question is whether these two things should be married together. It sounds like this is what the schools in question above are aiming to do. They are aiming to make sure that student achievement is separated from student behaviors. Clearly, that’s not the way we were brought up. Sometimes we just have to learn to accept that and move on.