I'm grading exams and papers, one-handed, grumpily -- our institution has a bizarrely brief period between the end of final exams and the deadline for grade reporting: about 72 hours this semester -- and with my usual qualms.
I just don't like grading students. It seems wrong. Back when I was teaching Latin, I had fewer issues, somehow, and I can't think why: I suppose because it was the test I was grading, and not the student, and the test was right or wrong, so who cared -- I was only deciding if they had learned Latin , nothing else.
Now, however, when it ought to be the same deal -- that is, I ought to only be deciding if it's the History of the English Language they have learned; or if they can construct an argument with good points and support those points with sufficient evidence, and that ought to be all that matters --well, I find myself thinking, no wonder this fella can't, he's a soldier, he comes here from the base, he's been up all night, he knows he's about to be shipped to Iraq, how in shit can I grade him the same as these six other students, living at home with their parents, with no issues on their minds but whether their Tivos are working?
If it's wrong to harsh on my soldier student, well, what about my single mother student, working the third shift at Wal-Mart, her with her two kids and her food stamps and her junker car that keeps breaking down? She's missing classes because her kids are sick so much and because that car won't start and because she needs to take extra shifts when she gets offered them -- is it fair, really, to hold her to the same standards as that nineteen year old honor student whose mama does his laundry?
Or the kid back in the corner, that manic-depressive who can't get out of bed half the time...what about him?
Or even if I don't fret about any of that, if I only grade their tests qua tests -- do they know the work or don't they -- well, another big section of my grade deals with squishier issues: a quarter of the grade is based on whether the student has been in class; and if he has not, if he's missed more than five classes in a given semester, I start docking his final grade, three points per missed class. I don't do this out of petty viciousness, but because my classes are highly interactive. We do a lot of work in the room, discussion in the literature classes, analysis in the grammar classes and the comp classes, work that can't be recreated or made up or done by one's self, at home, with a textbook. I explain all this early on and repeat it, more than once, as we move through the semester -- though, if you're missing lots of class, you might miss these tiny lectures.
Anyway: is it justice to penalize students for what some of them have difficultly helping? If it's not, should I then penalize anyone? (I can't penalize some and not the others, obviously.) If I can't penalize anyone, then I'm back where I was -- who will come to class? We get half the students not showing up on any given day. (Never the same half.)
Here, at Crooked Timber, we've got a post semi-related to this topic -- examined the great question of grade inflation, which has always gotten up my yak.
Grades in general, though: grr.
Montessori schools, btw, do not grade at all. One of the things I like best about the approach.
10 hours ago