Monday, March 20, 2006

Grades assign responsibility 

I saw that Katie Newmark was flabbergasted over a column by Colman McCarthy suggesting that tests of high school students are "demeaning". I'm not at all surprised, because that's this Colman McCarthy who teaches peace studies. And in that article we found at that Mr. McCarthy uses a staff teacher to issue grades. This came out because students at this school said the class "is headed by an individual with a political agenda, who wants to teach students the 'right' way of thinking by giving them facts that are skewed in one direction." If he never gives a test, and then has the grades given by a proxy, in what sense is his statement true? What he avoids is giving grades.

Grades are important because they assign some responsibility to both the student and the teacher. The student is held accountable for learning the material in the course. Why should a teacher find it demeaning to grade a student's learning? He shouldn't: The grade represents the charge we are given in teaching, not only to instruct and to correct but also to judge.

Mr. McCarthy isn't a teacher at all. He's a lecturer who wants an audience that is uncritical. Students will regard a teacher critically when they know they may receive poor grades, and that's fine. If you can't hold up to the criticism, get the heck out of the classroom. And since he's not a teacher, McCarthy's got no business giving exams and doesn't have an informed opinion on the topic Matthews discussed. Only because of his status as a retired columnist for the WaPo is McCarthy allowed to write to Matthews on its editorial page. What a waste of space.