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I found the following article two days ago as one of the most emailed for the day on Yahoo:

http://news.yahoo.com/s/usatoday/20060308/...blamethestudent

The gist of it is that students want to have good grades without having to work for them. Here's an excerpt:

Every year, I have had parents come in to argue about the grades I have given in my AP English classes. To me, my grades are far too generous; to middle-class parents, they are often an affront to their sense of entitlement. If their kids do a modicum of work, many parents expect them to get at least a B. When I have given C's or D's to bright middle-class kids who have done poor or mediocre work, some parents have accused me of destroying their children's futures.

I find this a positive development. Both tat such opinions get published in the mainstream media, and that this one in particular was widely read.

It reminded me of a friend of mine who once taught, briefly, at a private school in Mexico City. The stories he had about students expecting a free pass were incredible. For example, back in my day, also in private school in Mexico, it was rather common to ask a teacher for help near the end of the term. We would ask for after hours tutoring, or extra work related to the class. My friend's students simply asked for a passing grade on the grounds that they needed it.

I can't conceive demanding an udeserved grade. Not so much that the thought never ocurred to me, as that no teacher with a scintilla of self-respect would ever grant one.

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My mother's a professional educator OF educators, and she had some words to say on this topic, to which I have added my own thinking. They're not what you think, however.

She considers that if you are doing well and teaching properly, the distribution of grades in your class should reflect a bell curve. Meaning that MOST of your students should get C's. If you're doing anything else, you're making it too easy for the top 5-10% of your students. An A is a reflection that you are EXCEPTIONAL in some way; that you've worked much harder than anyone else, that you have much higher native intelligence, something along those lines. If EVERYONE can get an A by doing the homework and taking the tests, you are teaching NOTHING.

Academics ONLY have significant bearing on someone's later success in life if they enter a highly academically specialized field, such as law or medicine, where it's truly helpful to get into the best school and excel. If your child is getting C's (or not passing at all), as a parent that's the time when you realize that maybe your child isn't INTERESTED in academics. Far from ruining your child's life, this is a HUGE opportunity to change directions and get him or her into something that he or she DOES excel in. Encourage him or her to PASS at least, because that will get them out of the prison (mandatory schooling) that much sooner, but then encourage your child to pursue something that he or she really loves, no matter what it is. (Assuming it's not illegal or something like that.)

No one can excel if they don't love what they do. Period. One-size-fits-all academics are a waste of time and money. Some children just aren't going to get much out of school, ever.

I happen to be one of those kids; I have tremendous native intelligence and I could have easily excelled in any academic field, IF I'd given a damn about any of them. I don't. The time I've spent polishing my useful skills (typing, using computers and tools, etc.) and polishing my imagination and writing have been much more useful to me than the hours I spent trying to fulfil some irrational goal of my parents. I'm not saying I got nothing out of school: I got C's worth of value.

One of the interesting things mentioned in this book I'm reading (Integrity by Dr. Henry Cloud) is that really successful people not only cut their losses and let go of things that are bad for them (most people can do this), they also get rid of profitable things that are not the best things. It takes some SERIOUS commitment to drop something that is profiting you because you could be focusing on something that will eventually profit you more. If you want to get anywhere in life, you need to learn how to do it, and this is something that modern ideas of schooling are set out to destroy by making you think you have to spread yourself over some wide range of competencies in order to succeed.

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She considers that if you are doing well and teaching properly, the distribution of grades in your class should reflect a bell curve. Meaning that MOST of your students should get C's. If you're doing anything else, you're making it too easy for the top 5-10% of your students. An A is a reflection that you are EXCEPTIONAL in some way; that you've worked much harder than anyone else, that you have much higher native intelligence, something along those lines. If EVERYONE can get an A by doing the homework and taking the tests, you are teaching NOTHING.

My junior highschool History teacher (the best teacher I ever had), told us on the very first day anyone who wanted an A in her course would have to do better than God. Her exams were very hard, almost as bad as the daily oral mini-quizzes she administered. Her homework assignemnt consisted in reading the newspaper and watching TV news for weekly discussions in class.

Later on through highschool and college, I never once studied for a history exam. Not once. What I'd learned in junior high was enough, and it stayed with me. I was amongthe top five in her class, too. I mananged a couple of A's. But the funny thing is that many of the dead average students, later on did much better than their peers in history.

In contrast, I had a Social Sciences teacher in highschool who'd pass anyone who wasn't brain-dead, and gave A's to anyone who stayed awake in class. I can't recall much of his class, except the fact that I had straight A's.

In other words, we're in agreement.

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I am in agreement that an unearned grade is an affront to the standards of education. As to what earns a grade, I've always known that Grades reflected Effort, not intelligence. I test (academically and psychologically) better than 99.75 percent of my peers. i graduated 254 out of 580 in my class. I never much liked this, but I always thought that was because I was smart, and if I werent, I'd feel differently. Now, I'm not so sure. But I do like the things that are being said.

Edited by Matthew J
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Jennifer, I agree with your post, but I think it leaves much unsaid. Here are some thoughts:

... if you are doing well and teaching properly, the distribution of grades in your class should reflect a bell curve.
This may be true from a "macro" type of view when one is setting the levels one expects teachers to achieve in a particular grade, across a large "population". However, it ought not to be the concern of the individual teacher. Once an objective level is set, the individual teacher must try to make as many students competent at that level. My son's school has multiple sections at each grade. Some teachers are far better than others. The standard of what is an "A" or a "B" should be set outside the context of the particular classroom. Then, each teacher has a chance to show how good she is. Also, no student is penalized or rewarded for what his class-mates are doing. Each individual teacher must treat the grade-curve as something she'll prove wrong in her own class.

Academics ONLY have significant bearing on someone's later success in life ...
True. However, it is very often not a question of a child's interests. A child usually has to be given cause to be motivated, and all too often such motivation is not given, or gimmicks are substituted for real motivation. From kids I've seen, the biggest predictor of academic success as compared to success in sports was the expectations and interests of the parents.

At younger ages (I say at least elementary and middle school), rather than trying to push the child toward what appear to be their interests, I think one should try to keep their options as open as possible and explore why they are not motivated about cedrtain subjects.

It is good for a kid to have something they really, really love: be it soccer or swimming or reading or science. It is also good to let them take their love to almost obsessive lengths. However, at the younger ages, for most kids, it's important not to close out other options.

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One of the interesting things mentioned in this book I'm reading (Integrity by Dr. Henry Cloud) is that really successful people not only cut their losses and let go of things that are bad for them (most people can do this), they also get rid of profitable things that are not the best things.

In "First Things First" by Stephen Covey (The add-on book to the Seven Habits) there's a nice quote saying:

"The good is the enemy of the best." meaning that people very often don't get the best they could get in life because they are afraid of losing the good they already have. However, I'm the first to agree that taking such a step takes a big amount of courage. Especially in a system that "already has the good path laid out for you to follow", namely: get good grades, go to college, get a degree, get a good job, buy a house and start a family. And if you do something different, something's wrong with you.

In addition to that there's the idea that this is also your birthright. At least that's what I am being taught.

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True. However, it is very often not a question of a child's interests. A child usually has to be given cause to be motivated, and all too often such motivation is not given, or gimmicks are substituted for real motivation. From kids I've seen, the biggest predictor of academic success as compared to success in sports was the expectations and interests of the parents.

Yes, I was thinking about older children, in junior high and high school. At the grammar/elementary school level I think it's important to provide a great breadth of possibilities for children, so that they can start to discover the world and form ideas about what interests them. At that level a lot of schools don't have an ABCDF grading scale, they "grade" based, basically, on effort, which ties into that whole parents-helping-to-motivate thing.

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