Friday, March 29, 2013

* Playing God


A Challenge to the Yale Faculty
(posted Good Friday, March 29, in response to "We Are Not Numbers" on The Yale Daily News)
theantiyale  8 hours ago
In the 1970's and 80's the [Yale] Divinity School had three grades: Pass, High Pass and Honors. One could also elect a Pass/No Pass option.
The current national obsession with grading in public schools has apparently now infected Yale.
As a retired public school teacher, I have had to grade over 3000 students in my 25 years in the profession. I also taught one year of freshman English Composition at Ithaca College in 1969.
Allow me to share a formative experience I had in this teaching/grading process 20 years ago. I had promised all my students that if their average came .05 over a number, I would push it to the NEXT number (this was before computerized grading).
I had an 11th grade boy in a regular English class who had given me a bit of disciplinary trouble during the year (just regular teenage lip, nothing major) and who was absent quite a bit. But he had ALWAYS made up his work,and had a marking period average of 89.5.
I confess, to my shame, that I was hoping it would turn out to be 89.4 because the young man had been unruly in class and excessively absent. I recalculated the grade two or three times with that dark hope that it would remain a B+ instead of an A- (although grades were then calculated numerically, they were recorded as LETTER grades).
Each time it came out 89.5, no matter what way I added the numbers, backwards, forwards, sideways. So I grudgingly kept my promise and recorded the grade as A-, but I confess I did so with no joy in my heart.
Two weeks later this 11th grade boy was tragically killed in snowmobile accident.
I attended the funeral and introduced myself to his mother in the reception line as his English teacher, expressing my condolences.
I proceeded to the next room to stand in front of the open casket and bow my head in prayer.
As I did so, I felt a slight tug at my sleeve. It was his mother. She had left the reception line and come up to speak to me again .
We stood there literally over the dead body of her son. She looked into my face and said these words which changed my attitude toward grading forever;
"It was the ONLY 'A' he ever got."
That was all she said as she looked into my eyes. I gave her a hug., and said nothing.
She did not know the dark Scrooge-like stinginess of my heart which had hoped her son's 
"A-" would turn out be a "B+" as I re-calculated his average over and over again.
I realized at that moment that had I not kept my promise of pushing the .05 grade over from an 89 to a 90, I would have denied a mother and son that one-and-only special moment of joy when he presented her with his report card with his first ever "A" on it.
Who the hell am I to play God with other people's souls for five tenths of a point?
And you, Yale faculty ?
Paul D. Keane
M. Div. '80
(Vermont English teacher, 1987-2012)

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