Thursday, January 25, 2007

A Small Demise: Shredding Thoughts

I threw out dozens and dozens--maybe hundreds--of thoughts today. They were inscribed on my student's papers from the last year and a half of classes (not counting last term, when I was on sabbatical). These were final papers from several semesters that students never bothered to pick up. I treat papers serious and mark them up copiously in many cases. Yet because these students did not give me self-addressed, stamped envelops nor came by my office to retrieve them, they hay unclaimed in a very large stack for a long time. Their time was up.

As I put bunches of about ten into the locked recycle bin slot, I was saddened that the students did not follow through enough to know what their professor said on their papers. Perhaps they kept the file of the paper on their computer. Who knows? They had their grade, but grades only tell a very small part of the story of learning. In fact, grades obscure the meaning of learning in many cases, reducing knowledge to a letter grade and a grade point average. Grades were not even used in education until a few hundred years ago, and I lament their invention, really. They mute concrete words about one's abilities, errors, and progress.

These papers, marked with thoughts, have the shredder as their destiny.

10 comments:

Jeff said...

Dr. G: That is sad... I wouldn't dream of abandoning a paper in your pile of unclaimed words! While the grade is somehwat of an important affirmation, it is also the words of interaction that helps me with my thought processes. (Or lack thereof...!)

Dan Edelen said...

I still have most of my college papers. I read every single red mark because I was paying thousands of dollars to learn from men who knew more than I did.

At Wheaton College, I was once threatened by another student for asking too many questions of our prof. He, in turn, never asked a single one.

I totally understand your lament.

D. A. Armstrong said...

I like reading the comments on papers. My first couple of papers would be returned to me with red ink all over them. My goal during school was to write papers that were well thought out and not rushed out at the last minute.

The last paper I got back before receiving my BBS (Bach of Biblical Studies) degree, my only comments were related to good things, not bad things.

Matt said...

That is really too bad. It must be discouraging as a professor too!

I wonder if there are any schools brave (or foolish) enough to try forgoing grading altogether? I know how compelling the lure of marks over learning is.

MichaelGlawson said...

As I understand it, lots of European schools are pass/fail only - no grades. I have a professor who earned his Phd from Aberdeen and aparrently their system is "grade-less". I think it's definitely a better route.

Aaron Snell said...

Dr. G,
Just letting you know that Bill Vallicella has posted on your post here over at Maverick Philosopher, if you haven't yet heard.

Clint said...

Would it be possible for the teacher to be more proactive in seeing the process through (i.e. by the time most papers are graded the next semester has begun)? Just a thought.

Clint

Douglas Groothuis said...

I put adds in our campus newsletter for students to pick them up. They didn't.

David said...

I know of professors who make it a policy to NOT return final papers at the end of the semester. Not sure what would motivate that. One would think that having access to their insights would be most helpful.

Jonathan Erdman said...

hey had their grade, but grades only tell a very small part of the story of learning. In fact, grades obscure the meaning of learning in many cases, reducing knowledge to a letter grade and a grade point average. Grades were not even used in education until a few hundred years ago, and I lament their invention, really. They mute concrete words about one's abilities, errors, and progress.

Amen! Well said.

So, education is about learning. In order to measure learning we give students grades and scores. But then the grades and scores become an end in and of themselves. Careers and future educational opportunities and even one's reputation and self-esteem hang in the balance of a few grade points or a GRE test score or some other prep test. And so it becomes a business. Pay some $$ and get a prep class. Or find some way to cheat and then beat the whole system. Pay an institution and get a degree in return....There's no time left for learning. There's no room for it. Who's got the time or energy to learn, anymore?