Everyone Should Get an A

Does a bus-driver-training school rank its graduating drivers? No, it ensures that all attain the standard required of a bus-driver. Would you like to be treated by a C-grade doctor? No, everyone wants an A-grade doctor! So doctors and drivers are (I hope!) trained and trained and not let out until they are A-grade in standard. Why should other professions be treated differently? —David MacKayEveryone Should Get an A (Cambridge)

Obviously, this kind of set-up will work best in those fields that have universally accepted and readily measurable “right” and “wrong” ways of doing things. A creative writing major or journalism major who does all the homework and answers all the quiz questions correctly may simply not have the inspirational genius or the “nose for news” that is necessary for the production of “A” quality, publishable original work.

One assumes that students who need extra time to get to the A will pay extra tuition, thus justifying the extra teaching time that they will need. But higher education has a certain percentage of students who are muddling along, getting some kind of liberal arts degree or other, without any particular interest in getting an A.

So the rich will be permitted to dally at the university for much longer, in a causal pursuit of As. The poor, and the disadvantaged, whose pre-college education may not have been top-notch, will be forced out quickly.

On the other hand, presuming that something was in place to deal with abuses, students who need less time to get to the A should be able to skip ahead quickly.

I can hear sounds from the next room that suggest the baby hasn’t gone to sleep yet, which leads me to suspect that soon my wife will invite me to take a turn minding our nocturnal princess. I’m kind of blogging my thoughts in order to stay awake. My apologies for the internal inconsistencies that will surely follow, in these wee hours of the morning.

A while ago, I blogged about a university that gives students variable credit for its courses, which has a similar effect.

As an educator, I believe that a student who turns in four C papers but never revises them, and thus never learns from earlier mistakes, gets far less out of a course than the student who turns in, say, two C papers that the instructor insists must be revised to A or B+ level. I had a very complex system of revising papers when I used to teach technical writing. That system helped me to spend more time with those students who wanted to learn.

In five years at my previous school, I only twice taught a class that had more than three or four English majors. (Both times, they were graduating seniors who were doing senior projects — I loved those classes, and had some of my best teaching moments there.) Now that I have a more regular chance to teach English majors (and, within the English major, new media journalism students), I’ve reflected more on my obligation to the whole range of students who are in my classes.

Was it elitist of me to presume that the most motivated students deserved most of my time?

Does the student who was worried about getting an A- (but who might get an A if I spend extra time with them) really benefit from my attention more than the student who is in danger of failing (but who might start coming to class again if I ask their coach to threaten them)?

What about the student who simply chooses to get a B, because he or she has other priorities (such as taking care of a family, or acting in a theatre production, or preparing for the big game)?

Via join-the-dots.