Sunday, June 17, 2007

Everybody's a Winner!

Well, if you can't teach 'em, flatter 'em.

Back in the early 1980s, education officials in Edmonton decided that flunking students, ''sends some very damning and negative messages, which impacts on their entire lives.'' So, they just stopped flunking them. All the way through elementary school and junior high, in fact. This practice, which is known as 'social promotion' is fairly common throughout public education. And, sorry to say, about once a year we Mall University TAs get emails from our admins imploring us not to flunk our university students because, you guessed it, the negative message can impact their entire lives! I ignore them. But I wonder how many earnest TAs and assistant professors take this sort of blatherskite to heart.

And we wonder why so many young adults are seemingly convinced that they're brilliant, all evidence to the contrary. Hopefully, they'll be able to get jobs at companies that don't fire anyone for fear of negatively impacting their self-image. And hopefully the teachers who passed them through will find themselves on an operating table one day looking up at the kid they absent-mindedly and dishonestly passed about to perform open-heart surgery on them.


Holly said...

Gold star for using 'blatherskite' in a sentence!

It seems to me that passing the kids who fail sends a terribly negative message--to the kids who actually work. It says, yeah, you CAN bust your ass and do the assignments and learn the material, but that's the hard way. It says that the defined parameters of success are bullshit. It says that no matter what the theoretical basis for evaluation is, it's all a lie, and the actual basis of evaluation is twisted compassion for the people who choose to disregard even the lowest of expectations placed upon them.

And, really, that's OK, because it'll ease the pain later when they find out the tall, good looking white guy got the job, and gets paid more, even though he failed/matriculated all the way to the end of his educational career.

Rufus said...

And invariably he'll be the one to bitch loudest about 'affirmative action'. I wonder if this is why we get so many freshmen who are indifferent to doing work, and then shocked when they fail. The really insulting thing about social promotion is that they assume that kids can't see right through it.

The Pagan Temple said...

Might there be kind of an economic reason behind this phenomenon as well? Most universities want to attract as many students as possible, whether those students pay by way of their parents money or by student loans/grants.

If they can brag about their low failure rate, it makes them that much more attractive to potential students and those students families. It also makes lenders that much more amenable to approving loans for such an institution.

It also keeps their professors from having their qualifications called into question, as a lot of parents just can't fathom their kid might have failed because they just weren't cut out for university, or at least for the curriculum they pushed their kids into taking.

Rufus said...

Oh yeah, it's definitely the path of least resistance. A university in which a good number of students failure might have high standards, but it's terrible business sense!

I wonder if the 'no child left behind' stuff will have a positive or a negative effect on this at the elementary school level. It might encourage them to pass more kids and keep their funding.

The Pagan Temple said...

Probably a negative effect, if I understand "No Child Left Behind" correctly.

Under that program, the kids aren't so much expected to learn, they are just expected to memorize, and unfortunately memorization doesn't necessarily last a very long time, if it's not augmented by at least some in-depth study .

Rufus said...

I think that's about right. In New York, we have the regent's exam, which they have to take in High School. I get the feeling that most of their teaching is to the exam, as we put it. Our freshmen often ask us "Can you just tell us the stuff we have to memorize for the exam?"

To be honest, I wish we could scrap the factory process of education entirely and return to individualized Socratic education. Of course, that would cost a fortune...