A news item that recently has been buzzing in many Canadian newspapers recently is about a teacher at an Edmonton High school, Lynden Dorval, who was suspended for giving his students at Ross Sheppard High school zeros for not handing in assignments.
Upon hearing this news most people would probably throw their hands up in the air and say, “What on earth is our school system coming to when the children can maintain an average of 63% and only hand in 6 of 15 assignments?” Were any adults today coddled in such a fashion at school? And considering other countries strict policies and competition in learning, doesn’t this set the Canadian bar pretty low on the world stage?
I’m all for giving participation ribbons to primary school and kindergarten kids for showing up for sports, but this is high school we’re talking about. These are not children, but young adults. Reproductively speaking, they can now start making children of their own, so shouldn’t this be the time to start teaching them responsibility? Can’t their fragile egos take a little 0 on a test score when they didn’t even bother to hand it in? Am I just not getting something here?
In an effort to figure out how this came to be implemented in the first place I went digging and found articles about this from the national post which give a bit of an overview that the policy came from an idea that students should be graded on the work they do and not punished with zeros for work they didn’t do, as giving a zero grade is more about discipline then performance. Alright, ok…but isn’t it also the job of the school do a little disciplining when necessary? Wouldn’t academic type discipline be of particularly good use? It’s hard to believe they think that they are truly preparing a young adult for college or university by allowing these kinds of loopholes. What about the self esteem of the kid who did all 15 of his assignments and got a legitimate 64%? When the kid skipping school in the back did less than half the work and could still legitimately make the same grade how exactly is that fair? What lessons is it teaching that kid?
So, still being unconvinced in the benefit of a no zero policy I went looking for more info, and found an interesting link in an Edmonton Journal article that listed some perspectives of educators who were in favor of the no zero policy which you can also read here. The interesting thing that these three educators are saying is that they think that zeros mean you allow the student to give up. If you refuse to give them a zero you can try to work with them to get something to mark. Mmk…but what if they don’t listen to you and just don’t bother to try? Aren’t you, the educator, giving up on them if you just skip it like it didn’t happen once you have to formally put in some grades? Isn’t this working to pad the schools numbers so that the scores are higher than they actually have earned? I mean, you have to put something in the box before the year is up, aren’t you letting them off the hook a little here if you replace what should be goose eggs with a politically correct and impossible to count I for incomplete? Isn’t the benefit going directly to the schools reports and not to the student?
After a bit more research I found a copy of the letter written to Dorval from the Superintendant of Edmonton public schools Edgar Schmidt. I was appalled at the tone of the letter, and the fact that it twice lists how the teacher will be charged if he is found on school property or did not return his keys. The letter was scathing, and makes it pretty obvious that they’re going to fire this teacher and care nothing for the stand he was trying to make. Because he didn’t do it through the right channels, (assuming there actually are channels he could effectively use when you disagree with the high poobahbiness of the principal in charge), this letter shows that the superintendent is only concerned with the fact that the teacher didn’t do as he was told (and I admit, this is problematic) and does not in any way address the issue at its heart. This makes me think that they have already made their decisions on this, and it’s more offensive that a teacher dare disagree with them then it is that he might have a point.
After researching the superintendent I found this open letter in favor of the no zero policy that he wrote. There is also an explanation on the Edmonton public school board site here and another article about grading here. There are some interesting points here, but I’m still not convinced. Maybe I need to be brainwashed as a principal first, I dunno. The points that they bring up seem thin, and not really supported by fact. They make suppositions, but they don’t site actual studies. They allude to this being in the best interests of the student, but I’m still only seeing a vague, ‘we’re all different so can’t be judged the same’, wishy washy and frankly fishy sounding arguments. Why are we coddling our youth? I’m not saying go out and beat them with sticks, but come on here, we can at least expect that they can attempt to do some homework without the teacher running around behind them with an educational pooper scooper trying to grab “nuggets” to show that they understand the material and force them to do some work, or just nag them to death. Why would reducing educators to this be in the interests of children or the educator?
Now, I appreciate that the pursuit of the material by the teacher is a dedicated approach, but I still think it’s misguided and unrealistic. I’ve gone to university and my teachers there would not allow an assignment that was not handed in to be skipped just so I could pass. You would get a 0. Same goes for work. If a worker decides not to show up, I do not think bosses everywhere are going to run around behind employees encouraging them to try to show up and pay them anyway (unless they’re in a union, then maybe). They will generally fire said employee. It’s unrealistic to teach our young adults otherwise, and we are in fact giving up on them if we do this, because no one else will. They will not succeed in University, College, the workplace and even life if they think this is the norm.
I was considering sending letters to Ross Sheppard, Edmonton Public schools, The Alberta Minister of Education and perhaps even the prime minister himself but now I wonder if this will make a difference, and what can I really say but that I, as a layman, do not approve of how education is being given by the people in charge of educating.
I guess I can just try. The worst thing they can do is give me zero attention. Which is probably ok with them because, being adults from the real world, we should all be familiar with how life actually works.