The Pregnant Waddle

Pre-Pregnancy Weight Just Around the Corner (It's Trying to Run and Hide)

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Bad, bad, bad, bad frustrations, or, This should have been at least two posts. Maybe three.

I try not to blog about work for fear of getting dooced, so this will have to be rather vague. Every year of my tenure at this school, I have experienced a Crisis, sometimes Two Crises, usually occurring toward the end of the school year when graduation is in sight and tensions are high. This year has been relatively smooth, probably because I’m no longer teaching seniors. But an acquaintance of mine is.

The course he teaches offers two credits, one for class and one for an extracurricular activity. Many of his students have failed to engage in this extracurricular activity (hereafter E.A.), and so will get only one credit for the year. No big deal; most of them are blowing off his class (an elective, into which a choice group of apathetics have been dumped) anyway.

One student, though, is in such peril of not graduating because after four years of high school, the student is barely scraping by with the credits to the point where if the student does not get the credit for the E.A., the student will not graduate. Let’s all repeat together: Good planning! Never mind that the student is also currently failing two courses necessary for graduation. Those courses can be retaken in summer school, but an elective cannot. And remember, the student really really really needs that one credit.

The only problem being, the student has not engaged in the E.A. At all. All year.

My acquaintance, of course, has mentioned to the student at several points throughout the year the necessity of engaging in the E.A. He was not aware that the student really really really needed the one credit, but even if he had known this, there wasn’t much he could have done about it aside from physically dragging the student to the E.A. on a daily basis.

So, the student’s guidance counselor has been firing off emails to my acquaintance and the school’s administrators about my acquaintance’s incompetence. (My acquaintance, I must say, has been extremely gracious—and feeling extremely guilty, though this isn’t in any way his fault—about the whole thing.) My acquaintance, bending over backwards, has been tootling around the school trying to locate people with the authority to fix/override this issue. The buck has been passed up to my acquaintance’s departmental head, who, incidentally, was fired (no, I mean “promoted”) from her last job—as principal of our high school. Her solution: have the student write a short research paper and assign it a grade to cover all 540 hours of the neglected E.A.

Now, to me, it’s pretty clear, as it has been for the past three years, that this school will do just about anything to graduate students—never mind if the students do passing work or even, technically, work. Never mind that this particular student will probably do no research on and/or plagiarize the entire paper. And if the paper is poorly done/plagiarized? I can guarantee the administrators will not back up my acquaintance should he assign the paper a failing grade. I know this because it’s happened to me.

My acquaintance is not allowed to fail the student, even by merely acknowledging that the student has not done any part of a credit that was supposed to involve engaging in an E.A. for the entire school year. He is being asked to pretend that, in fact, the E.A. was done, and to essentially make up a grade for this figmental E.A.

If that is our administrators’ attitude, why make students attend class at all? Why not just pretend they’ve attended a year’s worth of classes, and then pull a figure out of the air—preferably an A; that’ll show we’re a High School That Works—to assign their imaginary output?

Academic honesty is such a needlessly nebulous thing. It seems to me that schools have become so concerned with student success, as measured in passing and graduation rates, that they have lost sight of what education is really about. My honors class is a microcosm of this. All A and B students; nearly all rampant cheaters. I try to design most work so that students can “help” each other, because I know they will whether I allow it or not. Tests and papers are the final frontier, and I for one will hold out for academic honesty on these as long as I’m in education and forever thereafter.

What bothers me about all this is that if our students stole objects with the frequency that they steal ideas and words, they would be prosecuted. I am a person who made it through 22 years of school without ever plagiarizing anything (except for that time I looked at the math paper of the person next to me, in second grade, but let’s not talk about that), and I worked damn hard. I worked for my grades the way I work for my paycheck; I craft ideas the way someone else might build a house or paint a picture. I have nothing but contempt for a student—any student—who chooses the easy way out of academic dishonesty over the fruits, however unsatisfactory, of legitimate labor.

But there is a larger issue of academic honesty at stake here: the academic honesty of those who promote a student to the next level, who assign a grade, who sign a diploma. An administrator who says that a student has done all the work necessary to earn a diploma when that student has not is lying. A teacher who passes a child just to get him out of that particular grade, because God forbid we deal any blow to the child’s self-esteem and assign an F, is lying. A parent who covers up a child’s academic weaknesses by insisting that teachers and administrators do these things is lying. They are all lying about the child’s abilities and saying something has been accomplished that, in fact, has not. And that’s when a diploma becomes worthless.

Last year, I confronted an issue of academic dishonesty which still has me reeling … and I’m not even talking about the student’s lack of honesty, though it was impressive. I was ordered by my administrators to pass this student, which I did and for which I am still rather ashamed. It all came down to how much trouble and stress I was willing to cause myself and my husband, especially when the outcome was foregone. The student would pass; the only variables were how much time I might spend fighting it and whether I would subsequently have a job.

(As a side note, I Googled my former student today, and found that the student has lied in a press release about the student’s senior year GPA. I know it wasn’t a 4.0, because I personally gave that student a D.)

Allowing academic dishonesty does no one any favors. It discredits the institutions that allow it, and it turns students into sociopaths who believe lying, cheating and stealing are relative and rules don’t apply to them. And it penalizes those who are honest by degrading the value of their diplomas.

I don’t really know how to end this—I’m having trouble stopping writing. Um, go to church*! And read I am Charlotte Simmons.

The End

(no part of this essay was plagiarized in any way)

* sorry, a rather weak inside joke that maybe nobody in my circle of friends but me remembers … The main point of many convoluted sermons … I’m done now.


At 11:23 PM, Blogger Nate said...

These kids of stories piss me off big time. If your school's hoity-toities want some failure passed, they should take the teacher's failing grade and make the changes themselves, not tell the teacher that the student has to pass the failure. It's bad enough that students need to fight parents, and it's worse that teachers get no back-up from their administrations.

At 11:24 PM, Blogger Nate said...

Did I say "the failure"? I mean "as a failure." Dumb me. That's how worked up I am.

At 12:31 AM, Anonymous Sarah said...

I completely understand what you mean. Last year our principal passed a student who had FAILED every single class (even resource classes) because he was labeled exceptional. I know some kids will never be able to pass a certain grades because of severe mental retardation, but this was not one of those kids. She just wanted to make her numbers look better. Who cares about the kids. If he had had some consequences maybe he would make the effort to pass a class or two.


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