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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Something for Nothing

Yesterday I was talking to my students about taking pride in their work. As we were going over a quiz some the students claimed that others had cheated off of them and received a higher score. From personal experience I know that strategic cheating can lead to just such an occurrence, but it is rare. In fact, I take a certain amount of pride in being able to game the system. It is my Kobyashi Moru. However, since I teach sweathogs my references to James Kirk settled into a holding pattern just above their heads and the conversation quickly devolved into students complaining about grades. Somehow we got to the point where students just wanted grades handed to them.

I have succeeded where Kirstie Alley has failed.

Two things we can learn from this picture. 1. All of my cultural touchstones are  at least 20 years old. 2. Gabe Kaplan could rock the stache. 

I facetiously agreed with them and asked each student what grade they wanted. Most of them of course chose an "A". One of the more criminally minded student asked for a "C" because it was more believable. Only one student gave the answer right when she said that she didn't want to play my game. The answer I really wanted to hear was, "I want the grade that I earned."

Since I did not get that answer, it was time to break out the sports analogies. One of the students played football so I asked if he would take credit for stats that were not his. He responded with a rambling amorphously mumbled, "maybe," that stunned me into silence. I couldn't believe that students are okay with, and even take pride in, numbers that don't truly represent them. They were equally stunned that I would not take advantage of false statistics.

In order to prove their point they hauled out the steamer-trunk of improbable hypotheticals and a boat-load of cliches. "If you think about it, it would be like if somebody just came up to you and handed you $1000, you know what I'm saying?"

I conceded that if the financial incentive was large enough I might understand some claiming numbers that aren't theirs, but no such financial incentive exists when it comes to high school grades. Perhaps if there was a scholarship on the line or you were 1/1000th of a  point behind the valedictorian, I could understand a little scheming.

You know when I was talking about scheming students, this was the picture you had in mind you racist.

Enough of my students were familiar with golf that I was able analogize the heck out this agrument. In golf you keep your own score, and unless there is a large financial reward at the end of the tournament, I could not think of a decent reason to alter my score. The modest increase in respect from my fellow players would be squashed by the amount of respect I lose for myself.

I hope that beer is worth it Tim.
So when politicians and society create high-stakes tests and try to motivate students with high paying J-O-Bs all it does is create a damp dark fecund environment for the fungus of fraud. If a society wants highly educated students, then we should stop incentivizing the masquerade, and if students want respect from teachers and employers, they have to respect themselves enough to not participate in these self-delusions of grandeur.