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Zeroes in School Teach Life?

In Rants on September 9, 2012 at 4:13 am

An Edmonton teacher feels so strongly about the importance of giving zeroes to students who don’t complete work, that he is putting his job on the line.  The “Hero of Zero” is 35 year veteran physics teacher, Lynden Dorval.  [Read more]  The public is behind him. The CTV news poll on the webpage carrying the story revealed that 93% of readers answered the question, “Should students who don’t complete their schoolwork be given zeros?” in the affirmative.  The reasons behind the 93% are perhaps represented in the comments.

Many felt that to not give a zero was coddling people who ought to have a good hard dose of reality.  Janet B. says, “if <sic> the prevailing attitude were education over self-esteem we’d actually have some winners joining our workforce. instead<sic> we get these snivelling<sic>, whining, self-absorbed, loathsome creatures that demand equal pay for inferior work.”  Most of the many comments assumed that to not give a zero meant giving points for work not turned in.  They thought this was absurd—and it is.  Here’s Ted: “Zero work equals Zero mark. What’s the problem? It’s so simple (almost) any idiot could figure it out.”

I don’t have all the information regarding the EPS’s no-zero policy, but I understand why we don’t give zeroes at my school. I suspect the reasons are the same.  Almost every comment on the CTV piece indicates a complete misunderstanding of the reasoning behind not giving zeroes.

Fundamentally, the no-zero policy means that students are not allowed to decide they won’t do required work.  And it means that teachers are not allowed to let children get away with deciding not to do required work.  But it’s more than that as well.

It all comes down to what the marks mean.

Do parents want the physics teacher to give a mark that tells us the percentage of assignment turned in?  It wouldn’t matter if you understood a thing, if the assignment was in you get a 100% and if you don’t turn it in you get a zero.  Only under this scheme do zeroes make sense.

This is not what marks mean and zeroes don’t make sense if you are measuring the knowledge/skills/abilities of a student in a in a specific class.  Here, the data is not the missing assignment; it is what is in the missing assignment.

The problem is that we’ve been measuring both the quantity and the quality of student work on the on the same scale.  Actually, we’ve been measuring more than just those two things.

Along with measuring knowledge/skills/abilities, marks have also included:

  • attitude (which often translates into ,
  • teacher’s-pet bonuses,
  • participation (this makes sense in some courses, but to arbitrarily reward extroverts isn’t supportable,
  • the skills and abilities of other student (remember how unfair those shared mark for “group work” were),
  • extra-credit (so we didn’t measure just what the student knows, but they get higher marks if they tell it to us more than other kids do),
  • neatness,
  • practice assignments (does it make sense to include marks for practice assignments in a final mark),
  • and of course lateness (deduction of 3% per day late) and zeroes for assignments not turned in at all.

For the mark to mean anything, all these things must be removed so that it indicates only what the student knows and what she can do at the time of the assessment.

This is not to say that turning ones work in on time (or anything else on the list) is not important, but only that it not be included in the mark.

Theoretically, zeroes can be used under the no-zero policy if it is an accurate representation of what the student knows.  But, it is highly unlikely that the student knows absolutely nothing.

The teacher is expected to assess what the student can do or what she knows.  Without data, this is impossible.  The teacher must get.  No data, no mark.  If a zero is averaged into the mark, it no longer communicates what it is supposed to communicate—it no longer measures performance.

Many of the comments scoffed at the official line that missing assignments “was a behavioural issue” rather than an academic one.  Those commenting seemed to interpret behavioural issue something which justified the missing assignments.  This isn’t the case at all.  The missing assignment is a behavioural issue.  In many cases, it is unacceptable behaviour and needs to be dealt with like all other unacceptable behaviors: like bullying, vandalism or littering.  We don’t take off marks for these behaviours.  To take marks off for late or missing assignments would amount to the same thing as deducting points for dress code violations.  These are not academic issues, but behavioural ones.

I believe this policy is more like the real world than giving zeroes.  If I’m lazy my job at the grocery store, my boss will not deduct from my wages for neglecting to stack the fruit, and then allow me to go on to try soup stacking.  He will make me do the fruit, with some additional instruction if necessary, or he will fire me!  If a student doesn’t complete the assignments I need in order to assess her learning, she receives no credit for the course.  That’s real life.  And it’s much harsher than a little old zero.

Several comments in the CTV report said that zeroes were a great motivation.  But teachers can still have those motivating conversations with students: “If you don’t do this assignment by Wednesday, you can’t receive credit for the course.  I’m going to help you finish it by keeping you in every lunch until then.”

One of the main reasons I am in favour of the no-zero policy is how it motivates students.  I have been a teacher for almost 30 years and I have never seen students more motivated that when all the things that distorted the marks were removed and student understood what the marks meant and what specifically they could do about it.

Why Christians Ought to Be Royalists

In Christ and Culture on March 8, 2017 at 7:15 am

Last week my school received a visit from the Honourable Judith Guichon, the Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia. The lieutenant governor the representative of Queen Elizabeth II in BC.  The visit followed the expected protocols–teachers dressed formally; Her Honour was accompanied by an Aide-de-Camp in full RCMP dress uniform; she entered the assembly in a processional and various other formalities were followed; we sang the national anthem and “God Save the Queen.”

There is a quiet conversation going on in Canada about the point of it all.  Like most issues in Canada, we take it seriously enough to talk about it, but not so seriously that we heap derision on those with whom we disagree.  But still, some people question the role of the Royal Family in Canada–and in England for that matter.

The Royal Family has an important role.  Never mind the good that they do through the Royal visits and causes they for which they advocate.  Even if you take all these significant contributions off the table, they play a significant role just by being royal.

One of the reasons we might question the role of royalty is because we have this idea that “all men are created equal”–that equality is a desired end–and that, therefore, democracy is some how the best sort of government.  Royalty and democracy don’t go together.

Winston Churchill said that “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”  For Democracy to work people would need to be good and wise, and they are neither.   The reason democracy is better than all other forms of government is because it takes the fact of human depravity and decentralizes it.

C. S. Lewis comments on our cultural captivation with equality.

I do not think that equality is one of those things (like wisdom or happiness) which are good simply in themselves and for their own sakes. I think it is in the same class as medicine, which is good because we are ill, or clothes which are good because we are no longer innocent.

According to Lewis, the notion of equality is a necessity to mitigate the power of evil in a fallen world.  Equality came after the Fall to counter the desires of evil men to oppress and exploit each other.

[T]he function of equality is purely protective. It is medicine, not food. By treating human persons (in judicious defiance of observed facts) as if they were all the same kind of thing [like widgets], we avoid innumerable evils.  But it is not on this we were meant to live. It is idle to say that mean are of equal value. If value is taken in a worldly sense – if we mean that all men are equally useful or beautiful or good or entertaining – then it is nonsense. If it means that all are of equal value as immortal souls, then I think it conceals a dangerous error. The infinite value of each human soul is not a Christian doctrine. God did not die for man because of some value He perceived in him. The value of each human soul considered simply in itself, out of relation to God, is zero. As St. Paul writes, to have died for valuable men would not have been divine but merely heroic; but God died for sinners. He loved us not because we were lovable, but because He is love. It may be that He loves all equally – He certainly loved us all to death. . . . If there is equality, it is in His love, not us.

In Western cultures we accept as normative the virtues of equality and of democracy.  The “you are no better than I am” sentiment results a reluctance to submit to legitimate authorities–the boss, the coach, government, parents.   This sort of thing seeps into the Western Church as well.  There might be a hesitance to submit to the church leadership.  Some denominations are made up of autonomous congregations.  These conditions are not part of God’s creational design.

As Canadians we have a connection to the Royals that the Americans do not.  Americans have their Declaration of Independence which tells them that “All men are created equal.”  It just ain’t so.  As Canadians we have an advantage over our American brothers and sisters in that we have a powerful symbol to remind us who we really are.

The benefit of the Royal Family and the aristocratic class is that they ground us in reality.  They are not just a symbol of a faded empire, but of a Creational truth that we are not, in fact, created equal.  They remind us of the Biblical truth that our value is not is our sameness, but in Christ’s love for us.  But there is some value in our “inequality,” in our uniqueness, as we serve as different (unequal) parts of The Body (Romans 12).

Perhaps the main reason why people argue that the Royals are irrelevant is out of a misplaced allegiance to equality.  Perhaps not, but as we watch “Downton Abbey” or “The Crown” or the various visits, appearances and events featuring the Royals, it might be a beneficial, even spiritual, discipline to reflect on what all the pomp and circumstance might signify, and how it might bring us toward the truth of who we are in the Kingdom.