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Topic: First Day of School (06/28/04)
TITLE: Books and Rulers
By Mary C Legg
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Noisy students crowd into a classroom, choosing seats to sit with their new found friends, not lined up alphabetically. They hug their books and analyze each teacher by clothes, speech and slow reactions. They know the scene and have the advantage when they enter, ganging up in collective groups and comparing notes.
The first day, the day when rules are spelt out, written in white on black slate.
Thou shalt not cheat. Let me count the ways:
in copying others' work
in "correcting " others work
buying papers and so on
Everyone knows the basic of rules of school:
Do your own work; prepare for exams.
Without rules, the work is meaningless. Wiithout rules grades are worthless. There has to be some base for evaluation of your work. Consider the problems from the other side. Education is a contract between teacher and student, not the institution and the teacher. You've got it all wrong there— The institution doesn't really need the teacher and doesn't need to learn anything.
This contract we have is a fifty-fifty bargain at best. Whatever you do forces the teacher to respond. If you work hard, the teacher works harder. Multiply the homework assigned to the number of students in the classroom. Estimate how many pages per night. Got it? That's a lot of work. You grumble about an essay? Let's change places.
But what about grades? A ruler isn't just the instrument you use to write neatly on a blank sheet of paper; it's a tool to create neatly outlined structures. How should the structure be constructed? Give it a thought for a minute.
1. Should grades be dependent on popularity? Does that mean the person who gets an A is the nicest person? Give the apple to the teacher technique? Rather empty value, isn't it. Popularity is often based on superficialities, appearance and status, but do either really reveal ability?
Or consider bullies—bullies intimidate and get others to vote for them or impress others to do their homework for them. Is that fair? Shouldn't grades be based on something that can be assessed?
2. Evaluate the work? Let's take a look. How easy are grammar exercises? Aren't they relatively brainless repetitions? Isn't it more difficult to write than fill in the blank? Do you think that canned responses ought to be weighted higher than original work? No.
What about mouthed cliches? Trite phrases and worn out platitudes?
3. Original work is more important? How should it be evaluated? Are there stupid and intelligent mistakes made in writing? Is "runned down the street" a stupid or intelligent mistake? Stupid. Why?
So what should the rule for evaluation be?
Content- the originality and depth of material
Coherence- the clarity of thought and communication of principles
Vocabulary- the ability to express complex ideas with appropriate language
Structure-organization and internal development
Mechanics- spelling, basic grammar, syntax, punctuation
Stupid Mistakes- runned, winned, they is
Would you stay at a concert where the soprano sang off pitch and was out of synch with the acompianist? No—you'd go to a rock concert instead. So it is with writing. When it's out of synch, the reader goes off to the funny pages or turns on the television.
If there are no mistakes, is there any need of a teacher? Would you ever improve if I let you cook up the same old hash with the same old indigestible mistakes.
It really doesn't matter to me if you hate me; because I'm not here to be loved. My first concern is my love for English--a very beautiful, rich language. There are rules, you know, and whenever I submit to an editor I have to play by them myself. And yes, I know about vanity presses and vanity contests, but really, I'm not into any of it. In life, you choose your goals and if you stumble and fall while going after them, it's very good sign that you are doing something very difficult.
Consider Adam and Eve—when did they begin their education? What happened after they ate the apple? Aha—their eyes were opened. Only then, did they have the opportunity of becoming educated and learn about the world they lived in. It's only through mistakes that much is gained. You see, really it was good. Now that you have free choice, use your brain.