*Hard blink* *Headshake*

           There’s a
question that surreptitiously plagues us. Sometimes it’s asked seriously and
sometimes sardonically. Its answer is often perpetrated by those who confine
themselves to certain borders, allowing them a uniquely designed filter to
respond. The question is this: Why is America the greatest country in the
world?

           Its scope
is so large that nearly any response is acceptable based on even fleeting
thoughts or opinion. It makes for a lot of enjoyable, deplorable, funny, sad
conversations. My nature is as a skeptic, in that I don’t believe something
until I can process it like tying my shoes. I’ve always been willing to attempt
an objective stance, in this case that maybe America isn’t the best and that’s
okay. But the further I come into my life, the more the shoelaces get tangled
and uneven, mimicking a poorly wrapped hose more than a functional pair of
sneakers. And that means my answer isn’t Maybe
we aren’t the greatest country in the world, but that we aren’t. At least not in education.

           I speak as
a teacher who watches his students wallow on a daily basis. I’m part of a
system that emphasizes quantity to show quality. In my current district, the
board of education has required us to have 13 grades per class, per marking
period. (In August, it was 11; I’m not sure how or why that changed and that
information has not been provided to us.) There are only about 11 calendar
weeks per quarter.

           Though
roughly one assignment a week doesn’t seem terribly unreasonable, let’s do some
math.

           I have 112
students. Multiplied by 13, that’s 1,456 graded assignments a marking period.
Over a full 180 day school year, that’s 5,824 graded assignments, or 32.35 per
school day. But it is inevitable that work will eventually come home after all
bells have rung and buses departed; so decrease that 32.35 by a number you deem
reasonable. In addition, these assignments are not all classified the same:
instead of a whole point system where students get a grade based on the amount
of points achieved out of the amount possible, they’re weighted into three
categories. Each of these categories needs to have a certain amount of those
5,824 assignments, meaning we’re tracking that, too.  

           This information is not readily placed in front of students and, as such and
combined with how they’ve come through the school system, something else is
inevitable. They’ll ask, “Are we going to have any more grades?” At that
moment, any learning stops whether those requisite 13 assignments have been met
or not. It becomes supplanted by an itch for something task oriented, something
instantly measurable like how clean a carpet is after vacuuming. Grades become
the epitaph of an education.

           The reason
is simple: proof of a lesson learned comes not in a single letter or number but
in a succinct statement. There is no Confucius quote or t-shirt that says “I
got an A in English III” or “My GPA is 3.86 unweighted.” Maybe there should be –
it would probably reach a larger audience than this post.

           More than
anything, if someone wants to know why America isn’t the greatest country in
the world by educational standards – why we’re barely in the top 30
internationally despite myriad legislation and reform – they need to look only
at the aggrandized requirements to which our system becomes subjected.

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