Rethinking Grades, Part 1

During this week of unexpected time off due to snow days, I found myself thinking about grades. This time of the semester, faculty can submit early warnings, especially as we see which students are trending toward unsatisfactory performance or risking failure due to attendance. For students, the wakeup call comes now. I hope they will use the two weeks before spring break to refocus and recommit. The time off also gave me time to read two pieces juxtaposed this week, Chronicle Vitae‘s “Dear Student, No, I Won’t Change the Grade you Deserve” and “College Grade Inflation Means B is the New C+,” Allison Kite’s report for the Scripps Howard Foundation Wire republished in the Commercial Appeal.

As a professor, I feel solidarity with the professors and instructors quoted in the Chronicle Vitae piece. Grading presents the most challenging and most frustrating part of my job. In first-year writing courses, some students face a steep incline to adjust to college expectations. For work that might be satisfactory and meet an assignments minimal guidelines in addressing its purpose, students will receive grades and expect A-level grades for completing the assignment. In some cases, like the professors cited in both the Vitae and Kite pieces, I agree that student demands for better grades can be tied to feelings of academic entitlement. However, I also want to steer away from a belief that only students are at fault. Seeing the ways students in grades as early as kindergarten and first grade are prepared for and measured by high-stakes testing makes me realize that we have conditioned students from a young age to see their grades and test scores as measurements of their potential and worth. Moreover, state and university-level financial aid policies and scholarship programs often tie rigorous grade requirements to renewal of scholarships and grants. Students often find themselves in a position where satisfactory isn’t satisfactory enough. For universities–public and private–that are increasingly reliant on tuition, the pressure to retain students is also real.

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Remarks for CBU NAACP Chapter Chartering

On September 4, 2014, the NAACP Tennessee Conference officially granted a campus charter to CBU. As a faculty co-advisor for the campus chapter, I had the chance to deliver the following remarks:

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Remarks as Prepared

Tonight, as a faculty advisor for the CBU NAACP Chapter, I have been offered the opportunity to say a few words to mark this important event in CBU’s history. I am honored. The Lasallian Christian Brothers have long had a commitment to educating the poor and underrepresented as a means to bringing about a more just society. On the grounds of this campus, Br. Terence McLaughlin acted against the orders of Church leaders who told him it was too soon to integrate Christian Brothers High School. Defying the wishes of Church leadership, Br. Terence acted in defense of fairness and equality, admitting Jesse Turner as the first African American student on August 16, 1963. Christian Brothers High School became the first high school in Memphis to desegregate. Bishop William L. Adrian chastised Br. Terence for moving too swiftly, writing, “Up to this, we have followed the policy that integration be authorized only when the pastors of Shelby County approved; this included high school integration. Evidently you misunderstood or ignored this.” Br. Terence had not misunderstood the Bishop’s directive; rather, he understood that acting justly required breaking unjust policies.

Today, CBU is one of the most diverse university campuses in the South, but we cannot rely on our past and present. As a university, we must prepare students for future challenges. A college education is an investment in futurity—future careers and earnings but also future civic engagement.

Why do we need a chapter of the NAACP on a college campus in 2014? As someone who teaches about race, culture, and history, I see the difficulty students often have in participating in open discussions about race. For too many students, the topic feels taboo. An NAACP chapter on this campus ensures that students will have the opportunity to discuss and learn about the ways prejudice affects people. Education creates a foundation for advocacy and empowerment. Education is the foundation of justice. Continue reading