Class participation grades don’t accomplish what they intend to

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As classes come around full-swing and the happier times when students could look forward to talking about syllabi for an hour and 20 minutes and push off their reading assignments because they’re not being tested on anything yet come to a screeching halt, another type of problem beyond “I guess I have to read ‘Heart of Darkness’” is starting to crop up.

That problem is the in-class discussion of “Heart of Darkness.” Well, maybe not “Heart of Darkness” specifically, but, well, you get the idea.

I am a card-carrying member of the “Anti-Graded Participation” Party. It’s pretty elite, as not many students and/or faculty agree with me. If you are in the latter camp, bear with me here.

My hatred of graded participation stems from a certain teacher from a certain high school. I came from a large, diverse high school. I guess this one teacher in particular didn’t like that latter part. And “he” used graded participation to knock those “diverse” students down a few pegs on the grade scale.

Let me explain. Back in the day (I graduated in 2015; no old jokes, please), I had a solid group of non-hegemonic friends, as is the norm for my area. Many of said friends were Vietnamese and Filipino. For those of you who haven’t taken introductory courses in sociology or psychology, these countries tend to be collectivist cultures, whereas America is individualistic. There is nothing wrong with either, but there is a distinct advantage to one over the other when a teacher starts a class out by telling students to “put on their academic fisticuffs.”

So, essentially, a class environment in which students literally had to battle each other for participation points was created that year. And guess which students were the first to lose “round one?” And, from rumblings I’ve heard from other “diverse” students and faculty, there seems to be reason to believe said teacher did this on purpose.

Prejudices aside, can you see another problem with such a setup? If you answered, “Wouldn’t students learn to essentially hate each other and ‘do battle’ with each other so they could get a better grade, which really doesn’t seem like a healthy atmosphere that’s conducive to learning?” you advance to round two.

We hated each other. Truly, we did. A bunch of 4.0-ers who see each other as a threat to that 4.0 is an intense thing to have. We slammed each other on Twitter, used personal attacks in class (ad hominems, for those of you unfamiliar with catty overachievers), dis-invited people to birthday parties and a bunch of other petty high school stuff.

Some of us (yours truly falling in this camp), had enough of “Welcome to the Jungle” metaphorically playing every time we entered the arena (or classroom, if you’d like), and made a point not to participate in this mass chaos. I have been borderline insubordinate in my quest not to participate. Admittedly, I would take extremely detailed notes on “Heart of Darkness” (to keep with the theme), and I would display them clearly on my desk in the first row. I remember my teacher coming by, tapping my desk, making eye contact and me nodding in the understanding that I was to share said notes. When “he” opened the floor for battle and asked for a volunteer to start us off, I folded my arms and smiled at him.

He was, shall we say, “miffed” at that one.

The same teacher also raised my participation grade because “he” was a fan of mine for other reasons (a strange type of favoritism that I think may have stemmed from my outright savagery against participation – and the fact that I was “non-diverse”), and I told him to move it back to a zero. That one really threw him for a loop.

There’s another piece to the puzzle that really explains why, in college, I still am a non-participator. In every class (the aforementioned jungle included), there’s those three or five “staple” students who always, always, always shoot their hands up the minute class starts and dominate the discussion. When a grade’s on the line and those five or so hands have spoken, a ton of other hands shoot up and essentially repeat what was just said.

This irks me to no end. If you don’t have anything else to say, don’t say anything. I can recall a class I took last semester where this system got so out of hand (pun intended) that we ended up being four days behind the syllabus.

Such a system fails to accomplish what graded participation is supposedly set out to do: encourage students to do their work and open their mouths in class.

I think I’m living, breathing proof that that’s complete bull–I mean baloney.

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