Daily Archives: May 22, 2008

Critique

Dearest Readers:

I’m at the beginning of a unit on debate and persuasion with both my public speaking and composition classes. As part of my comp. class’s assignment, I tasked them to choose a topic from among those listed in their text book, to establish a position, to write a list of pros and cons and then, using that list, to write a well-reasoned and convincing essay. Today’s class was focused on putting these essays together.

I’d completely forgotten to bring grading with me today, so I decided to use the time in class to write my own essay – I did the assignment right along with them. The reason I’m putting it here is that I want – nay, I need – some reasoned critique. I have a basic grasp of the concepts of persuasive writing, but I’m not confident that I’ve mastered it. I’m sure I’m still committing logical fallacies all over the place, and I need people smarter than I to point them out to me.

So, are any of you masters at debate? Care to help a Chili out?

Resolved: Schools should allow a policy of repeat/delete to their students.

Repeat/delete is a term used for the practice of a learning institution to allow students the opportunity to repeat classes in an effort to earn a better grade. The prior grade for the class is erased from the student’s record and replaced with the grade for the repeated course.

It is a widely accepted premise that different students have different learning styles. Educators and parents alike will attest to the fact that every child is different, and that some students function better in traditional classroom settings than others. These varied learning styles, and the experiences of educators who witness them, are the reason why a repeat/delete policy is a good one for any school to implement.

Schools, particularly now in the age of No Child Left Behind and the fierce competition for students in post-secondary institutions, are heavily invested in their students’ success. Very often, a leaning institution’s very existence and survival are dependent almost entirely on student performance. Repeat/delete gives the students and their schools the opportunity to strive for the best representation of that performance. Allowing students to drop a less-than-satisfactory grade after the successful completion of a repeated course gives the school a chance to not only ensure the best opportunities and learning environments for the students, but also has the potential to lift the overall performance rating of the institution itself. A higher performance rating is a pathway, under the current education funding system, to more money and the potential to attract better teaching faculty and a stronger student body.

Each individual student learns at his or her own pace. Putting a repeat/delete policy in place is a way for an institution to recognize and honor a variety of learning styles in its student body. A student who is easily able to grasp the concepts of the class and who can perform the tasks required to demonstrate mastery need only take the course once. Those students who have difficulty understanding the material or who work at a slower pace are at a disadvantage under the traditional once-and-done model of education. The repeat/delete policy provides those students who fall behind or who need more time or attention to understand the objectives of the course the opportunity to demonstrate mastery at their own pace and does not penalize them for their learning styles and different abilities. If the policy is applied fairly – that is, if the student who is unhappy with his B+ is afforded the same chance to improve his grade as the failing student is given – then it cannot be claimed that the policy provides an unfair advantage to only one group of students.

The argument can rightly be made that the world – the “real world” – does not provide students with many repeat/delete opportunities. I am reminded of a Volkswagon advertisement from the mid-90s that showcased the car maker’s safety innovations. At the end of the commercial, the voice-over made the very correct observation that, “in life, there is no reset button.” Opponents of the repeat/delete policy would argue that schools would be doing their students a disservice by allowing the policy because they would be setting up in the student the unrealistic expectation that failure has no meaningful consequences. Students would learn from the repeat/delete mode that it doesn’t matter if they don’t succeed the first time – that there’s always an opportunity for a do-over. While there is some validity to this contention, it is only valid if the school and its teaching faculty promote the policy in that light.

The fact is that students who choose the repeat/delete are doing so under a very real set of consequences. First, there is the social stigma associated with repeating a class, and with having to acclimate to a new set of classmates. Peer pressure can be a very powerful motivating force in a student’s life, and the thought of having to repeat a class with a group of students not of one’s own peer group may be motivation enough to push a student to succeed the first time. The student would not simply be handing in work that he or she has already completed; the work required for a better grade would necessitate that the student put in more substantial effort than was given for a prior attempt at the class. Finally, the repeat/delete policy would likely remove the option of an elective or free period in the student’s schedule or, depending on how late in the student’s career the repeat/delete happens, could well delay a student’s graduation date. In short, the repeat/delete policy is not a “free pass” to failing students. It comes with quite a few “real world” consequences.

The fact of the matter is that schools, while they should certainly provide practice for the real world, are, first and foremost, learning environments. Schools are places where students are expected to make mistakes, where students are taught to rethink and revise their work, and where failure should not be looked upon as failure, but as an opportunity for improvement. Schools do not, nor should they, expect perfection on the first try. Schools should be places where it is safe to fail and, though failure should certainly never be encouraged, neither should it be chastised. A student who shows the initiative and motivation to take advantage of a repeat/delete policy should be afforded every opportunity to improve his or her grade point average specifically because it’s what schools should be – environments where students to learn how to succeed, even if it takes them more than one try to do it.


My inner critic tells me that the introduction sucks and that the bit in the fifth paragraph, about the student not having the opportunity to just hand in work they’d already done, is weak; I didn’t establish that as a counter-argument to take down (should I, or should I leave it out altogether?).  I’m also not sure that I’ve properly established the “each student learns at different paces” argument.

I think this is good, but I want it to be great. In order for that to happen, I need your advice.  Rip it, please.

Aaaannnd – GO!

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