The Irascible Professor SM
Irreverent Commentary on the State of Education in America Today

by Dr. Mark H. Shapiro

"But there are advantages to being elected President.  The day after I was elected, I had my high school grades classified Top Secret."...  ...Ronald Reagan.

Commentary of the Day - August 10, 2004:  Whajaget?  Guest commentary by Felice Prager.

When my son was in first grade, his report card included a form from his Physical Education teacher with information such as how fast he ran the mile and how far he could jump.  To gain perspective before I state the obvious, this son has grown to be a physically fit adult and has black belts in Karate and Shinkendo. Yet, according to the form, my son's time was far below the lowest acceptable level for a six-year-old child. What was equally strange was that he had an S (for Satisfactory) on his report card in Physical Education.

We decided to meet with the Physical Education teacher because not only did he include the form, but he announced the students' running times to the class and told all the children that anyone with my son's time should practice running all the time so they could get faster.  My son was spending a lot of time running around my living room for no apparent reason.

The Physical Education teacher, probably because he had never had a parent conference over a first grader's mile running time before, didn't share much with us at the conference.  In fact, we were positive he didn't even know who our son was.

To comfort our child, we tried to give him an adult outlook about the his lack of Superman abilities.  "When you're a grownup," I said, "no one is going to stop you on the street and ask you how fast you can run the mile."

My husband added, "Your teacher is a jerk."

My sons have usually excelled in school academically.  With one son now in college and one in high school, I know the math and science they study are much more difficult than anything I ever had to learn.  As an educator with a specialty in English, I know my sons write much better than I did at their age.   Regardless, I also know sometimes their grades and their achievements don't match up.

For instance, at the French III level, my younger son should be able to speak some French.  He knows a handful of nouns and can conjugate a few verbs, but he has chosen not to take French IV this year because, in his words, "If I get a real teacher, I'm sunk."  Yet, his grades have been consistently A's in this course.  When I asked him how he managed the grade, his answer was, "Extra credit."  Apparently, the teacher traded points for classroom donations.  My son said he donated glue, pens, markers, notebooks, rulers, and an old unused lesson plan book he found in my closet.

To be fair, this son also has had teachers who made him work very hard for grades.  His Chemistry teacher had him working and studying until the sun came up most of last year.  His Algebra teacher rewarded his hard work accordingly.  He consistently has difficult, challenging reading and writing assignments in his English classes including assignments during summer break.

Yet, as we know, all grades are not created with the same set of standards.  Nor are all teachers.

 At one point several years ago, I considered getting my certification to teach in Arizona.  It was a weak moment; it was fleeting in nature.  However, I did go through the effort of collecting the documentation that proved I went to college, graduated with honors, and went on to have a successful teaching career in another state.  When my college transcript arrived, my son looked at my grades over my shoulder.

"Whajaget in Spanish?" my son asked.

            "A's," I answered, folding up the actual report of my grades (which weren't all A's.)

            "Were they weighted A's?" my son asked.

"We didn't have weighted grades back then," I answered.  "We didn't have digital scales to weigh them.  It was the pre-computer age and all we knew how to do was divide and go to the hundredths column."

Later in the day, I found my son looking at my transcript which I'd left on my desk.  "You didn't get all A's," he said. "I see B's here.  This isn't straight A's.  You've been lying to me all my life."

            I smiled coyly.  "I got A's in what matters."

            "I guess Philosophy mattered more than Biology," he said.  "I guess Advanced Writing mattered more than Shakespeare."

This brings me to my point:

I recently had surgery.  A mammogram showed some abnormalities, so I was forced to find a breast cancer surgeon.  The doctor I found had outstanding doctor and patient recommendations, excellent manners, and took a great deal of time discussing my case with me.  When she asked me if I had any questions, I said, "Just one.  Whajaget  in Breasts?"

I have a way of making people stop and scratch their heads.

            "What did I get in Breasts?" she repeated.

            "Yes, what grade did you get in Breasts?"

            "Oh," she smiled at an excessively nervous patient.  "I got an A."

            "Was it weighted?" I asked.

She smiled at me.  "You're in good hands.  And the odds are in your favor.  I also got an A in Statistics."

When I called my son at work a few days after the surgery to tell him that the results from the biopsy were back and the growths were benign, my son's reaction was, "Benign is the good one.  Right?"

"Yeah, that's the good one," I answered.  Then I added, "By the way, whajaget on the verbal section of your SAT's?"

©2004, Felice Prager
Felice Prager is a former English teacher and freelance writer from Arizona.  She publishes the Write Funny pages.

The Irascible Professor comments: The IP certainly is relieved to hear that Felice's health problems turned out to be minor.  Don't neglect those annual checkups!  Felice's point is a good one.  While many K-12 teachers continue to grade students based on their performance, some have adopted grading techniques that allow students to garner high grades without really earning them.

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© 2004 Dr. Mark H. Shapiro - All rights reserved.