Saturday, October 17, 2009

Making the grade

Last week, my favorite unabashedly Ateneanly biased blog Nonoy For President published a blind item of sorts about one of our Blue Eagles having been informed by one of his professors that he had flunked her class... before Game 3 of the Finals against UE. A few days later, I heard the same bit of campus chismis from another reliable source, so I assumed it must be for real. I had mixed reactions to the news. On the one hand, the true Blue fangirl in me was appalled by the apparent callousness of the prof-- "How can the bitch be so heartless?? Cut the kid some slack!" On the other hand, the exasperatingly ethical former teacher in me shrugged it off as, "If he failed, he failed. A basketball championship doesn't and shouldn't change that."

Back when I was still teaching, whenever students came up to me after receiving their report cards to thank me for "giving" them a good grade, I would always reply, "Don't thank me, that grade came from you, not me." And while I have never been one to put much stock in grades as an accurate measure of real learning, to a certain extent they do reflect the effort, and sometimes the acumen, a student devoted to the class. Technically, we aren't supposed to regard grades as reward or punishment, for objectively they're really just an evaluation of performance, and nothing personal. But realistically, they ARE personal, because they are the product of both the person who earned them, and the person who decided what the other one deserved.

However, the personal nature of grades doesn't imply that they should be doled out based on emotions alone, such as pity. There still has to be some concrete basis for grades, some tangible evidence of achievement or progress. This is why the proposal to issue "calamity diplomas" to students affected by the devastation wreaked by Typhoon Ondoy was simply ludicrous. Thankfully, the idea was quickly dismissed by the DepEd, and just as quickly qualified by Senator Chiz Escudero, who explained that he had merely suggested relaxing requirements for the current semester in consideration of students victimized by Ondoy. This is pretty much what Ateneo did for its entire student population from grade school to university level, cancelling final exams across the board for this current grading period. That's cura personalis for you, and that's the right balance between sticking to the letter of the law, so to speak, and honoring its spirit.

So if the unnamed Blue Eagle hadn't put in the work, if he had slacked off and taken the class for granted the whole sem, possibly thinking no profs flunk varsity basketball players anyway, then he definitely had the F coming, and the teacher had every right to deal it to him. But if there had been some effort, if there had been some wiggle room, some leeway to be given, then perhaps the prof should have extended consideration to a kid who, let's face it, had been kinda too busy majoring in basketball to actually get any studying done. Or at the very least she could have waited until after Game 3 to break the news to him. No one should get a free pass, but everyone should bear in mind a grade is always more than a mere number or letter.


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