Thursday, November 03, 2016

Friday Fragments

I don’t do much sports blogging, so those who prefer their reading sports-free should skip to the next fragment.

(clears throat)



In response to yesterday’s piece about colleges going “Full Florida” and allowing students to bypass developmental courses if they choose to, several readers commented that they’d expect to see instructors of 100-level classes, newly full of underprepared students, water down their standards to keep their pass rates steady.  It that happened, the pass rates might hold steady, but at the expense of actual learning.

There’s some truth in that; some faculty who feel under the gun -- correctly or not -- would be tempted to make the grade curve look however they think it’s supposed to look.  

But that’s hardly inevitable.  The relatively straightforward fix for that would be…

Trading papers.

In relatively large departments, which English departments usually are, there’s no shortage of people to do a sort of Secret Santa of grading.  The department could work out standards it would apply for different grades in various courses, and then distribute the papers internally for evaluation.  In other words, you might teach 25 students and grade 25 papers, but the 25 papers you grade wouldn’t be from your 25 students.  

Separating the teacher from the grader eliminates the conflict of interest that could tempt teachers to lower their standards.  It also recasts the teacher-student relationship from a psychologically complicated “I’m helping you, but I’m also judging you” to a psychologically simpler “I’m helping you; that shadowy figure in the corner is judging you.  Let’s impress him.”  

It wouldn’t even necessarily have to hold for every assignment.  Maybe do it for the second half of the semester, or on an alternating basis.   

The work involved in setting it up wouldn’t be trivial, but the payoff could be enormous.  If papers were put into the grading rotation without names, there would be a natural guard against bias, whether conscious or unconscious.  

Has anyone out there tried this?  It seems obvious, but I’ve never actually seen it done.


Last Saturday we drove to Staten Island and took the ferry to Manhattan.  

Parking near the ferry is a bit of a nightmare, but the ferry itself is free, and it passes the Statue of Liberty on the way, which isn’t bad, as views go.  We decided to walk to, and across, the Brooklyn Bridge.  A few observations about walking in lower Manhattan:

  • The landmarks are worth it.  We passed the Museum of American Finance, which we recognized from the Hamilton documentary, as well as several buildings with plaques noting their origin in the revolutionary war era.  One had a statue noting that it was where George Washington was sworn in as the first President of the United States.

  • We also passed a massive Trump building.  I smirked but otherwise paid it no mind as we passed, until I noticed The Wife across the street.  She refused to walk on the same side of the street as the Trump building.  Instead, from across the street, she jumped sideways and displayed the state bird at it with both hands as she passed.  The kids were somewhere between mortified and fascinated.

  • On a nice Saturday afternoon, the pedestrian walkway on the Brooklyn Bridge is a game of human bumper cars.  “Crowded” doesn’t quite begin to capture it.  Despite the close quarters, people apparently have no qualms about stopping abruptly to take selfies.  If I were on a jury and someone was on trial for body-checking a selfie-taker from behind, I don’t think I could convict.

  • Melinda Karp, from the CCRC, noticed a tweet and invited us to meet for coffee and show off Brooklyn Heights.  Brooklyn Heights was much more fun than I expected.  We shared some Rochester nostalgia, conjuring visions of washing down garbage plates with Genny Cream.  If you know, you know.