No free rides

I’m a firm believer in hard work; in actual labour, putting in your hours and your nose to the grindstone.

We are born with a certain amount of talent and brains which can be molded and improved, but the factor we control best is how hard we work. Genius only gets you so far and I can’t name many stories of success that weren’t preceded by many hours of hard work.

And because I feel this way, I read about the firing of an eighth-grade teacher in South Carolina with a raised eyebrow and a healthy amount of disdain. Just a few weeks into the new school year, Diane Tirado was fired from her position for what she claims is an objectionable grading policy. While news outlets are reporting there was no specific reason given for her dismissal, she reasoned that the firing had to do with her objection to the “no zero” policy. This guideline is listed in the student and parent handbook as “no zeros — lowest possible grade is 50 per cent.

Wait a minute, I thought. Lowest possible grade is 50 per cent? That can’t be. There must be some other explanation, I told myself, not willing to live in a world where grades aren’t earned anymore.

Apparently that policy didn’t go over well with Ms. Tirado, either, because after 17 years of teaching multiple grades, she thought a zero was a completely appropriate mark if a student didn’t complete the work. In one specific case, a take-home project that students had two weeks to complete, she had even put stars in her grade book as placeholders, to give the late students time to make up the work. After multiple chances and warnings about the academic consequences of missing assignments, she assigned zeros to those students who didn’t bother to hand in any work. I can’t believe we’ve reached a time in history where there’s any issue with that.

Incredibly, according to her interview with Newsweek, the teacher was instructed to input a 50 per cent in her gradebook anyway, whether or not she had an assignment from students to grade. With the same incredulity as I felt, she complained about the policy to the teacher’s union and her administration but it didn’t matter, nothing changed. The school superintendent defended the policy, calling it a “best practice for grading” and I’m sure the students who had slacked off got a good laugh out of the scam from which they were able to benefit.

Before she was escorted off campus, Ms. Tirado wrote a message to her students on the white board in her classroom explaining that she wished them the best in life but that she had been fired for refusing to fail them if they didn’t do any work. That couldn’t have been an easy pill to swallow.

The firing doesn’t bother me nearly as much as the policy. A grading policy, whether implied or spelled out, that automatically disqualifies a mark of zero even when the work isn’t done? What hogwash. How can a student get points for NOT doing work? What’s more, what about the kids who complete the work somewhat poorly and earn a grade of 50 per cent, shouldn’t they have just saved their time and not bothered? Or should they then get 100 per cent since there is an automatic 50 per cent just for existing?

Anyone who has been knocked around by life (which is most of us) understands that the idea of giving credit where none is due eventually leads to failure and disappointment. Something for nothing is a no-win policy that catches up with us down the road. You can only cheat reality for only so long, so a zero for no work might be the best lesson we teach our kids, if you ask me.

Some parents bully teachers into giving students higher grades than the kids deserve. It’s in keeping with the sense of entitlement we’ve thrust on our children by helping them too much, by rescuing them too often, by coddling, and allowing, and excusing. I’ve heard it called “participation trophy child rearing” – show up and you’ll be rewarded, no matter your effort or quality of performance.

I get wanting kids to have confidence and think they’re smart and I know how important that is for them during their school career. But lying to them about it isn’t helping them; it’s giving them a false sense of security that will do them no favours when they get older. No one wants a society full of young employees who think they should get paid even if they don’t show up, but that’s what we’re designing by giving kids marks they didn’t earn.