Los Angeles, Oakland, Sacramento City, and San Diego Unified school districts have found a novel way to improve academic results—they’re getting rid of D and F grades. One imagines this will improve results immediately. On paper.
Reporting from San Francisco, KRON 4 News, writing in semi-literate English, informs us, “If a student fails a test or doesn’t complete their homework, they’ll be able to retake the test and get more time to turn in assignments.”
The assistant principal at Fremont High School in Oakland, speaking in semi-literate English, told KRON, “Right now, we have a system where we give a million points for a million pieces of paper that students turn in, without much attention to what they’re actually learning.”
I don’t think anyone will dispute that schools are not paying much attention to what kids are learning. But banning Ds and Fs won’t help students as much as it will help teachers and principals in these districts look less awful by comparison, or else make comparisons with schools that retain a full grading system impossible. The real goal is to rescue teachers’ unions and professional administrators from what they’re doing to the kids.
To take a random example from the English readers on my desk, a seventh grader of a century ago, learning, no doubt, in a one-room schoolhouse with just enough funding for these text books, would have read Shakespeare, Lord Byron, Keats, Poe, Ruskin, Sir Walter Scott, Longfellow, Kipling, Thoreau, Whitman, Washington, Lincoln and Marcus Aurelius, to cite just a small subsection of the included authors. Selections range from stories and poems to nature study, science, and history. These authors have long since gone the way of the D and F grades: Better to eliminate challenging material than create the impression students are failing. Which really means—better to eliminate material than create the impression that teachers are failing to teach their students.
For all their supposed erudition, leftists have always had trouble with symbolism. That is, they tend not to understand that a concept may represent another concept, rather than being the thing itself. They think that by getting rid of bad grades, they can get rid of what the bad grades represent—failure, ignorance, and laziness, on the part of students and teachers both.
Just as they think that by getting rid of terms like “fat,” they can make people healthier and more “body-positive.” Or that by replacing “fireman” and “policeman” with “firefighter” and “police officer” they can end male dominance in these dangerous professions. Or that they can make a man into a woman just by changing what he calls himself—and that it’s a triumph when one of these “women” joins a girl’s swim team and smashes all previous records by a gigantic margin.
This fundamental flaw in leftist thinking goes all the way back to its French revolutionary origins. The revolutionary council, finding that bread shortages did not disappear after the collapse of the monarchy but instead got dramatically worse, came upon a brilliant solution: They would simply decree that bread should be less expensive. Why didn’t the king think of that? With all the economic sophistication of a group of spoiled children, they announced “le maximum,” a stated maximum price that bakers were permitted to charge for a loaf. This had the effect of closing down most of the bakers in Paris and unleashing inflation on a scale never before seen in the history of government-issued money—and not to be seen again until the Soviet Revolution.
But the French revolutionaries had confused the concept of money with what money represents: value. They didn’t realize that, whether you charge one franc or 10 kopeks or 1,000 złotys, the value represented by the loaf of bread—the cost of ingredients, the difficulty in obtaining them, plus the labor of the baker—is unaffected.
Identical thinking drives leftist demand to raise the minimum wage. They fail to realize that you can’t make someone’s labor more valuable by decree. You can only make it more expensive.
If you think that people with such a shallow understanding of the world can’t be trusted to run our schools, you’re obviously correct. There’s a word to describe people who believe that unpleasant ideas can be eliminated by banning the “trigger words” that represent them: Such people are called children. They might force me to refer to them as “adults,” but that won’t make them grow up. And if you let a child teach a child, all you end up with is a child. So here’s a toast to the California school system: Children forever!