I hate grading. I’ve said that here before, but I really mean it (that’s one reason I’m blogging instead of mopping up the last papers I need to mark before the weekend). In previous posts (to which I’ll link when I have a few minutes) I’ve tried to present a good, noble rationale for not wanting to grade: it’s antithetical to discipleship, to the intrinsic value of learning, to the transparent relationship of mentor to student, and so on.
Permit me to throw this big, resin-laden, dry branch onto the fire, though. Another element to my distaste for grading comes from the divergent perspectives that I and some of my students bring to that exercise in systematically distorted communication. I want my grades to say, “This is truly excellent work,” or “This shows very good work, with definable room for improvement,” or whatever — and some of my students want their grades to say, “This work is as good as the work that got you an A in caucus-race classes you’ve taken before, under other circumstances.” Some of my students have been trained to expect that adequate work will receive an A.
The other day I was talking to a student friend about opera, pros and cons, and I admitted a distaste for Grand Opera, but a deep fondness for Gilbert and Sullivan (which helped constitute me as the postmodern Victorian — or Edwardian — that I am). The whole phenomenon reminds me of the dénouement of The Gondoliers: the twin Kings of Barataria create peerages and offices for all their citizens, only to discover that “When everyone is somebodee, then no one’s anybody!”
If we care about excellence — most people (certainly including Christians who care about St. Paul and Jesus and the saints and people like that) have reason so to do — we have to come to terms with difference in capacity and accomplishment. I want desperately that our engagement with those kinds of difference be not abusive or odious or burdensome, but we can’t afford to muffle the difference between excellence and adequacy without buying into a fatal anodyne mediocracy, in academy or church or culture or state.