Essay #5 Options: Capstone Essay with 5 Sources for Works Cited Due 12/11.
One. Support, refute, or complicate Alfie Kohn’s assertion from “Degrading to De-grading” that grading is an inferior education tool that all conscientious teachers should abandon. In other words, will students benefit from an accountability-free education? Why? Explain.
Two. Support, refute, or complicate the inferred lesson from bell hooks’ essay, “Learning in the Shadow of Race and Class” that upward mobility requires a betrayal of one’s economic class and even family. To rub shoulders with the privileged, do we have to "sell out," to conform to their snobbish ways, and in doing so, are we betraying our core values and turning our backs on our roots?
Three. In the context of one or more essays we’ve read about standardized testing, support, refute, or complicate the assertion that standardized testing is a money-making canard sodden with incompetence, corruption, and moral bankruptcy, and therefore must be abolished.
Four. Support, refute, or complicate the argument that “Against School” and any other essays we’ve covered persuasively evidence that American education is more about protecting private business interests, maintaining class bias, and asserting mass control than it is about promoting real empowerment such as critical thinking, independence, and freedom.
Five. In the context of John Taylor Gatto’s “Against School,” support, refute, or complicate the argument that that American education is more about protecting private business interests, maintaining class bias, and asserting mass control than it is about promoting real empowerment such as critical thinking, independence, and freedom.
Six. Bell Hooks sees the self-destruction from extreme self-abasement on one hand and extreme privilege on the other. She is on a quest for a healthy middle ground. These components of toxic self-abasement and toxic privilege, and the sick symbiotic relationship between the rich and poor, are evident in Hooks' essay, "Learning in the Shadow of Race and Class" (287). Toxic abasement and the sick symbiotic relationship between the rich and the poor are also evident in "The Consequences--Undoing Sanity" (342), "How the Poor Are Made to Pay for Their Poverty," and Linda Tirado's online essay "Why I Make Terrible Decisions." Develop a thesis that compares the toxic symbiotic relationship between the rich and the poor in the aforementioned essays and show that human redemption is from a sense of healthy, well-balanced privilege that doesn't exclude social conscience. (This prompt has the thesis embedded in it.)
Seven. Addressing Cathy Young's online essay "Linda Tirado's Poverty Tale: Not Quite Fake, Far from Accurate," develop an argumentative thesis that addresses the charge that Tirado is guilty of committing a "poverty hoax."
Your guidelines for your Final Research Paper are as follows:
This research paper should present a thesis that is specific, manageable, provable, and contestable—in other words, the thesis should offer a clear position, stand, or opinion that will be proven with research.
You should analyze and prove your thesis using examples and quotes from a variety of sources.
You need to research and cite from at least five sources. You must use at least 3 different types of sources.
At least one source must be from an ECC library database.
At least one source must be a book, anthology or textbook.
At least one source must be from a credible website, appropriate for academic use.
The paper should not over-rely on one main source for most of the information. Rather, it should use multiple sources and synthesize the information found in them.
This paper will be approximately 5-7 pages in length, not including the Works Cited page, which is also required. This means at least 5 full pages of text. The Works Cited page does NOT count towards length requirement.
You must use MLA format for the document, in-text citations, and Works Cited page.
You must integrate quotations and paraphrases using signal phrases and analysis or commentary.
You must sustain your argument, use transitions effectively, and use correct grammar, spelling, and punctuation.
Your paper must be logically organized and focused.
“From Degrading to De-grading” by Alfie Kohn 238-250
One. Kohn asserts that good teachers de-emphasize grades and that bad teachers, who even lack a conscience, emphasize grades. How compelling is his argument?
Some would accuse him of an over simplification and an either/or fallacy. “Either you drink my Kool-Aid and stop using grades, or you are proving to be a horrible, immoral teacher."
This extreme position, many would say, is an oversimplification and a form of bullying, evidence of a false prophet.
Furthermore, the “three effects of grading” that Kohn refers to could be disputed.
For example, we read, “Grades tend to reduce students’ interest in the learning itself.” What’s the baseline of interest that Kohn assumes will deteriorate if we push grades on students? Is there a baseline? If there is, he doesn't define it in any way.
He also claims that students will shy away from challenging tasks and suffer the reduction of “quality” thinking.
Again, Kohn is throwing an either/or fallacy in our face: Either hold students accountable with grades and suck the creativity out of their learning or cut out grades altogether and inject creativity into their learning. Why can’t there be a balance of both?
Two. What Are Some Possible Refutations of Kohn? (A Defense of Grading)
1. Competition from grading prepares students for real world.
2. Not all students try and perform equally. Those who are superior, as a result of their hard work, should enjoy seeing their hard work rewarded with higher grades.
3. It’s human nature to be motivated by the carrot and the stick. Kohn is living in a candy-coated dream world that ignores the realities of human nature.
4. Grades are not perfect, but they are an important motivational tool.
5. Grades are not perfect, but they do help show the “cream rising to the top,” an important process in any meritocracy. A meritocracy is a society that rewards the people based on merits.
6. It turns out that Kohn also is against homework. Thus, it appears he subscribes to the Cult of Academic Relaxation, a form of “creative laxity,” which I oppose.
7. Kohn's argument contradicts empirical evidence: In my 30 years of teaching, A students tend to be responsible; C and D students tend to be less responsible.
Three. What does Kohn mean when he says grades "spoil relationships with students"?
He uses an anecdote of a teacher whose instruction has been reduced to fanatical grading and that is served as evidence that grading is this monster that takes over teaching. In other words, he uses an extreme example to argue against grading. That's a logical fallacy.
Then there's the argument that a teacher should be less of a grader and more of a friend. Is this a good idea?
What if the student doesn't want to comply with his "friend's" educational goals?
The student might say to the teacher, "Sorry, friend, I don't feel like writing my Works Cited page."
Four. What is the Maternal Fallacy and how does this fallacy apply to Kohn?
The Maternal Fallacy is the emphasis on nurture and protection at the exclusion of discipline and control, qualities associated with the Patriarch or father figure. "Education should be a place of nurture and unconditional acceptance," says this line of thinking. "We don't want to traumatize the students by judging them harshly and hurting their self-esteem."
But in fact coddling students like this makes them weak and helpless in the real world. Creating dysfunctional citizens with no skills for the real world is hardly serving them.
In an affluent society in which the young generation have a foundation of basics in math and writing, some of Kohn's maternal outlets for creative freedom are valid. However, in the absence of these basic skills, grading and basics in education are sometimes necessary.
Five. Would you be more motivated if you did not receive grades? Explain.
Answers may vary.
For me personally, if I had an interest in the class, I might not need to be motivated so much by grades as much as I would be seeking approval from the instructor. But if the class were a requirement outside my sphere of interest, I might not do anything.
Six. Is it fair to compare grading to a polluted city or is this rhetorical demagoguery? Explain.
Circular reasoning or logic embedded in the premise of the comparison, which is a fallacy.
"Wearing diamonds is equal to killing slave children in Africa," it could be argued, has more of a basis in reality than Kohn's statement above.
More Criticism Against Kohn
We read the following by Daniel Willingham whose link is provided below:
In his book, Punished by Rewards, Kohn claims “Praise, at least as commonly practiced, is a way of using and perpetuating children’s dependence on us. It gets them to conform to our wishes irrespective of what those wishes are.” (p. 104.) Kohn also argues that praise and rewards for good behavior are destructive to motivation. The truth is actually somewhat more complicated. Rewards can reduce motivation, but only when motivation was somewhat high to start with. If the student is unmotivated to perform some task, rewarding him will not hurt his motivation. Praise can be controlling and exact a psychological cost, but its effect on the recipient depends on how it’s construed: does the child think you are offering sincere appreciation for a job well done, or sending the message that future behavior had better be in line with expectations? There is important psychological work showing that the role of praise and reward is complex. Carol Dweck is a leader in this field and her book, Mindset, provides a good overview.
Regarding self-control, Willingham writes:
In a recent piece in the Phi Delta Kappan, Kohn argues that self-discipline has been over-sold, and indeed, that it has a dark side—too much self-control may be associated with anxiety, compulsiveness, and dampened emotional responses. He notes that some researchers put few or no qualifications on their enthusiasm for self-control, essentially arguing that more is always better. But Kohn proceeds from a definition of “self-control” that differs from that used by these researchers (Roy Baumeister,Angela Duckworth, Walter Mischel, and Marty Seligman), and indeed, by virtually all of the important researchers in the field. They define self-control as the ability to marshal your cognitive and emotional resources to help you attain goals that you consider important. Kohn defines self-control as using willpower to accomplish things that are generally regarded as desirable. Thus by Kohn’s definition, a child shows self-discipline when she determinedly (and miserably) slogs towards a goal that she does not value, but that her parents (or others) deem important. Researchers use the former definition when they claim that they find no disadvantages to self-control, and that they observe positive associations with achievement, social adjustment, mental health. Kohn’s point—that authoritarian control leads to negative outcomes—is not very startling and is shared more or less universally by researchers.
Pointing out Kohn's logical fallacies, Willingham point out:
Kohn falls prey to logical fallacies on occasion. In the same Kappan piece on self-discipline, Kohn writes “Learning, after all, depends not on what students do so much as on how they regard and construe what they do. To assume otherwise is to revert to a crude behaviorism long since repudiated by serious scholars.” (p. 170). This is a false dilemma. Kohn offers me the choice of agreeing with his version of a constructivist learning theory or agreeing with a behaviorist theory. Actually, those are not my only choices of learning theories. (I have yet to find a Kohn piece in which behaviorism—a theory whose heyday was fifty years ago, and is now ignored by most learning theorists—did not take a beating.)
Kohn’s work often makes use of misleading vividness, or perhaps better, a variant of that fallacy. His articles are characterized by a long, vehement attack on the target and a brief, subdued qualification of the attack. The pale qualification, though important to an accurate characterization of the literature, is likely forgotten by the reader. For example, the Kappan piece is an attack on three fronts (psychological, philosophical, and political) on the usefulness of self-discipline. Kohn also notes “While I readily admit that persevering at worthwhile tasks is good—and that some students seem to lack this capacity—. . . .” This qualification indicates that an important topic ought to be “when is self-control useful, and when is it destructive?” But the message of the article is unqualified: self-discipline is bad.
Summarize Kohn's Arguments
“Grades tend to reduce students’ interest in the learning itself” (238).
“Grades tend to reduce students’ preference for challenge tasks” (239).
“Grades tend to reduce the quality of students’ thinking” (239).
“Grades aren’t valid, reliable, or objective” (240).
“Grades encourage cheating” (241).
“Grades spoil teachers’ relationships with students” (241).
Student Who Disagrees with Kohn
My experience as a student contradicts everything Kohn tries to say. I’ve walked into classes with absolutely no interest in the subject, but because I had a gun to my head, that is the pressure of grades pointing at my temple, I forced myself to get acquainted with the material. Contrary to Kohn, my being forced to know the material made me respect and like the subject matter far more than a situation in which I knew I would not be graded. Without the pressure of grades, I would remain ignorant of the subject, and that ignorance would perpetuate my lack of interest in the material.
Kohn’s second assertion is that grading will discourage me from embracing challenging tasks. He’s assuming that without grades, I’d be more inclined to take intellectual and creative risks. He is wrong. When I was a college student, I was lazy and was not predisposed to taking on any kind of challenge. The path of least resistance was my work ethic. Grades or not, I was an incurably lazy human being. If anything, I needed grades to prompt me off my butt and to do some actual homework.
Kohn’s third assertion is that grading will compromise my critical thinking skills. Again, I don’t think Kohn knows what he’s talking about. When I was in college, I had no critical thinking skills to lose. Grades were hardly the reason I was so ignorant. My youthful naiveté, my laziness, and my being sheltered in the suburbs had far more to do with my lack of critical thinking skills than any teacher’s grading system.
Kohn’s fourth argument is that grading is not a reliable system because the teachers can be biased, unfair, and use unreliable grading measures. I’ll admit these are possible scenarios, but in my years at high school and college, it seems that over 95% of the time, students did indeed get the grades they deserved. If there is a five percent error, that is hardly sufficient reason for dumping grades.
Kohn goes on to say that grades encourage cheating and spoil students’ relationship with teachers. Of course, a grading system is going compel students to cheat. They want to be up to par with the A students whose A performance has earned them top honors. Any system with a top and a bottom is going to have cheaters. To deny that reality is to try to create a world that does not exist. And that world is the one provided by Alfie Kohn.
Regarding the final point about our relationship with teachers, Kohn is assuming there is this great relationship that is forged without grades and that grades spoils the deal. Again, he is in error. We are not friends with the teachers. They are hired to do what they do because of their presumed expertise and authority in the subject. They are our guides and mentors, and their grading system is their way of showing us how well we are at reaching the benchmarks that are part of each class. Kohn’s assertion that these benchmarks measured by a grading system is a degradation of the student-teacher relationship has no bearing in reality and again shows that he is trying to impose an artificial world on the real one. For all these reasons, I have dismissed Kohn convincingly. Can we move on to a new topic, please? (avoid hubris in the conclusion)
Student Defense of Alfie Kohn
Alfie Kohn is trying to save education from being a terrible place of fear, elitism, and students being helpless pawns before their maniacal teachers who use grades to bully, control, and traumatize their students.
First off, everyone knows that grades are unfair. Teachers don’t really care how well you write. All they care about is that you agree with them, so you spend your time kissing up to them, trying to make your essays reflect what your instructors say in the class.
Secondly, Kohn is right that grades reduce interest. How can you focus on the subject with any interest when you’re always worried about achieving a 4.0 so that you can get into a good university? Interest is irrelevant. It’s all about the grades. And seeing some students get As while others get Cs is traumatizing for the lower students who feel stigmatized and shamed, often wearing these negative emotions for the rest of their lives. How dare we let teachers have so much power over our self-esteem. We should cut their grading power out from under them just as Alfie Kohn says we should.
Third, Kohn is so correct to point out that grading makes us students avoid challenging approaches to the subject matter. We always seek the easiest path to The Land of A. Why take risks by doing something more challenging than we have to?
Finally, what kind of relationship can I have with my teachers when I fear their power over me? Their grade determines my place in the world. One wrong move and my life as a successful banker could be diminished to a milk truck driver. It’s impossible to develop strong relationships with figures that wield so much power. Therefore, I commend Alfie Kohn for telling us to stop the insanity, cut out grades, and bring real education back to the classrooms.
Refutation of the Above Response
While I concede that there are too many teachers who want their students to regurgitate their ideas rather than think critically for themselves, the rest of the student’s defense of Alfie Kohn is a mishmash of egregious fallacies, clichés, and sloppy thinking, all of which serves to highlight Kohn’s dangerous arguments for ending grading systems as we know them.
Perhaps the biggest danger is this idea that we are hurting students’ self-esteem and subjecting them to lifelong traumas by judging them with clear benchmarks to see if they are fulfilling course requirements. The sentiment of preserving self-esteem has everything to do with the fantasy of staying home in the safety of Mother’s House and nothing to do with the reality of competing in the real world. The fantasy of preserving the Big Baby for eternity is typically an upper class one. Narcissistic, well-to-do parents who can’t accept the foibles of their “perfect” Junior want teachers who can only mutter obsequious flattery, and if their grading system in any way is less than flattering, then clearly grading, as Kohn argues, is the enemy of all: self-esteem, creativity, student interest, the buddy-buddy relationship with student and teacher.
Of course, this fantasy bears no resemblance to the real world. Imagine a jiu-jitsu instructor who elevates his students’ self-esteem by giving everyone a black belt. The tournament comes along and that instructor’s students have to spar with real black belts. I think we all know what the outcome will be.
Kohn is the instructor who’d love to give everyone a black belt, which of course is a fantasy, and a dangerous one at that.
Break Down the Assignment into Your Own Words
We're asked in the prompt to explain, perhaps in one sentence, what Kohn means when he says we must move from a grade to a learning orientation. Clearly, a grading orientation for Kohn excludes learning. We have to explain why Kohn believes this and then explain whether or not we agree with him.
Student Refutation of Kohn
Kohn has created a false opposition, between grading and learning, to propel is phony argument that grades are a plague ruining schools and minds. What Kohn and his ilk are afraid of is this big scary thing called judgment. Grades are a form of judgment, and judgments for Kohn are a very scary thing because they take a child’s fragile self-esteem, Kohn’s view, and dismantle it.
I’ve got some scary news for Kohn. Judgment is here to stay. Judgment is everywhere. Judgment is how we survive. Judgment is how we flourish. And judgment is how we measure our educational success. When we choose toothpaste or a cold cereal or a web browser, or a laptop, or a smartphone, or a boyfriend, or a girlfriend, we exercise judgment. When a university picks students from a pool of community college students, the university exercises judgment.
Kohn’s argument is so removed from reality that it seems he must live inside a bubble in which he talks only to himself or his Kool-Aid drinking believers. Grades aren’t going anywhere. Grades are a normal part of the judgment process. And Kohn’s fantasy of taking judgment out of the education process is so lunatic that he is nothing more than a provocateur and a demagogue whose flea-sized arguments will be crushed in the elephantine marketplace of real ideas.