Stories / Personal / Teaching Years /
Re: Sports figures found guilty of cheating
When I attended Columbia the school made national news when the dean suspended basketball star Chet Forte when his grades slipped. Forte was the national leading scorer at the time, ahead of Wilt Chamberlin! I for one was very proud of my school at that moment, for that reason.
When I was teaching at Colby the luck of the draw had it that the champion hockey team’s star goalie was in my sophomore lit class. I was a fan. I loved my privilege of watching games from the faculty section, right behind the Colby goal. The glass protected me, not even the scoring ref had a better view. First and Third Period we watched shots on the enemy, middle Period we watched Colby defend. Fabulous.
Grades were determined by three things: 1) term paper 2) final exam 3) class participation throughout the semester. First day of class I said what I said to all my classes: “You cannot pass this course if you do not participate in the class discussions.” Toward the end of the semester the papers were due. I read our hero’s paper as it came up, realizing that I was looking forward to it. It looked good, was neat, well typed: and it read well: a higher-than-middlegound effort. I gave it a B+ (or some such better-than-middling grade. Did I believe our hero had written it? Not for a minute! But I had no proof. And I wasn’t looking for any proof: I saw it as my job to presume innocence.
The last day of class arrived. Our hero had not uttered a peep all semester. Our hero was the sole student to have said nothing the entire time: if I were to keep my threat, I’d have to fail him. But midway through that final class I was in the middle of saying some point, and I saw our hero’s hand raise. “Yes?” I was startled. Our hero stood, he launched a statement, clearly memorized. What he said he said utterly without an ounce of actors-rhetoric muscle. I saw no connection between what he was saying and what I had said: in those moments, in that class, all that semester. I saw no connectino to the reading, to the theory … But he’d said something! I thought in my conscience, Now we’ll see how his exam goes: swallowing the paper, and listening to his idiot statement, he might squeeze a D if not a C- out of this yet.
I saw him in every game, and cheered. I saw him in every class … I had zero idea of what kind of a guy he was, what he mind was like. His final exam was piss poor, but he wrote something down. OK: C-.
In grad school I took class after class on Chaucer, on the Elizabethans, on the Romantics … I had no training (and no natural interest) in forensic academics. The college had made no position statement to me, or to anyone else that I knew of. I wasn’t going to accuse the star unless I had clear reason to.
Those memories were clear in my mind while Jan and I read Tom Wolfe’s I Am Charlotte Simmons to each other. The schizophrenic university cherishes a basically professional basketball team, one where the players remain unpaid: a planation system, slavery, while at the same time nurturing knowledge and intellect in selected places. Circumstances talk the bright girl out of showing her brightness, very well done. Charlotte had received no special training as to how to attend such a university, and no one wanted to hear about it either. Her parents, her prize high school teacher … just wanted their ignorant prejudices reinforced. It’s like having the Temple of Jerusalem cheating on the animal sacrifices and letting Jesus just walk in without warning, without hypocrisy training.
Realize further, I’m the founder of the Free Learning Exchange. I don’t believe in grades. That is, I don’t believe that civilization’s institutions should keep private records public. Grades, if we have them, should be strictly communications or miscommunications between teacher, student … student’s family, bill payers … Absolutely grades are no business of prospective employers. Who are we working for? the people? or IBM?
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