Encouraging difference

1 03 2009

Despite the impression my last post might give, my school is actually generally very liberal and the administration is usually reasonable (although rarely for the reasons they think). Because of this, as you would expect, there’s a lot of PC stuff about accepting difference and embracing diversity. The school is good about this to a point, but beyond that point fails miserably.

The right sort of difference is very much welcomed. We have stuff for black history month, we have GSA forums, we have a truly enormous number of courses about different parts of the world, we have Darfur groups…We even had an anti Iraq war walk out protest which the administration actually ALLOWED until we made fun of the organizers for getting permission (I mean really…).

But then there’s the wrong sort of different. Take English: the teachers will generally accept very bad, poorly thought out analyses. They’ll also accept intelligent, well thought out analyses. But only if they reached the right conclusions. If you should disagree with the conclusions that our English department has determined acceptable (not correct, or 90% of the grade would fail each year), you get marked down quite badly.

Generally the unacceptable answers are the complex, nuanced answers that don’t jump straight at a conclusion and say “this is the only possible interpretation.” They are often also very different from what is discussed in class or on homework, and much more meaningful. They are original thoughts, whereas the essays that get accepted are repeating back to the teacher what they have told you for the last month, and your grade is based on if you can cherry pick quotes to support the teacher, and if they like your writing (more on that in a moment).

For example, an unacceptable conclusion for an essay about All Quiet on the Western Front: Remarque was writing a criticism not of war so much as of the brutality of the warfare used, and also commenting on the resilience of humanity that allowed soldiers to do terrible things to each other and then go back from the front and be almost normal, and very human. Why? After all, there is an awful lot in the book that can support that. Well, you see, it would be marked down for two things.

First, it disagrees with the teacher’s word-of-the-semester. We spent the first half of the year having the semester’s buzzword, dehumanization, drilled into our heads. We were told that we must conclude that all the books we were reading showed that to survive war one had to cease to be human. No disagreement was allowed.

Second, it Lacks Focus. You see, books only have one purpose. Anyone claiming to have found more than one message in a book is Wrong. If you attempt to write about more than one, you are Deviating from the Proper Structure of an essay. Complex, intertwining themes and one’s thoughts about them are considered bad, not good.

In keeping with that, if you write an essay in a manner not adhering perfectly to the sacred format of the five paragraph essay, you lose massive points. Failure to include the author’s name in your first sentence of your essay is a loss of half a letter grade. Failure to have a single badly put together run on sentence for your thesis is also punishable with fairly significant loss of points. And if you should have 6 paragraphs because you split an argument into two paragraphs for better flow or, even worse, had more than three arguments for your conclusion, well, even Yahweh himself cannot help you.

The school encourages diversity and difference in name and, to some extent, in action, but in thought it is forbidden. Liberal educators miss the point of a liberal education entirely, and make words like “difference” and “diversity” meaningless just as conservative educators miss the point of and render meaningless things like “discipline” and “respect.” The culture of education right now just doesn’t get it.

Also worth noting: the irony of it is that the student body here is one of the most friendly to us weird kids that you’ll find in a public high school. The kids actually get it (consciously or not) much more than the teachers and administrators.




One response

2 03 2009

That’s ok. I hate five paragraphs essays too. ^_^ I also think too many people are in line with what the teacher says.

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