A tu, fairness?

Last year, at the end of the course the teacher asked students to assign their own mark. I think the professor saw this as a demonstration of their anti-colonial pedagogy. The cynic in me suspected everyone would just assign themselves an A. As it turned out, everyone assigned themselves an A.

I don’t think I’m a goody-goody-two-shoes but I did show up for every class and others didn’t. I did frequently contribute to the class discussions and handed things in on time (or early) but some were unengaged or didn’t complete assignments but everyone got an A. This left me thinking,

i) next time, why should I bother, ii) what does it mean for those who got the mark but didn’t do the work? iii) what does it mean for the world to accredit the person a top mark who didn’t complete the work?
Months later, in another course, a different professor asked students to decide what each of the ten assignments should be worth. In the end it was decided each assignment will be worth the same marks, whether it’s discussing a ninety second Youtube video or writing a twenty page paper based on three books (and bibliography, while adhering to correct MLA citations), each is 10 points.

I sense everyone believes this demonstrates how forward thinking and non-hierarchical we are, not to mention anti-colonial. I don’t share that view, which is not to say I am uninterested in equity or fairness, but being a teacher myself, the premise behind the course is that I know something and the student will be exposed to it. Together, we will generate work about learning the material and assuming we use marks, I’m the one whose experience determines what percentage of the final mark to give each assignment.

I saw an interview with Thomas Sowell three years ago and his attitude annoyed me, he said something that ran contrary to my view, I thought he was misinformed and arrogant but then I heard an interview with James l. Riley. He wrote a book about Sowell. Listening to the description of his life as an orphan in North Carolina, a home without electricity or running water, growing up later in Harlem with his aunt, later in a boy’s shelter with a knife under his pillow, and later becoming a young Marxist and still later becoming a very non-Marxist, intrigued me and I was curious to read his economic and political analysis.

Picked up an audio book and during my walks this week was amused by parallels between his historical reasoning and my present schooling. In the chapter on profit, under capitalism and socialism, he says socialist theory viewed profit as unnecessary or at least problematic, whereas it’s a motivating factor for capitalism. Citing shortages of food, services and endless lines and mismanagement in the Soviet Union under communism, he interprets these problems as understandable when profit is removed.

I thought about all the Russian books I read this year from The Master and Margarita to Red Famine on Stalin and the Ukrainians to all the Svetlana Alexievich first person accounts of Soviet life bursting with starvation stories, shortages of goods and decades long mismanagement. All nightmarish accounts, especially in light of the premise that communism is about fairness and the redistribution of wealth.

A musician reamed me out one time for insinuating other members of his band deserve to share in the publishing money. His point was that he was the songwriter, all by his lonesome. Therefore, he deserved any money from the publishing. My point was the song was formed further in rehearsal and the band going on the road plus the band recorded unique parts which is how the song came to be known. The airplay acquired by his song stemmed from all those things, you can’t trace which is what proportion. The publishing money came from airplay and airplay came from much more than what he originally did alone in a room. It’s worth considering what happens when you eliminate the profit motive or put another way, if you don’t have any stake you don’t have any incentive. He kept it for himself. The band broke up. You don’t hear of him anymore, but he gave himself an A.

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