Saturday, July 21, 2018

A Teaching Issue: "Blind" Grading

Here's one statement of a policy of mine when I was teaching. 

"'BLIND' GRADING: There are limits on the practice, but I grade written work 'blind,' not looking at the name of the author until after I've assigned a grade." 

When I refereed for journals I also tried to ignore authorship when a name slipped through — the essays were supposed to be "anonymized" — or when I could guess. And when I read scripts I usually tried not to look up names at all or not until late in the judgment part of the process.

I started teaching at the University of Illinois (Urbana) about 1966/67, during US warfare in Vietnam, when a male student's flunking out of school could make him immediately subject to military conscription and, possibly, "Sent to Vietnam to kill or be killed or wounded or maimed — and my blood is on your hands!", as we also-draftable Teaching Assistants used to bitterly joke about student grade appeals.

With that issue in the background, to grade blind was one of the first decisions I made about teaching when I started out, and I decided that working a bit against biases, likes, or dislikes in assigning a grade was more important than any advantages from getting to know students a bit better as human beings, tracking their development in the course — etc. 

I am not now nor I ever been an orthodox "New Critic" — looking at words on a page and considering nothing but the words on the page — but I consciously opted to deal, when grading, with a text as text, leaving out as much as possible the human author.

I did have some "I-Thou" moments with students and made some friends (and at least two open enemies plus one weirdo who gave me [?] a scathing evaluation on Rate My Professor for a course I never taught). 

This far, anyway, I opted out of the "Teach the whole child" movement — "College Is For Grownups" for one thing — and went over to an "I-It" relationship more than I needed to. 

Martin Buber says that impersonal I-It relationships are usual and normal and okay so long as there's the potential for "I-Thou": "I" dealing with "you" as a real Mensch on both sides, directly, human and humanely. If the Other in an encounter can be replaced by an ATM or a beverage-delivery device, it's probably not a situation for I-Thou. I sometimes thought that for a number of my students I could be replaced by a grading machine, and I sometimes felt — near the end of a pile of essays — that I *was* something of a grading machine and most of my students mechanisms churning out essays.

And I was definitely long enough in the Ed Biz and just long enough in the script-reading biz not to privilege scholars and scriptwriters all that much over their (usually) precursor-forms of college students. 

ANY COMMENTS OUT THERE ON INTENTIONAL DEPERSONALIZATION between teachers and students (and perhaps also superiors and inferiors in work-place and other hierarchies)? 

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