UMass Thriving Under Meehan

The Boston Globe | Op-ed | August 3, 2018 In June, one of the dozens of labor unions at the University of Massachusetts launched a vicious and unfair smear campaign against university president Martin T. Meehan. In online ads, the UMass Lowell adjunct faculty union,...

The War on Grades Deserves to Fail

As the postmodern takeover of American education nears completion, the practice of assessing student performance with letter grades is under attack. Education disrupters claim grades and GPAs create an unfair academic hierarchy and put undue pressure on high-achieving students, leaving the rest mired in low self-esteem.

Combine these objections with the political insistence that all students graduate “college ready” and armed with “21st-century skills,” and a revolution in assessment is well under way.

Many elementary-school teachers years ago abandoned letter grades in reading, writing and arithmetic. Instead they write progress reports that assess, on a scale of 1-3 (or 1-4), the student’s proficiency in various skills. The reports typically indicate whether the student has achieved competency, is “progressing” toward competency, or has not made progress.

This type of “standards-based grading” (as it is called) represents more than a change in nomenclature. Whereas letter grades (or numeric percentages) measure the work a student has completed, the new system is concerned primarily with what the student will be able to do by year’s end. Teachers expect most students to be “progressing” toward the standard on their first report and then to have “met” the standard on their last.

The Intellectual Roots of the War against Columbus

Bashing Christopher Columbus has long been de rigueur among the liberal elite. Today, it has infiltrated our nation’s classrooms and poisons our public discourse. You know the mantra: Columbus was a greedy and egomaniacal villain who brought slavery, disease, “genocide,” and ecological ruin to a previously undisturbed land. Rather than honor this legacy of “hate,” the argument goes, Americans should celebrate the peaceful indigenous peoples who populated this hemisphere long before their lands were stolen by European explorers.

The war against Columbus is cloaked in the lexicon of “diversity” and the rhetoric of “inclusion.” But what many of its foot soldiers do not realize is that in fact it has its intellectual roots in the not so tolerant ideologies of Marxism and white supremacy.

Karl Marx, of course, viewed history as the product of a great class struggle between those who control the means of production and those who do not. According to Marx, history should be understood not as the story of humanity’s progress but rather as an ongoing clash of opposing forces, a battle between the haves and the have-nots. Friedrich Engels, who with Marx authored the Communist Manifesto, lambasted Columbus as the godfather of modern capitalism. According to Engels, Columbus’s westward journeys unleashed the era of “big commerce,” the world market, and the birth of the bourgeoisie. “The discovery of America was connected with the advent of machinery,” he wrote in 1847, “and with that the struggle became necessary which we are conducting today, the struggle of the propertyless against the property owners.”