Doubtful Favors

Here is Part III of the story of the professor of English at Brooklyn College who was prevented from continuing to teach because he refused to inflate the grades he gave his students. At least his account of the story. It is the account of one party in a dispute rather than an impartial account by a disinterested observer. I find it all too credible, but I also keep in mind that I don’t know the facts, that we haven’t heard from the others involved, that Frederick Lang could be telling us less than the whole story.

But then again quite possibly not, because what’s in dispute is not so much what happened as whether what happened is a good thing or not. It may well be that if we heard from Tremper she would say ‘Yes, that’s exactly what happened, and here’s why I did what I did.’ It may well be that she would defend with passion and zeal the idea that it’s cruel and elitist, excluding and Eurocentric, mean-spirited and racist to give bad marks to students who haven’t learned to write. It may indeed be that she thinks it is doing students a favor to give them automatic high marks.

But Lang is quite eloquent on his reason for not thinking that’s doing students a favor. No doubt he learned to be eloquent with the help of the demanding education he cites as his reason. No doubt he thinks teaching students to be eloquent is doing them a much, much bigger favor than one does by giving them meaningless high marks and no eloquence.

If I am as well educated as my record indicates, it is because I was held to the same standards as the students who were paying tuition at NYU and Columbia. Were I currently a student at Brooklyn College, I would receive high grades, but I would quickly realize that I was not being required to meet high standards. I would not study as hard, learn to write as well, or strive to distinguish myself. In short, I would probably graduate with honors and as a member of Phi Beta Kappa, as I did at NYU, but I would not be nearly as well educated. In short, my personal, perhaps selfish, reason for refusing to inflate my grades is that I can easily imagine myself being victimized by the practice.

Pretty convincing, however partial.

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