Essay:Of Socialist Grading

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This is a response to a "Conservative Parable" describing how a conservative professor thinks socialism in grading would work.

The essay was originally written in response to the story arriving in my email box, and I decided to include it as it was originally distributed, and not amended. As well, included as a bonus feature, is a response my mother sent me to the same story. She spent numerous years as an educator, and also obtained some of the first national recognition of excellence in education.

"of Socialist Grading" Proscriptus Voce per Eira[edit]

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My original response[edit]

Now, this is going to take awhile, and I know, and I'm sorry, it's a lot to read, and it's a ton of math and numbers... but it's important to show how taking the sort of propaganda that this email is at face value can SERIOUSLY hurt your understand of the world.

First, no... Socialism is not averaging everyone's grades together. Communism is more like that, but really, Communism is more like, "let's not have grades." Socialism is a feathering towards an "ideal" average, kind of like that grading curve that nearly every teacher puts into their grading. So, yeah, my spectacular A's on all my tests in all my classes, even economics, weren't as bright and shiny, but at least all the students that didn't deserve to fail, but would have otherwise were saved. Because the hard-line capitalist-like approach of "well, yes, everyone in the class scored low on this test... but that doesn't mean that you didn't fail it" would have resulted in far too many people not making it anywhere in college at all.

Let me put this in perspective... let's layer these grades out the same as the wealth of the USA. (Using statistics from 2001. the top 1% had 38%, the top 10% had 71%, and the lowest 40% had 1%). In our class of 100 students in "Intro to Economics", we're going to say that our top student got 38 points, which is 100%, and then calculate out everyone else from there. So, the other top 9% have 71-38 = 33 points to spread among 9 students, so 3.66 points per student scaled to 38 being 100% each of them gets 9.63%. And the lowest 40% being disjoint from these top groups, gives us 0.025 points per student adjusted to 38 being 100%, we get about 0.07% per student. The middle range (under top 10% over bottom 40%) have 29 points for 50 students, or 0.58 points per student through 38 points is 1.53% per student.

So, distributing according to the wealth of the United States in a zero-sum game organization, we have one student passing with 100%, 9 students failing at about 10%, and 90 students failing with less than 2%.

But wait, grades aren't a zero-sum game!!! Right?! Everyone works as hard as they can to study and do well on tests, and they are graded independently of everyone else.

So, let us present a capitalist analogy to the scenario presented below. It's complicated because it has to be, because THE ECONOMY ITSELF IS COMPLICATED. Each student gets a grade on a test, this grade is presented as vouchers to each student at a rate of one per percentage point on the test. These vouchers can then be exchanged with the teacher at a rate of one per minute of the teacher's time during office hours. In order to assign final grades, the teacher, at the end of the year will take the person with the most number of vouchers, and that person will be labeled 100%, and all others will rank in behind that person. ... I know, it's complicated, but if I simplify it much further, it ends up being just as bad an example as the propaganda below, and I'M NOT OUT TO PUSH PROPAGANDA, but rather THINKING, and ANALYSIS.

Ok, so, first test, Alice gets 95%, Bob and Charlie get 75%, and Dwayne, Eric, Francis, Grant, and Hugh all get 60%, but Isabel only scores a 20%. Alice just does the same thing, making a 90% and an 85% on the next two tests. Bob does the same and gets 75%s on the next two tests, Charlie spends 30 minutes with the teacher to up his next two test scores to 100%, and then self-studies to an 80%. Dwayne decides to spend ten minutes of time with the teacher but as a result he gets a 75% on the next test, he then spends ten more minutes with the teacher but gets another 75%. Eric does the same but only scores 70% on the next tests and 75% on the 3rd test. Francis does the same, but sees no benefit from the time spent, and continues to get 60%s on the next two tests. Grant doesn't spend any time at all with the teacher, and suffers and as a result he scores 50% on the next two tests, while Hugh puts it all on the line and spends a whole hour with the teacher, but getting 100% on the next test, he decides to self-study at this point an gets an 80% on the 3rd test. Finally Isabel frantically attempts to spend time with the teacher, but since she only has 20 minutes entirely to spare, and is already having difficulty with the subject, she doesn't improve at all, despite spending all of her time with the teacher, scores a 20%. Still just trying to get anywhere, she again spends all her time with the teacher, but again still ends up with a 20%.

Here's the scores: Alice: 95+90+85=270 Bob: 75+75+75= 225 Charlie: 75-30+100+80= 220 Dwayne: 60-10+75-10+75= 190 Eric: 60-10+70-10+75= 185 Francis: 60-10+60-10+60= 160 Grant: 60+50+50= 160 Hugh: 60-60+100+80= 180 Isabel: 20-20+20-20+20= 20

This yields the grades: Alice: 100% Bob: 83% Charlie: 81% Dwayne: 70% Eric: 69% Francis: 59% Grant: 59% Hugh: 67% Isabel: 7%

Now, assuming that the teacher hadn't been a capitalist, and had provided his services like a socialist as a free of charge service... Alice still gets 100%, Bob gets an 83% still, but now Charlie gets a 95%.. he did score better than Bob after all in all the tests. Dwayne gets a 77%, Eric gets a 76%, Francis gets a 67%, Grant still gets a 59%, Hugh gets an 89% and Isabel gets a 22%. All of this is assuming that they don't use the teacher more than they did when it cost them.

Certainly, Charlie who saw such a good gain by spending time with the teacher, might have kept his 100% just by spending 20 more minutes with the teacher, Dwayne, Eric, and Francis likely would have spent more time with the teacher by just 10 more minutes, and say it gave only 5%, that would at least pull them up out of the C- range, right? Maybe Grant was a lazy person, or maybe he would have gone to see the teacher. It helps to have a lazy person in the mix. Hugh is in the same boat as Charlie, and by spending just 20 more minutes with the teacher, kept his 100%. And finally, Isabel, could have spend so much more time and actually improving her score, by getting the help that she really needed. With just an hour more of his time the first time, she could bring herself up to a 50%, and then with another more hour, she could bring herself up to a 75%. It's important to note that ALL of these options would have been "economically unreasonable" in the capitalist system, or even technically impossible for Isabel without some sort of debt system, and even then she would have ended up with a negative point score at the end.

Looking at what they could have done, original capitalist result, original socialist result, capitalist-result with doing the stuff above, and socialist result again doing the stuff above. Alice: 100%, 100%, 100% (She just didn't need the help) Bob: 83%, 83%, 83%, 83% (He's a B student, and content with it, perhaps?) Charlie: 81%, 95%, 81%, 101% (He broke the original curve! wouldn't you want this as an employee anyways?) Dwayne: 70%, 77%, 69%, 80% (He would have gotten a C- under the capitalist system, but under the socialist system B-!) Eric: 69%, 76%, 68%, 77% (Pushed him from a D+ to the range of a C+... that's an important shift in this grade rage!) Francis: 59%, 67%, 59%, 69% (He was begging for a D, just to not fail, and jumped up to asking for a C, to look better) Grant: 59%, 59%, 59%, 59% (He's scrambling at the last moment to try and get any favor just to pass, lazy hurts in any system) Hugh: 67%, 89%, 67%, 96% (Hard work should MEAN something, not cost you something. Socialism here helps upward mobilization) Isabel: 7%, 22%, -5%, 53% (she was TOTALLY screwed in the capitalist system, but with the socialist system, at least she's only 7% of extra-credit working her butt off to passing... unless she's lazy, like Grant.)

So, Executive Summary here: Socialism helps those that try, and rewards those that try hard even better than capitalism. It diminished the worth of being on top... but you're on top already... seriously. Capitalism benefits the most, those who walk in with the most advantages from the start. Alice didn't do well in class because she worked her busy bee butt off... she did well in class because she was smart before she even started. And BOTH SYSTEMS MAKE IT SUCK TO BE A LAZY PERSON!

A response from a highly experienced and respected educator[edit]

First off, any sane student in that class who knew anything about the value of cooperation would know that the best way for all students to get a good averaged grade would be to have each and every student get the highest possible grade each can possibly make. That means studying together and encouraging everyone to do their best.

Only this would guarantee that the highest academically endowed student would still perform very high because that is in his nature (cultural or moral), but he would also pass on his study habits, techniques, and attitude to his fellow classmates.

This story and your premise focuses only on the rigid parameters this professor gave. And the response of the students in the story is crap and probably an urban myth.

My experience in the academic world tells me that the students would have been angry after the first test, BUT they would have come together to DEFEAT the professor’s agenda. This story and your response gives no respect to the students’ free will. No high achieving student would let his GPA suffer an F, and he would do anything short of cheating to make sure that as a whole the class would get an average score in the top range.