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"Each individual should allow reason to guide his conduct, or like an animal, he will need to be led by a leash."
Diogenes of Sinope

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Thousand Flowers tapestry (15th Century) - Beaune, France (detail)

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Crusty old Physics teacher goes down fighting

Meet my new hero: Edmonton high school teacher Lynden Dorval. Mr. Dorval, a Physics teacher with 35 years' experience, has been suspended by the Board of Education for giving his students marks of zero for missed or incomplete assignments:
“I knew it was going to be a lot of stress,” he says. “But I just couldn’t talk myself out of it. It was the right thing to do.”What he did, over the past 18 months, was what he had done for over three decades when a student didn’t submit an assignment, skipped a test or missed an exam: he pulled out his red marking pen and gave them a zero. It was a lesson in consequences, one contrary to the school’s no-zero policy, an official dictum Mr. Dorval willfully ignored. After repeated warnings from the principal to toe the line, the renegade was hauled before a school board hearing. Three days later, on May 18, he received a letter informing him he had been suspended indefinitely. He suffered the consequences.
Mr. Dorval refused to accept the school's policy that a student's self-esteem is more important than actual performance. In that case, why give grades at all? Surely a mark of D would be bruising to the tender egos of someone taking a class with a fellow student who got an A? Why hand in ANY assignments if there are no consequences for not doing so? When I was in University back in the early 1980s, I was in a program that declined to give us actual grades - we were all assigned one of two marks for each assignment: Complete or Incomplete. This was after I had already spent four years in a rigorous honours degree program in science. It didn't take any of us long to figure out that there was no reward for excelling in anything that had to be handed in to the professors, so we carefully figured out the minimum amount of work required to achieve a Complete and dutifully handed in assignment after assignment of mediocre but acceptable quality. Why do otherwise? It was embarrassing to be part of this system, but it was necessary for the career path I had chosen, so I put up, shut up and got the hell through it as quickly as possible. This is the system in the schools of Edmonton that Mr. Dorval has decided he can't be part of any longer:
It is Newton’s Law: for every action there is an opposite and equal reaction. Unless, of course, you are a student at Ross Sheppard high or some other institution where every missed assignment is met with an excuse. And not from the kids, but from an apologist administration that encourages serial irresponsibility by offering second, third, fourth — and 10th chances — but not zeroes, never a zero. Lynden Dorval knew it was wrong. He had had enough. So he picked up his red marking pen and stayed true to his conscience. It is a choice, he says, he would make again.
Bravo, Mr. Dorval. I salute you.


Anonymous said...

This is why they riot in Quebec... no consequences.

Pissedoff said...

Nony my thoughts exactly as I was reading this

Anonymous said...

Students can't fail a grade either. The thought of failing subjects or the whole year and suffering the embarrassment, not to mention what would happen at home was enough to keep me studying hard. These kids are in for rude awakening when they experience real life.

john said...

I cannot understand the school's policy. If you have not done the work the why would you get ANY credit? Even a token mark of 1 percent is still too much.

You didn't DO ANYTHING!

Unfortunately in this counrty (indeed the western world) we are increasingly rewarding people even if they have never accomplished anything of value or done anything worthy of respect.

Anonymous said...

It's all about money...each school district gets x number of dollars per student..if the student leaves because he/she has terrible marks that is less money to that school district. The statement about the students self esteem is pure these people in charge of these schools think that the students self esteem is going to get any better as he moves up the ladder into higher grades and more difficult subjects. I've seen grade 6rs that couldn't read or write but guess where their next adventure is taking them...Junior High..where those 3 years alone will discourage them even more...they wait until they are 16 then they drop out of school...and the politicians keep ragging on about no child should be illiterate..and around and around we go

Don said...

If I were the teacher, I'd be tempted to just tell everyone at the beginning of the year that they can expect a grade of 50% (or whatever a bare minimum pass is) due to the policy.

That grade would be for the year only. The mid-term and final would account for 50% of their grade.

If they want to pass, they better do the work assigned and learn the material.

Anonymous said...

jeez, if you don't even do the assignment just how do you a mark that isn't zero. this school needs to go back to math???

Don said...

Anonymous: How do they mark it non-zero?

5 points for filling in the box labelled "Name".

guy bn said...

You can be certain that countries with emerging markets do not abide policies where passing grades in subjects like physics are guaranteed as long as you register in the course. It is no accident that Canada is losing its competitive edge to the BRICs of the world; in these countries, you must show you know your stuff if you hope to advance. Kudos for Mr. Dorval!