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5. School

Disputes Over Grades

“Here it is!” Seventeen-year-old Michelle proudly hands her father her analysis of the use of metaphor in the works of Charles Dickens.

When Dad finishes reading, he lets out a whistle, genuinely impressed. “Wow! You did some terrific job here, honey!” he exclaims. “If any paper deserves an A, this one certainly does.”

So he’s as stunned as she is when the following week she shows him the returned composition, which bears a B-minus marked in red pencil.

“A B-minus, can you believe it, Daddy?!” Frankly, no, he can’t.

“Now I probably won’t get an in English!” she frets. “I absolutely, definitely have to get an A, or how else am I going to get into the English lit program at State University?”

What You Can Do

A parent might be tempted to challenge the grade. But before reaching for a pen or for the telephone, keep in mind that as parents, we’re not always in the best position to evaluate the quality of our youngster’s work. Not only are we inclined to see it in the best possible light, but we may not have a context in which to judge it. For instance, when the father in the above scenario speaks to the teacher, he’s surprised to hear the instructor agree that Michelle’s composition on Charles Dickens was extremely well written.

But as the teacher patiently explains, she didn’t address the main objective of the assignment, which was to make the case that Dickens was an important commentator on his time. The fact that Michelle slaved over the paper for two weeks is immaterial; her effort was misdirected. Furthermore, she included only eight of the ten required sources, did not follow standard footnote form and overlooked several misspellings and grammatical errors. Hence, her grade of B-minus.

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