The norm for measuring learning in schools is through tests. True/false, multiple choice, fill-in-the-blank, short answer. Teachers designate grades for correct answers – facts, figures, dates – scoring (usually) on a scale from 1-100 or a letter range of A through F, on how well students can cite information the teachers have provided to them.
As you advanced from grammar school through high school, the tests changed. Long answers required of short questions. Book reports. Term papers. Research papers. Footnotes, references, latin terms. Answers became lengthy and required additional skills of analysis, theory, extrapolation, comparison, logic, relativity, connectivity, serendipity. Writing style mattered. Adjectives, adverbs (watch out for those dangling participles!), similes, metaphors, alliteration, juxtaposition, et cetera and et al. Thesauruses needed to be consulted in addition to dictionaries. The grading system however, remained unchanged, though there might be comments written alongside the grade.
Then in college one day we were handed graded tests and encountered something unexpected. Two letters: one above a dividing line, and one below. No commentary. The professor explained. The letter above the line represented the grade for correct data and was what would officially be calculated towards final course grade and factored into our four year grade point average. The letter below the line would not be an official factor in final grades and would not be reflected in our cumulative averages. It represented the Bullshit Factor of content.
I looked at the professor and laughed. He looked at me and smiled. My test was marked with an A over an A. A ‘meeting of the minds’ and mutual respect. I could write prime bullshit and he could recognize it. Brilliance and bullshit perfectly balanced. More teachers should use his grading system. It’s an A I’ll never forget and my classmates greatly admired and were inspired.
A toast to Webster and Roget and English teachers everywhere.