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Commentary: Brother, Can You Spare An A?

By Tom Dodge, KERA 90.1 commentator

Dallas, TX –

Anyone who has ever been a teacher can't help but sympathize with the Midlothian teacher who called the cops on those kids for badgering her about grades. I've known for a long time that begging for grades is getting worse. During the last year I taught, there wasn't a single time that a student had anything to say to me that didn't involve grades. Teachers feel the pressure not only from students but also from parents, school administrators and, as in this case, from coaches. Teachers are harassed every day about grades, more so at the end of reporting periods and at the end of semesters. I'm sure, at one time or another; they've all felt like calling the cops. But this story made headlines for two reasons. First, because the police are involved. Second, because it's about religion, otherwise known as "football."

Apparently everyone thought they had something to gain by their actions. The coach was so desperate to win the game that he permitted eleven members of the team to approach the teacher about another player's grade. The teacher apparently snapped and called the police, believing she could get no support from her administrators. The school officials thought they could gain by keeping the incident quiet.

Anyone tempted to reduce this incident to the easy stereotype of the typical small-town, small-minded "Friday Night Lights" mentality, should think again. It's rather another example of a popular national obsession with winning at any cost. Why should anyone expect children to value learning over grades when everywhere they look they see the appearance of quality and principle valued over the real things? Why write your own themes when you can buy them from adults selling them on the Internet? Why strive actually to achieve when it's easier just to list your made-up attainments on your resume? A Pulitzer Prize winner told his students he was a Vietnam combat officer. Two other Pulitzer winners made up quotes. A New York Times reporter stole other reporters' stories and passed them off as his own. A Washington Post reporter had to return her Pulitzer after it was learned she had fabricated the story. Modern presidents read speeches written by hired speechwriters.

In the sport that these Midlothian students revere so much they learn that winning is not everything, it's the only thing. Superseding of course, things like learning, ethics, and respect for teachers. It is chilling that not one student had the courage to stand up against the majority and say that what they were doing was wrong. The fact that they went relatively unpunished reinforces the notion that standing up for unpopular beliefs is more severely punished than wrongdoing in the name of a popular cause. In this town and every town in Texas the Conformity Cops rule supreme. So nobody stood up for one teacher just trying to do her job.

Probably the kids meant no harm. Beggars seldom do. They just want something for nothing. Yet it was my experience that the same students who begged me for grades were opposed on principle to Affirmative Action and human services programs, calling them "handouts."

But grading on the "curve system" was somehow all right.

A logical conclusion for this whole affair would be for everyone concerned to accept responsibility for what happened and pledge to do better. This is not likely to happen. Admitting you were wrong seems to be out of fashion these days.


Tom Dodge is a writer from Midlothian. If you have opinions or rebuttals about this commentary, call (214) 740-9338 or email us.