PROFESSOR BRIAN: A ver. ¿Qué hacemos el viernes?
El viernes entregan la primera versión de su proyecto final, ¿no?
Pues, esta fecha límite …
yo la puse para ayudarles.
Eso es, no es para torturarlos.
si quieren … podemos …
extender la fecha límite, y pueden entregar su ensayo el lunes después de la vacación.
FRANCIS: HHHHHHHHHHHEEEEELLLLLLLL YEAH!
Not strictly a “Last Year” comic, since it’s about when I studied abroad last spring, but this past week I’ve been finishing up the travel memoir I wrote about that semester abroad, so it’s kind of topical.
TEXT: Based on how much emphasis my pre-departure study abroad courses and pamphlets put on “c u l t u r e s h o c k,” this is essentially what I expected would happen upon arrival in Seville.
FRANCIS: Ooooooh nooooooo!!!! The cuuuuultuuuure! It’s shoooocking me!
Okay, so this one is actually from my Junior year, while I was studying abroad in Spain, but I’m posting it because it uses a quote from Great Expectations, which book I’m posting a review of on Friday. So it’s all justified, I figure.
TEXT: “There was a gay fiction among us that we were constantly enjoying ourselves, and a skeleton truth that we never did.”
—Charles Dickens, Great Expectations
SKELETON: Ayy ur actually sad lol
FRANCIS: You think I’m the only goddamn lawyer in history ever missed a court date?
FRANCIS: No you wouldn’t like La Cage. Trust me, I know.
FRANCIS: You hold I pay you to hold fuck you Harry you jerk.
FRANCIS: You see La Cage? Fabulous. Best thing on Broadway.
FRANCIS: Baby doll. Get me ahhahahahah, fuck, wait!
AL PACINO: Bad time this is a good time.
TEXT: I actually cut this one from my audition, so here’s Al Pacino doing it.
TEXT: I’m so happy to be back here. Because I was in Spain last Semester, it’s been 9 months since I’ve been in Iowa City, and I just can’t stop grinning.
Our place feels more lived in. Messy, but bustling.
The wifi name has changed, but the password is the same.
And our balcony… has even more plants!
FRANCIS: Oh my god!
TEXT: Some things, inexplicably, have stayed the same.
Holy crap I’m really doing this!
FRANCIS: This is my last year of college, and I regret that I haven’t done much journalling during my college years (aside from my semester abroad.) So in the interest of documenting this era of my life, improving my drawing and comicking skills, and generating some scrumptious c o n t e n t, I’m going to put out a weekly autobio comic all throughout my senior year!
The comic will run from this week to May 17. It will post at least once each week, sometimes twice, depending on if I’m posting something else that week.
Most comics will be better than this one. Whatever. I’m still getting my bearings here.
In this fifteen-minute play, four college students meet to plan a party, and end up sidetracked by an argument about the savior of the world. Just a few months after he defeated the Himalayan, allegations of sexual abuse have emerged around Dawa the Savior. This issue turns from small talk among a group of friends to an explosive argument with deep implications.
The publication includes an afterword in which I discuss the origins of the idea, and how my intro to political analysis class factored into it’s outlining.
Other announcement: I’m on Twitter now, @FrancisRBass.
A couple decades in the future higher education has evolved, and Academic Campuses (sometimes referred to as “monasteries”) offer an affordable, though longer and more intensive, alternative to universities. In this hour-long play, the student editors of the Marietta Academic Campus’s literary journal, The Mac, meet just before the start of summer to finish up the latest issue, and to celebrate their success. As the play continues, a hypothetical conversation about graduating early and starting up a magazine outside the monastery turns into a spirited argument.
As usual the publication includes an afterword. In this one I describe my own arguments with myself about college, and my outlining process for the play.
Gradecraft is something I’ve always known about, and done as well, but I didn’t ever have a name for it. And about a week ago, the name popped into my head (maybe inspired by the word statecraft), and I suddenly felt like I could write a post about it.
So what is gradecraft? No, it’s not a Minecraft mod, and while it is “a learning management system dedicated to supporting the gameful classroom,” that’s not what I’m talking about.
When I say gradecraft, I mean the skill or act a student employs in managing or manipulating their grades. I’m guessing it’s increased since schools started posting grades online continuously, rather than only sending them out as report cards a few times a year.
Although cheating would fall under that definition, that’s not really what I’m getting at, and it’s rather a crude form of gradecraft. The form that I’m more interested in, and that I’m really referring to when I say gradecraft (have I said “gradecraft” enough yet?) is the skill a student employs when they consider that they have a 68 in Algebra and a 72 in English, and they can either study for an English test which will count for fifty points of a hundred points (those hundred points weighed at thirty percent of their grade) or finish the algebra homework which will count for sixty points of a thousand (weighed at fifty percent of the grade.) Also taking into consideration the future opportunities to raise grades in each classes, as well as odd quirks of each teacher’s grading system (dropping the lowest scored test, allowing two re-dos per semester, extra credit, whatever.)
This act of gradecraft—deciding when bombing a test or not doing homework is the right choice—has funny results on the other end. Teachers seem to take a student not turning in an assignment as a personal slight, which is a somewhat egocentric view—as if the student does not exist outside that teacher’s own class. The teacher sees it as a lack of caring, whereas the student sees it as a calculated loss. It’s not personal, it’s economics.
This is clearly not an ideal form of Paideia. Students shouldn’t be worried about grades, they should be worried about mastering a concept, or improving a skill. But grades are the most important factor in education, especially high school. GPA determines the ability to apply for certain scholarships, and to get into certain colleges. And grades are made more relevant because parents are able to see them, and it’s the only glimpse that parents get into how their kid is doing in school. So there’s social pressure to hit these arbitrary marks as well, and less pressure to do things parents can’t see (like participate in class or get tutoring help during lunch.) It’s also a lot easier for a teenager to grasp a specific number on a finite scale than an abstract concept like “fluency” or “mastery.”
The reason this emphasis on grades is bad is because it allows scenarios like the following to happen: A student will place more importance on doing busywork for a subject in which they’re already proficient than on actually learning a subject they know nothing about, if that unknown subject’s teacher is an easy grader.
This is a problem inherent in education. Of course there needs to be some standard that colleges and employers can reference to understand the level of skill of a student, but this places undue importance on grades. Rather than being an indicator of progress toward a goal, grades become the goal itself.
This is why I always got bad grades in English classes (by bad I mean ‘B’s, but that seems bad when you consider that I’m a writer.) I always was comfortable in my mastery of the course, and I didn’t care about pursuing arbitrary grades to prove it. I never engaged in much gradecraft, except in cases where I was pressed for time, and had to choose which assignment would give me the biggest bang for my buck.
I should say, I’ve mostly been talking about high school this whole time, because I find that gradecraft is much less prominent in college. The reason is, you can’t engage in gradecraft if your professor doesn’t put up grades. And, at least at the University of Iowa, professors aren’t required to post grades. Maybe this is completely different at other places, but this is the way it is here. And I think that’s a good thing. Teachers should keep track of grades so they can talk to anyone who’s failing, or so that any student willing to make the effort (not many of them) of visiting a teacher and asking for their grades can see them, but otherwise leave students in the dark. Students can get some idea of how they’re doing based on the assignments that are handed back, and their own intuition. That’s how things are in the real world anyway—no official body is going to tell someone they’re a C- barber, or that they’re an A+ farmer. People just have to figure out their strength and ability on their own, and make decisions from there.
While I have some pride in myself and my cohort for being able to engage in gradecraft, and manipulate a complicated, often broken, sometimes antagonistic system, it’s really a reductive activity. It may be useful for classes that a student has absolutely no interest in ever learning or mastering, but when it’s practiced in every class in a student’s schedule, that’s a problem. Because at that point schools aren’t training students to be scientists, historians, business owners, or doctors, they’re training them to be students—with a masters in gradecraft (and a concentration in test-taking.)