Graded Discussion

Graded discussion. Isn’t that a bit of an oxymoron? A discussion, at least in my mind, has always meant an open exchange of ideas. Listening to other people’s opinions, thinking about them and evaluating them next to your own, and then drawing new conclusions. Collaboration.

Reasoning. Exploration. It’s a challenging and thought-provoking environment while still being welcoming and inviting. If I could choose between eating my lunch with kids debating the importance of, say, dust, and kids giggling about the latest filter on SnapChat, I’d go with the dust in an instant. So why was it that when I walked into my third period history class, my fingers were clammy, my legs were trembling, my head felt rather faint, and that sandwich I’d eaten (not over a dust conversation, sadly) was threatening a return trip? I could give you a variety of excuses: that I hadn’t drunk enough water (false; I’d been nervously sipping and chewing at my bottle all day), that my sister had been coughing all over the place at my house and probably infected me with some deadly illness (well, she did have a cold), that I’d stayed up too late the night before studying the advantages of socialism versus liberalism (guilty of that one).

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But none of those is the real reason why that classroom was the one place I didn’t want to be at 11:25 on a Wednesday morning. No, what I couldn’t shake was the dread of sitting at my desk and knowing every word I uttered would be judged and ranked on a scale of A to F. Don’t get me wrong; I was prepared for the class. I wasn’t trying to get out of anything. Heck, I had nearly four pages of notes on how the great philosophers of the Renaissance influenced today’s political ideologies.

Moreover, I actually had a lot to say about the topics at hand; I found Karl Marx and his theories particularly stimulating. My problem was knowing that nothing said in that room could possibly be authentic. Every speaker would be constantly fretting about saying the “right” thing, offering the most “insightful” connection, making his or her contribution “meaningful” and “relevant” and providing “clarification” and “linking disciplines” and being a “leader” and a “complex thinker” and meeting all of the criteria on the Mighty Rubric that seems to be the King of High School. With each standard, each objective, each learning target checked off, the conversation would lose another bit of its significance until we might as well just open up the textbooks sitting on the back shelf and read aloud. I’ve done it all before, gone through all the motions, and I know how the story goes.

I can’t separate the people who actually have or care about their own opinions from those who are regurgitating the lecture from Monday. I can’t distinguish the words of that kid in the front from those of whoever put together the Wikipedia page on John Locke. But most terrifying is that I can’t tell what I think or feel anymore. I’m so worried all the time of saying what people want me to say, what people expect a high honors student to say, what the bullet points on the piece of paper titled “Discussion next class–Read thoroughly!” lying before me in my open binder say, that I’m not..

. Me. I’m not sure where she went or at what point she changed, but she sure isn’t the same girl who skipped off to kindergarten, swinging her lunch box and humming her newly learned ABC’s. I do know, though, that this isn’t learning. This isn’t how education is supposed to work. That’s one thing communism and school systems have in common: they’re both great in theory.

Add in a Dictatorship of the Proletariat and graded discussions, though, and they’re another matter entirely. Hey, look, I made a connection. Give me an A.