The Week


Failing Our Students

The inequities and potential for abuse in a classroom where students grade themselves are so obvious that they are laughable -- until they are put into practice. Professors Darryl Caterine and Christopher Jocks have defended their self-grading "experiments" with talk of pedagogical philosophies, attempting to obscure their disregard for the academic integrity of the College.

In a brief email to The Dartmouth, Jocks revealed the tenuousness of his philosophy by saying, "I don't think any of us want to attract a lot of attention for what we're doing, not yet anyway." Likewise, once Caterine heard that his self-grading system might become public, he heard "alarm bells" and added a final, professor-graded paper to the syllabus.

Perhaps Caterine and Jocks believe that their radical ideas are too complex to be understood by the Dartmouth community at large. It's more likely, however, that they realize how unpopular a self-grading scheme would be with faculty and students who don't directly benefit from it.

All of the students in Religion 12 and Religion 52 may be honest, but they are still unable to evaluate their work with anything approaching objectivity. More significantly, a self-grading system trivializes the work of students in other classes.

Caterine's grading policy, which he instituted only during his last term at Dartmouth, contradicts his professed values of guiding and nurturing students. Though he is the recipient of a Student Assembly award for excellence in teaching, Caterine doesn't compare to other faculty who have a greater respect for the feedback process.

Where's the Opposition?

The Bush administration surprised the country Tuesday by reversing the government's 60-year-old interpretation of the Second Amendment, proclaiming that individuals have the constitutional right to own guns. Meanwhile, legislators in Germany took action to toughen that country's gun laws following a deadly school shooting.

The two events make for an illuminating comparison. In the American case, John Ashcroft's Justice Department maneuvered to try to make guns more widely accessible. The decision undermines the position maintained by Republican and Democratic administrations alike since 1939 that the Second Amendment only protects citizens' right to form state militias.

In Germany, however, public reaction to a recent school shooting has made for a rapid national effort to curb access to firearms. The German government's decision to move the gun ownership age from 18 to 21 makes sense.

America, despite a string of school shootings since the Columbine bloodbath, has lacked the political will to curb access to firearms. When news of the Justice Department's ill-conceived position became known, the Democratic Party -- traditionally the party of tougher gun legislation -- was almost entirely silent. Having decided after the 2000 election to downplay the firearms issue, Democrats' shameful strategy meant that the Bush administration was able to adopt a potentially deadly position without even a murmur from the political opposition.

While the United States does not need to adopt German laws, the German response to youth violence provides a useful lesson. American policymakers should look closely at how the central European nation has been able to forge a coherent national policy that aims to put guns out of the reach of young people.