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The Moral Problem of Grading: An Extended Analysis

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[This, admittedly quite long, post is a sample chapter from a book I may end up writing about the ethics of academia. I'm interested in feedback on it. Would people be interested in an entire book examining the moral dilemmas faced by the typical academic? Is this analysis of grading any good? Let me know]Grading is the bane of most academics’ lives. Several times a year the working academic will be required to grade the students in their classes. Academics often complain about this process — begrudging both the time it takes and the mind-numbing nature of the task* — but rarely think about its ethics. Most see it as an inevitable and essential part of their jobs. If they didn’t grade students’ exams and assignments then what would be the point of all that teaching? It seems so obvious that grading is the natural denouement of teaching. It’s always been done and if it wasn’t done it would be weird. Students would complain and the general public would start to wonder what people are doing in universities. So, instead of subjecting the practice to close ethical scrutiny, most academics prefer to view it with ironic detachment. They laugh about it and then they get on with it.A famous illustration of this ironic detachment is Daniel Solove’s article about the ’Staircase Method’ of grading. Solove, a law professor at George Washington University, first wrote about the method in the lead up to ‘marking season’ at his university. He realised that many of his colleagues would soon be sharing the pain of grading stacks of 100+ papers. He thought he could lighten their load by offering a new method of grading. Instead of sitting down and actually reading through all those exam scripts and assignments, why not take the stack to the top of the nearest staircase and give it a good heave over the edge. If you do it right, the papers should fall to the ground at different points along the staircase. You can then assign letter grades to the papers depending on where they fall. . .

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News source: Philosophical Disquisitions

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