Getting what we earn. Nothing more.

Each new school year I am confronted with a new crop of students who tend to think they deserve what they have not earned. Now don’t get me wrong, I have incredibly motivated students who do earn a lot. But it’s never enough. And here is, invariably, where the situation arises.

After I return a test we always go over it point by point so the students understand their mistakes and to verify that I have not made any mistakes in correcting it. Unfortunately, I do tend to make mistakes. The students are quick to point them out when it benefits them but are more reluctant to bring it up when I marked correct an item which is clearly wrong.

But once again, let me clarify. I have very honest students and I believe that in 90+ percent of the situations that the students point out an error which is not in their favor. I always thank them for their honesty, and then I adjust the score lower.

Without fail they say something like, “but shouldn’t I get it right for being honest” as if their honesty should be rewarded. Can you imagine a society in which people only were honest if they were rewarded for their behavior? I think you can see how disastrous that would be.

But the additional point beyond the honesty issue is the question of why they think they should deserve a point for a question they answered incorrectly. Where else in life would that logic hold?

Knock down nine pins during a bowling game, write it down as a strike and see if your competition will mind?

In baseball an umpire rules a batted ball a home run. On challenge the video shows that it should be a double, but the opposing manager agrees to let the home run stand because it was an honest mistake by the umpire?

Has the IRS ever said this to you: thank you for informing us that you under-paid your taxes. Since you were honest, you no longer owe that money.

Have you ever heard of the College Board saying this: I have to inform you that the 2100 you scored on your SAT was calculated incorrectly. Your actual score was 1500. However, since it wasn’t your mistake, we will let you keep the 2100.

The world doesn’t work that way and neither should the classroom. Students should be encouraged to be honest because people of integrity are honest. Students shouldn’t expect to get special treatment simply because the teacher made an honest mistake.

Many times the students say, “Well, Mr. So-and-so doesn’t adjust our score down when we are honest about a mistake.” Well, either he believes in unfair grading practices or he practices unwarranted grace. And while as a theological argument, the concept of unwarranted grace has its certain merits, it doesn’t belong in education.

Students need to earn their score.

The broader point here concerning our society at large is that we all need to take responsibility over our own education, our own achievements, our own successes, our own failures. Honesty is the first step – even if it hurts us in the short term. The next step is accepting the fact that we get what we have earned. No more. No less.

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