Apathy Jack writes:
Every so often someone says I should write something proper about the pros and cons of NCEA. I haven’t made a serious go of this because, you know, it bores me, but this might do as a taster...
While overall I don’t hate NCEA, one of the problems I have with it is that, well, it just doesn’t work in English. Oh, for the most part it’s fine, but NCEA marking schedules are quite remarkably proscriptive documents. They need to be to ensure nationwide consistency in marking. But when it comes to, for example, creative writing, a rigid set of guidelines isn’t always conducive to getting the best result.
At Hoodrat we had a policy of making allowances for the ineffable – writing that didn’t conform to the checklist of “Excellence” criteria, but that we knew deserved such a grade because between us we had read tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of books and knew good writing when we saw it. It is accepted wisdom among English teachers that many, maybe most, modern classics would not have passed NCEA level 1 creative writing, because the use of language and narrative that made them so revolutionary, so acclaimed, would fall outside the inflexible boundaries of the marking schedule. It was deemed necessary to occasionally mark according to the spirit of a standard rather than its letter.
One such example: We do a reading standard at level 2 which requires the students to read a bunch of stuff, then write about it. Specifically:
[A]t least nine written texts from at least three different categories - categories may include contemporary novel, pre-20th century text, collection of short stories, drama, poetry anthology, extended magazine articles, biography, reference books, website
To translate: when they talk of “different categories”, it’s basically a nice way of saying “Don’t do all short stories you intellectually lazy bastards! Read something of some weight for a change, dammit!”
The word we’ve been giving to classes for years is: you must have a bunch of different types of texts, unless you read nine novels, because reading nine novels in the course of a year is impressive when you go to the school with the lowest literacy rate of any decile three school in Auckland, so go with God, my child.
I caught up with one of mine last night at a dance performance. A perennially enthusiastic girl who came top of fifth form English last year by dint of a fair amount of natural talent and an obscene amount of hard work. She wrote on nine novels.
Only to be told by the new Head of the English Department that she would not pass this standard because her work did not meet the requirement of “different categories”. (And of course she was told this the day before it was all due in...) Of course she got it all done: She stayed up late, read a bunch of poems and magazine articles, handed it in, and passed.
Now, the HOD was entirely within her rights to do this – in fact, she was correcting a fairly gross (if entirely intentional) “error” on the part of me and the other two of the Triumvirate. However, in doing so, she was essentially telling this student: “No, don’t read lots of books! Only read shorter, easier, lower-level texts! Get dumber! Don’t have high expectations for yourself! Have the same low expectations that I have of you!”
This standard is designed to get students to read. I had Year 12s who hadn’t read nine books in their lives, let alone in the space of a year. This girl was trying to do well; trying to improve herself; trying to impress her teacher. But because The New Sheriff In Town is more interested in dotting the “i”s of the bureaucracy than in developing young peoples’ passion for reading, this kid now sees it as nothing more than a wasted effort.
Sometimes, there’s so much anger that I just don’t know what to do with it...