Friday, June 01, 2012

Absolute Zero

I am shrugging my shoulders and rolling my eyes like an unimpressed teenager, at my alma mater Ross Sheppard Composite High School.

The school has apparently adopted a "no zero" policy over the past few years. One teacher, Lynden Dorval, has chosen to continue giving zeros to students who do not complete or turn in assignments, and has been suspended as a result. Here is a link to the article at the Edmonton Journal concerning this situation.

According to the Edmonton Public School Board, the no zero policy varies from school to school and is not an official policy of the EPSB. On a post on its Facebook page, it also claims that the reason for Mr. Dorval's suspension had to do with a more serious disciplinary issue and could not comment further.

Perhaps something more serious is at issue here. I don't know Mr. Dorval personally, but I am gleaning from the media reports I am reading that if his violation of Shep's no zero policy is not the only reason he was suspended, it was a major one. It took a lot of courage for him to come out so publicly against a policy clearly against his principles as a teacher with 35 years' experience.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I spent my high school years at Ross Sheppard. And, I am willing to admit, I got a zero on an assignment. It was a biology lab report that I failed to turn in on time because I misheard the teacher's instructions. Or maybe I was not paying close enough attention; I don't remember. However, I did not argue with him - I made a mistake, which proved costly to my final average, but it was my mistake. I took responsibility for it. I worked extra hard to try to compensate for it.

Advocates of the no zero policy claim that a zero is often a behavioural issue, not a knowledge one, and should be dealt with as such. I am pretty sure my lab report represented my understanding of the topic, and had I handed it in on time, I would have gotten a decent grade. Was my zero due to a behavioural issue? Maybe - maybe I was not paying enough attention. I was a teenager - it was possible. Whatever way I choose to analyze it, I lacked knowledge of the proper instructions. So it was both a behaviour and a knowledge issue. The consequence was a zero.

Learning to follow instructions is part of a well rounded education, regardless of the specific class subject matter. I did not follow the instructions. Learning to take responsibility for your actions is another part of getting an education. In my biology class, the lesson was learned. The fact I can remember as much of it as I do now means it made an important impact.

By the way, I went in to the University of Alberta and earned a Bachelor of Education a few years later. The idea of avoiding giving a student a zero never came up either in my classroom work or student teaching.

I will be watching with interest as the future of Mr. Dorval's teaching career is decided, as well as the future of this policy. If anything, Mr. Dorval has brought attention to a school policy that does not help students for the real world. And isn't that supposed to be one of the major functions of our educational system? If it isn't, it should be.