Why Grading Makes Me Sad

The older I get and the further I go in academia, the more I really dislike the process of attaching numeric values to the process of learning.  I get why there needs to be some such system, I do, but I would much rather sit down with my students an explain where their thought processes have gone so totally off the mark than write a large red F on a paper.

That’ll happen.  I don’t have the time and they don’t have the investment; I would die of shock if a student actually came to my office hours as is.

I’ve been grading midterms yesterday and today, which is always an exercise in face-palming.  In the gems of this go-round, Beowulf fought as a Viking warrior against a three-headed monster, Attila the Hun invaded Ireland, Belisarius was the queen of the Franks, and Roland was boxed into slaughtering Muslims by the judgmental nature of Christian culture.  The sad thing is, I can see the exit some of my students took to get to these things; they’re terribly wrong, but in a perversely connected kind of way.

I know I’ve commented on such things before, but this is on my mind partly because I’m staring at the midterms on my desk right now and partly because I’ve recently been in several conversations about facts and understanding and what it means to believe or know something.  (Yep, that’s how I spend my spring break.)

I hate grading, but I do like that there’s this excuse to test what people know and how they know it.  What do folks in the Church know?  Do we know what our denominations believe?  Do we know what sets one apart from another?  When we speak the creeds in services, do we have any idea to what we’re agreeing?  I can’t say yes to all of these, and I study the Church for a living.

This is not to say that I’m putting out a clarion call for some kind of mandatory education system for Christians.  There are no words to state what a bad idea that would be.  But there is a recognition that, just as not everything my students write accurately reflects what I’ve told them, not everything that gets attributed to the Church is totally in line with what She or the God She serves actually thinks.

Take, for instance, this new History Channel debacle The Bible.  Going into this I was wary, because the History Channel hasn’t accurately done history from any other country than the U.S. since the 90s, and also I recently heard that Joel Osteen had a hand in designing this.  So I was expecting it to be bad.

Here’s the thing—I wanted it to be good.  The idea behind it is solid:  we hear these stories over and over and teach them to our kids (though I’ve no idea why we do that the way we do; sure, Daniel was strong and that’s cool, but we completely cover the fact that he was going to be eaten by lions, which is not a fun fate) and we see references to them everywhere in pop culture, but we’ve lost the power of them.  Reader, the Bible is nuts.  Here, let me let Dirty Sexy Ministry tell you about it:

“I love that the collection of myth, history, poetry, prophecy, Gospel, letters, and some apocalyptic what-the-heck is messy and beautiful.  I love that there is frequently more than one account of the same story…I love that dirt, greed, sex, and salvation are all words that can be used to describe humanity’s accounts and interactions with God.  In the Bible, people kill others for no really good reason, sleep around, cheat and steal, violate the dignity of women to save their own male skins, have arguments with God, and run around naked—and that’s just the patriarchs of our faith.”

So turning that into a miniseries?  Heck yeah, I’d watch that!  It could be incredible, and outrageous, and it could really shake us up as to what we say we know about this faith of ours, or introduce new folks to how utterly human this God-inspired document is sometimes.  So much of the wonder of the Bible is that utterly incomprehensible togetherness of the Divine and the earthy, right from the Spirit-breath in the mud-man at the beginning of Genesis when God decided He wanted our companionship.

But it didn’t turn out that way.  I watched the first episode and found that Western Europeans with semi-British accents predominated despite the fact that the Torah takes place among the desert people of the Middle East.  (Props, though, for leaving the written 10 Commandments in Hebrew and having the angels who visit Abraham be black and Asian.)  I can see that, in upcoming episodes, Jesus remains a white guy from Oxford with lovely shoulder-length brown hair, as He has been in EVERY PAINTING IN EVERY SUNDAY SCHOOL EVER, it seems.

Also, women don’t so much matter, because we all know Christianity hates women, right?  Sure.  That’s about as correct as the choice to cut out Joseph because he wasn’t that important, or to make Noah Scottish, or to steal concepts from animated films for Moses.

I get very frustrated about things like this because they’re such bad press for God and all three of the Abrahamic religions, and then people will see this and think that’s the story (though I know, I know, God can take care of Himself).  It’s like reading my students’ tests and saying that that’s how the Middle Ages worked.  In no way!

But maybe, just maybe, it will open a conversation where this God of mercy and seeming contradictions can truly enter.  If so, all the bad miniseries in the world are most welcome, for that conversation is worth all the foolishness of television.


 “[T]hat He may be with you forever; that is, the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you.  I will not leave you as orphans ; I will come to you.”  (John 14:16b-18, NASV)

4 thoughts on “Why Grading Makes Me Sad

  1. I can’t improve on Sheila’s comment, so I won’t try. You are both gems.



  2. Sheila Bigelow says:

    Gee, aside from all that, what else have you got on your mind? �I can see that I have to add thinking to my list of finite resources: �the reason so many people do NOT think is because Christiana Pilgrim is doing so much of it. �;-)

    I didn’t see the Bible show, precisely because I was afraid it would be as you described. �Then I read that Jim Wallis had watched preview clips with his kids and liked them and found them an opening into discussion, so who knows? �Let’s face it: �a lot of the Bible would be X-rated. �You can’t have stories like Tamar and still be family-friendly. �Or yeah, how about the gang-rape to the point of death? �Oh yeah, that’ll play. �And did they show Abraham offer Sarah to Pharaoh? �Gee, things get messy.

    As for education into Church doctrine, there are those of us who are perverse enough to know what the creeds are �and what the Discipline says and disagree with a lot both and yet love the Church. Somehow God works through us all, amazing as that is.

    Speaking of amazing, you are, and you are loved. �Your posts make my Fridays. �Sheila


    • A lot of the Bible is terribly messy and creepy and awful, and I’m not saying we should throw 5-year-olds in with Lot’s daughters. I just think we do a disservice to the text when we talk about rainbows and parted seas and then suddenly Jesus. And I think the thing that irked me the most was that it reinforced the idea of the Angry Judgmental Old Testament God, who shows up only to eff up your life. It totally ignores the exasperated love underneath because that’s much, much harder to sync.

      You are so very kind, my friend. Thank you for the incredible compliment.


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