by Tom Rhodes, 2/4/2015
What does it take to get an A grade in high school physical education? You know the answer, show up, dress out, participate. That’s it. The 100 pound nerd or 250 pound couch potato who can’t catch a ball, shoot a free-throw, bench press 200 pounds, tackle, block, run a mile, or do 10 pull up s gets the same A that the Jock who can do 100 pull ups and earns a football scholarship for showing up. The question is why?
Apply that to Algebra II. Why doesn’t the kid who shows up, does the work, and participates in class, but can’t solve a simple quadratic equation, can’t factor a polynomial, can’t figure out the length of the two sides of a right triangle given the length of the hypotenuse and the cosign of one angle, not get an A?
Why do we accept the fact that the 100 pound nerd can try as hard as he wants, will never be able to bench press 200 pounds, but ignore the fact that the 90 IQ jock will never be able to do higher math? Imagine how the 100 pound asthmatic nerd would feel if he was told to get an A in phys-ed he had to do 50 pushups in 2 min, 100 sit-ups in 2 min, 20 pull ups, and run a mile yards in less than 8 min.
I’m a smart man, that’s not bragging any more than Rob Gronkowski saying he’s an excellent athlete. Just statements of fact, like saying somebody is tall or short, measurable facts. I used to believe that if anybody applied themselves they could do anything. If I decided I wanted to learn C++ or Python, I could do it, it would take time and work but the outcome would be assured, I would learn those languages. It wasn’t until about the midway point of my first semester teaching high school chemistry, that I learned I was wrong. The fact is there are a significant number of people that no matter how hard they apply themselves and how hard they work, won’t ever be able to do chemistry, or calculus, or factor a polynomial, they don’t have the mental capacity. Just like no matter how hard I work and apply myself I’ll never be able to kick a 50 yd field goal, or win a marathon. I’m different than the athletes that can do those things. My desire, my effort, my attitude, nothing would matter, I don’t have the physical capability and never will. Never in in my physical prime regardless of effort and training would I be able to run a 100 meters in 13 seconds it can’t happen, much less 10 seconds times required to be a successful sprinter.
In fact the reality is that less than a 1000 people in the whole world are physically capable of running a 10 second 100 meter sprint. That is an accepted fact. We accept the fact that in any given high school only a small percentage of students could qualify for any varsity sport. Saying all kids should be on the varsity team is idiotic. The 100 pound asthmatic nerd does not belong on the football team, not only isn’t he qualified, he is physically unable to do so. Oh he could dress out and participate, but never ever perform even at the average level, much less be competitive. Why then should he get an A in Phys-Ed? If being able to factor quadric equations is a requirement to get an A in Algebra II, and predicting the results of chemical reactions and balancing chemical equations is a requirement to get an A in chemistry, why isn’t running a 100 meters in less than 12 seconds a requirement to get an A in Phys-Ed? If demonstrating performance in academics is the how people are judged in academic classes, why not demonstrating performance in athletics how people are judged in Phys-Ed?
The point is somebody asked that question, and rather than give the 100 pound asthmatic nerd a D in phys-ed because he has below average physical capability, we lowered the standards so that showing up, dressing out, and participating was good enough to get an A (excellent) grade. Grades used to mean something F = failed, D = performed below average, C performed at average level, B = performed above average, A = excellent performance. Any class academic or physical or artistic that doesn’t have the vast majority of students receiving a C grade, meaning they are average, is problematic. Assume a middle sized high school with 2000 students, all of them have to take physical science in their first year That would be about 600 students. A normal distribution curve would mean that of those 600 freshman, if the class was fair and accurate there would be about 50 As, 125 Bs, 250 Cs, 125 D’s, and 50 kids would fail. Unless you skewed the test and lowered the standards so that low IQ kids could pass.
As a chemistry teacher that is exactly what I did, because my pay depended on student performance, regardless of student effort. If you showed up, did the work, and participated, and got at least 50% on every test, you got a C in my chemistry class. The tests were also skewed so that minimal effort could produce at least 50, but harder question did separate some of the excellent students. To fail you had to purposefully try. Part of why I did this is that there were a lot of kids who worked hard, did the work, and tried, but just mentally chemistry was beyond them, and failing a good hard working kid because he’s dumb is not acceptable in public school, any more than failing a kid in phys-ed because he’s physically far below average. Out of about 100 kids there were 20 As, 35 Bs, 40 Cs, 5 Ds and 2 Fs; I was chastised because I didn’t give out enough As, and didn’t understand that I was hurting the spirit of the students by not giving better grades based on effort not performance. Documenting that my grades accurately reflected their standardized test scores was meaningless. How students feel about themselves is more important than their actual performance. Three years of that was all I could take, I quit for a job that paid twice as much and had half the hassles. Having dozens of students contact me and thank me for preparing them for college and holding them to a realistic standard was a great reward.
For some reason culturally recognizing what everybody can see and knows isn’t acceptable. The 100 pound 5’4” asthmatic nerd is not physically above average, he’s not going to be dating the “hot” girls, he’s not going to be on the varsity squad, but you can’t give him a poor grade in phys-ed because he might make him feel bad, so the standards have been set so low he’ll get an A in phys-ed regardless of actual performance.
Physical Education standards and the thinking that lead to them crept into academic standards and thinking. The idea that everybody should be prepared to go to college, and actually go is absurd. Any student who doesn’t have at least an above average IQ and doesn’t score better than the 50th percentile on the ACT or SAT should not go to college, they don’t have the mental chops to perform at that level. Unless of course the colleges lower their standards so that people with below average IQ can pass. Sending dumb people to college is a waste of their time and money, and a waste of societies resources. The stats that say college graduates earn more money are not wrong. It’s not the college degree that earns more money, it’s the fact that more smarter people graduate college than dumb ones, and smart people earn more money than dumb people. Sorry but the 90 IQ waitress, who does an excellent job, but cannot and will not ever be able to factor simple quadratic equations shouldn’t be pushed into getting a meaningless degree.
The average high school GPA is 3.0, that means that a B is not above average but average, and on a 4.0 scale we have no meaningful measurements for excellence, the data is skewed. That’s why advanced academic students routinely have a 4.5 GPA on a 4.0 scale. The fact is intelligence and grades in high school reflect what you’ll earn in the future better than college degrees.
Note that a student with a B average in high school will earn about the average wage, and the dumber the student the lower their average wage. Now even if you’re dumb, if your 6’4” tall, can run a 10 second 100 meter dash, jump 6 feet in the air, and catch a ball thrown from 60 yards away, you can make a lot of money because you can physically perform better than just about anybody else in the world. Being sub-par academically doesn’t’ mean you can’t excel someplace else. Of course the best world class athletes are not only superior physically but superior mentally.
Education should help every student maximize their potential. It should not ignore the fact that not everybody has the same capabilities. Our education system should not ignore or try to cover up the fact that half the people have below average intelligence, and that there are relatively few people with the mental capacity to do actual higher learning. Applying physical education grading schemes to academic grades only means we are lying to kids when we say that their 3.0 GPA means they are above average. They are not; they are just average. If your kid doesn’t have at least a 3.5 GPA, you should do some rational thinking before you waste $50K or allow your kid to borrow $50K to get a degree that in reality won’t get them a better job.
Lying to our kids is wrong, telling them they are “special” and they can do “anything they want” is a lie. If your kid has an IQ less than 120, don’t encourage her to become an chemist or engineer or doctor, you’re setting her up for failure. With rare exception, the average IQ person does not have the mental capability to be a chemist or engineer or doctor. That’s a hard fact just like it’s a hard fact that the average 100 pound nerd is never going to play professional sports. We need to quit lying to ourselves and our children. Not everybody is above average.