Midterms: The Source of my Despair

I think they’ll take 5 hours to grade.

They take about 20.  And it’s always the same problem… the high schools aren’t teaching students HOW TO THINK.

Oh, by the end of the semester, they’ll be better.  They’ll hate me for it (for the most part), but they’ll be able to frame an argument.  But at midterm time, 90% of my students answer the following basic question not like this:

Q:  Who makes a better argument, Madison or Winthrop?

A:  (example) If we look at Winthrop’s reasons for advocating local government, we find that a majority could in fact overcome the separation of faction doctrine that Madison suggests in order to run roughshod over any minority.    Winthrop in this case clearly has the superior argument.

A:  (example) While Winthrop carries some valid points (particularly those advocating for a Bill of Rights), we have seen time and time again both in contemporary life andin colonial life that local government did not necessarily mean free government — the Petition of the Regulators in North Carolina shows quite clearly that a government is not necessarily honest just because it is small and local.  Therefore, a strong central authority is needed if we’re not simply going to replace one large tyranny with 13 (or 50) smaller ones.

Rather, I get:

A: (students)  Winthrop is right because he says (x).

That’s not an argument.  That’s saying “Madison says ‘I like ice cream.’  Winthrop says ‘I like cake.’  Therefore, Winthrop’s arguments are clearly superior.”

AGGH….  (insert sound of professor clawing out his own eyeballs with a leftover staple)

By the end of the semester, they’ll be okay.  But every midterm I despair for the future of mankind, and wonder why I haven’t quit yet.

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