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Randy Moore’s “Grades and Self-Esteem”

In his editorial “Grades and Self-Esteem,” Randy Moore argues that students are not succeeding in the work-force because “the primary mission of many schools has shifted from education to ‘building self-esteem’” (Moore 388). While I ultimately agree with Moore’s thesis, his argument is not as effective as it could be because he does not consider counter-arguments for some of his points and his statistics provide more questions than answers. According to Moore, one symptom of this shift to self-esteem building is grade inflation.

These higher marks come because “disciples of the self-esteem mission for schools preach that we should take seriously – even praise – all self-expression by students, regardless of its content, context, accuracy, or worth” (Moore 388). However, the issue of self-expression is more complex than the author admits. Math problems, science tests, and the memorization of historical dates are not acts of self-expression. These types of work do not allow students to express themselves and can be graded objectively.

Assignments and tests that do require self-expression (such as essays, creative writing, and musical performances) are graded subjectively, but even here teachers can clearly outline their expectations and standards. As long as these requirements are expressed to the students before they do the work, students can see that teachers are grading the work and not judging the student. Moore, however, seems to believe that students will interpret every grade as a teacher judging them: “When we assign grades we become very judgmental” (Moore 388).

This is one example of the author not considering all of the counter-arguments to his thesis. Another example of Moore’s not taking acknowledging other viewpoints comes in his analysis of why teachers inflate grades. He claims that “to avoid feeling bad, these teachers lower their standards so that virtually all students meet them, regardless of their performance” (Moore 388). Moore assumes that one of the reasons teachers lower their grading standards is so that they do not “feel bad” about judging their students. Could we not also ask whether these teachers inflate the grades to feel good about themselves?

Their students have higher averages and fewer failures. Does this “success” translate into higher self-esteem for the teachers? This seems to me to be an important point that Moore should have addressed. Students are not the only ones affected by grades: parents and teachers are also affected. Throughout his editorial, Moore uses statistics for several purposes: to illustrate American-educated students’ lack of basic knowledge, to show how companies are unhappy with the performance of these students once they join the work-force, and to indicate how much average grades have risen since the 1960s.

As schools are supposed to prepare us for adulthood, I am very concerned about how companies have become increasingly dissatisfied with our work. However, the manner in which Moore presents this information – “58% of Fortune 500 companies cannot find marginally competent workers, and the CEOs of major companies report that four of 10 entry-level workers cannot pass seventh-grade exams” (Moore 388) – leaves me with more questions than answers. Which companies cannot find competent employees? What types of companies were considered in this survey?

Which companies present their new employees with seventh-grade exams (and why did they do this)? In one particular section of the editorial, Moore’s questionable statistics combined with a simplification of complex issues produces a weak argument. He writes, “But does self-esteem cause success? To many educators, it apparently does: These people claim that self-esteem precedes performance, not vice versa” (Moore 388). Here, Moore does not really acknowledge the complexity of the issue. Students need to feel like they are capable of learning new material before it is presented to them.

Students who want to succeed will do better if they know that they are capable of meeting expectations, even if it means working hard. A few paragraphs later, Moore cites some statistics from an “international study” that found that there was no correlation between how students performed on a math test and how strong they thought they were at math. He uses this study to demonstrate that “apparently, self-esteem has little to do with one’s ability to do math” (Moore 388). From this international study, Moore only mentions the results from the Koreans and the Americans.

He never tells us how many countries were involved in this study. Perhaps there were only two, in which case, the Americans placing last is not so bad. Furthermore, he does not give any details about the nature of the study. Were the students asked about their abilities in math before or after they completed the test? This question is important for the strength of Moore’s argument. If, for instance, the American students said that they were strong in math before they took the test, would they have changed their answer after completing the test?

I found Moore’s editorial to be very enlightening, and his information about employer’s opinions of entry-level workers was a bit scary. I would be interested to read how Moore thinks the situation has changed in the years since he wrote “Grades and Self-Esteem. ” Though I agree with his major points, I feel that his arguments could have been strengthened by acknowledging the complexities of the issues and providing references to the sources of his information. An issue such as this one needs more than a page to be fully explored. Works Cited Moore, Randy. “Grades and Self-Esteem. ” The American Biology Teacher 55 (1993): 388-389.

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