Curse of the Gradebook (Hebrews 2:2)

For since the message spoken through angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment (Hebrews 2:2)

I have taught English composition for almost my entire adult life. Doing so, one encounters a vast range of people with a vast range of ability and desire to do the work. Some of them complain that they don’t get to write about whatever they want. (Because professional life allows us to do whatever work we want to do, of course.) Some think it unreasonable that they have to continually write papers for a writing course. My favorites, though, are the ones I call the grade accountants.

A grade accountant comes to my office, graded paper in hand, and prepares to do battle. Or, to maintain the metaphor, to do an audit. The exchange usually begins something like this: “What is wrong with my paper?” Having counted up the red marks on the page, they attempt to convince me, the guy who has taught the class since before their births, that this collection of misplaced modifiers, run-on sentences, and other mechanical glitches does not warrant a C+. To their minds, every paper begins as a 100 with each mistake deducting points.

My point, more often than not, is that we should not be looking at “what is wrong” with the paper but “what is right.” Fairly frequently, I’ll encounter a virtually error-free essay that bores me so silly that it deserves a fairly poor grade. There’s nothing wrong with it except that there’s not enough right with it. In other words, every paper begins as a 0 with each positive move adding points.

The Law of Moses, referred to in the verse today, was a deduction system. The average person was assumed to be clean and blameless at the top of the morning. Touching a dead animal, eating the wrong thing, coveting your neighbor’s toaster oven, or any of a million other missteps could leave the person in a virtue deficit.

Frankly, I don’t want to live that way. Today’s verse is a sentence fragment, completed by the verse for next time. Today’s verse speaks of the lesser law and lesser message, the one spoken by angels. That message bound those who lived under it. The problem with it came in the grading system. A 99 out of 100 was failing grade. My grade accountants wouldn’t like that system.

I have no interest in grading in that manner, and I praise God that I don’t have to live under such a law. More on that next time.

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