Marking should encourage debate

Education can’t be about our grades

Image by: Tessa Warburton
Daniel Bartchouk argues arts students' learning experience is limited by subjective marking.

Within arts and humanities, most assignments are evaluated on the quality of their ideas, opinions, or intellectual insights. 

But given the subjective nature of the grading process, students risk losing marks. This fact has resulted in a lack of academic integrity from both students and evaluators, and it’s cause for change and concern.

Since the majority of humanities grades are evaluated on the quality of personally constructed arguments, many students admit to twisting their writing towards what their TAs or professors want to hear—instead of what they themselves want to say.

During a history seminar discussion of mine, a student mentioned that if it was possible for their assignment to reflect the political bias of their superiors, they’d conform their views for academic benefit.

The majority of students in the class admitted doing the same. They weren’t opposed to doing it again—attaining a good grade is what concerns students most.

Without even realizing it, the grading system in the humanities promotes imitation instead of genuine individual thought.

The most effective form of learning is achieved when students are able to express their ideas to professors and TAs who may disagree.

This issue has been casually discussed in my history and political science classes, where students admitted they’ve conformed to their evaluators views at least once before, at risk of affecting their grade or to score better ones. 

Considering marks are at stake, this isn’t a radical approach to academics. Most reasonable students wouldn’t damage their grade point average to make a point, especially if it creates a potential risk for their future.

At the very least, a paid education should include the opportunity to challenge other ideas and have your own ideas challenged. But in the current labour market, that intellectual freedom comes with a price—humanities students need good grades for future opportunities.

People have the freedom to say what they’d like. They shouldn’t have to risk being academically penalized for it when they pay for their education.

We’re all biased—it’s natural. Topics studied in the humanities will always be divisive. But the solution is modifying our approach to grading, not a change to content.

Arguably, the first step to solving this problem is a general awareness among students and academic faculty.

Students should feel comfortable to refute marks they believe to be biased. It’s difficult to enforce non-biased perspectives in evaluations—it’s best for academic superiors to stay neutral when grading students.

A practical solution might include a dialogue between academic superiors on work evaluation believed to be biased.

Most importantly, students should write with the same attitude an academic superior would have in correcting their work—with a genuine intent to learn and teach.  

Evaluators have to be careful with what they consider mistakes and avoid docking marks because of controversial or unpopular opinions within what students write or study.

As a student, present what you believe to be true in your work, even if it may be unpopular. As an academic superior, expand their viewpoint from an objective perspective.

Daniel is a second-year English major and History minor.


bias, Education

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