Recently, a new term started for one of the colleges for which I teach.

Recently, a new term started for one of the colleges for which I teach.  After a brief introduction to the course; I went to the board and starting explaining to the class how grades would work for this particular college math course.

“It’s March and I like March Madness and college basketball, so I’m going to take a tournament approach to grading,” I said as I started drawing a tournament bracket on the board.  After noting, “This is going to be fun,” I continued explaining how my grading system would work for the term.

The students look dumbfounded; I kept a straight face and continued with my explanation.  “The class will be divided into five groups or brackets for each test.”  I went on to note that the highest grade in each group would compete for an A, the second highest for a B, etc.  Of course, I also noted that the lowest in each group would compete for an A, also. 

My logic was that even if you are one of the lowest performers, you still had a chance for an A.

It didn’t take long, for a student to note, “This is not fair.”

I stopped drawing my elaborate “March Math Madness” brackets on the board, and looked at the student who had noted that my grading method was not reasonable.

Going back to my lectern at the front of the class, I grasped both sides like a Baptist preacher preparing to lay down the main point of the sermon.

“What if you were 8, 9 or 10 years old?” I asked them.  “Would you think it was fair then?”

The class again looked at me like I had a horn sticking out of my forehead.

“What if you put all of your effort, all of your heart into a race and after you finished with the second best time, they awarded the Second Place Trophy to the runner who came in sixth?”

At this point, a couple of the students started fidgeting in their seats and got that, “How do I drop this class?” look on their faces.

I’ve ranted about it before, I will rant about it again, and I will rant about it on my death bed.  If I don’t, please remind me; it will give me reason to live.

Needing to lose a couple of students because of space in my classroom, I thought seriously about continuing my sermon without explanation.

I did not; I let them off the hook.  Math causes anxiety in some folks; I didn’t want to add to their fears.  It is always nice to feel that folks agree with you.

They didn’t know it yet, but they were agreeing with me.

People think of March Madness and college basketball when March comes around each year, I think of the Pinewood Derby and the wounds caused by those who cheated me out of my red second place ribbon.  

Why worry about second place?

If you earned it, you should be proud of it. 

The leaders of my “pack,” in their infinite wisdom, thought it would be nice for everyone to have a chance to win a ribbon.  Doesn’t this sound familiar?  “Everyone should win.”  “Everyone should get an A.”

I’m ranting now.

Forty years later, it still burns me up.  Fifteen cars; the five fastest raced for the blue ribbon, the second five fastest raced for my red second place ribbon and the five slowest cars raced to see who would get the green third place ribbon.

It doesn’t make a lick of sense.  It didn’t then and it still doesn’t.

Yes, I came in second in the group of the five fastest cars. It was by about a half a car length.  Daddy told me it was going to happen.  He knew race cars and had the orange and black car that would win pegged when we first showed up with my meticulously painted, slick and aerodynamic red, white and blue masterpiece.

Daddy looked at me and said, “That boy’s daddy works at the sawmill, I’m going to tell you right now that thing’s going run like greased lightning.”  Daddy was a drag racer, he called things what they were – when times were tough, he didn’t hold back.

Therefore, I have to continue living, knowing I was cheated, wronged and denied my second place red ribbon.

It is hard to take, particularly in March, when all the younger guys at work start drawing designs on the chalkboard for their sons and daughters Pinewood Derby and Powder Puff Derby cars.  These guys design rockets, satellites and really cool stuff.  I want to help to them, but I just can’t.

The wounds are too deep.

One of my new students asked me if class would always be this entertaining.  I told him, “I will make no promises other than I will never cheat you out of second place.”

The student was looking up at me; I was standing on a table at this time.  As much as I try, I can’t stay behind the lectern when I tell this story.

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