In Mary Sherry’s essay In Praise of the F Word she describes how she feels that students are being cheated by schools, not learning material and being passed on. She calls the diplomas that some kids get meaningless and also goes as far to say that these graduates are semiliterate. Sherry’s solution to the problem as she sees it is to use flunking students as a general policy, or at least threatening to flunk them to motivate them. She feels that the students who make it to educational- repair shops or adult-literacy programs are fortunate. It is here in these educational repair shops that Sherry states these students discover that they have been cheated by the educational system. I do not think that Sherry is fair in making these statements. She did not present enough evidence to me to get me to buy into her arguments. There are several concerns with this essay that make her views unacceptable. My first problem with this Essay is that Sherry teaches an adult-literacy program. From that viewpoint she does have some firsthand knowledge about the population of people in need of basic grammar and writing skills, but it also makes her bias. She states that “Tens of Thousands of eighteen-year-olds will graduate this year and be handed meaningless diplomas.” This statement raises many questions for me and Sherry was not effective in convincing me of her views expressed. I feel like this statement was made to make her point seem more reasonable. I would like to know what percentage overall is that number. I do not feel like she took into consideration that many of these students may have learning and or developmental disabilities. How many of these students needed extra help and the schools in their district lacked the resources to appropriately help them? Were these tens of thousands of students really cheated or did the teachers and schools do the best they could to teach these students with the resources they had. Teachers are already overworked and underpaid and now Sherry is basically saying they are cheats. If the students were cheated that is saying that the teachers are cheaters. The definition of cheater is to defraud, swindle, deceive, influence by fraud, to elude and to deprive something expected. This to me is very harsh and shines a bad light on teachers who dedicate their lives to teaching. I found that her one experience with her son who was threatened by a teacher to be flunked does not prove that flunking is a positive tool. Yes it worked for him, his mother was an English teacher. How many of the other tens of thousands that Sherry speaks of had this same advantage? I do agree with Sherry’s viewpoint that teachers have to get students attention in order for them to concentrate. In that one circumstance, with her son, threatening to flunk him worked. In that case I see that her son was cheating himself, not the teacher or the educational system being the cheater. Sherry does admit that this one example, her son, does not make the case. Once again I am left feeling like there is not enough evidence presented to get me to jump on the bandwagon and agree that the teachers of these tens of thousands of students are” cheats”. Sherry goes on to speak about passing students who have not mastered work. “Passing students who have not mastered the work cheats them and the employers who expect graduates to have basic skills. We excuse this dishonest behavior by saying kids can’t learn if they come from terrible environments.” So now from Sherry’s viewpoint the overworked, underpaid teachers are not only cheating these students, they are cheating employers that hire them. This is very unreasonable. Sherry’s views might be more acceptable to me if she held the student more accountable. A great teacher should not be labeled a “cheat” because they have limited resources or students with very low academic standards for themselves.
Flunking as a regular policy may work in some cases but as a fix all for all students, I disagree. It worked in the case of her son and kudos to them. Many students don’t have Published English teachers to help and guide them. Not all students have support of their parents and their opportunity to succeed or fail rests purely on their shoulders.