Early in my years of teaching college, I had a young man in the front row paying rapt attention to my every word. He submitted exceptional assignments that took longer to produce than the other students ever had the time to commit to my class. At some point I learned that he lived at home with his parents and thus did not have to cook, earn money or even do his laundry. In the world where grades were given fairly, the other students deserved handicaps added to their scores for circumstances that put them at a disadvantage compared to my faithful follower in the front row.
Objective grading presumes that evaluations are made with "all things being equal". That amounts to disconnecting from the phenomenal number of contingencies in the lives of everyone getting graded that impact their performance. Most of those advantages and impairments are out of their control. Objective grading expects people to simply get better grades next time. The added complications get dissociated, consciously dismissed or deliberately overruled. They're regarded as lowering expectations, lessening accountability or weakening the grading system by making excuses for slackers.
This idealization of objectivity often turns grading into negative experiences for those getting graded, as well as for sensitive graders like myself. Getting graded can be a significant experience, not merely an accurate score. Grading can provide negative experiences from:
- confirming proof of negative comparisons to others, inferiority, inability, etc.
- convincing evidence of injustice, abusive systems, persecution, etc.
- vidid reminders of powerlessness, helplessness, defenselessness, etc.
- traumatizing setbacks in self confidence, optimism, ambition, etc.
These experiences occur by making connections to the grades received. The experiences start making more sense personally. Reflecting upon the experience comes up with realizations like these. The objective scores get deepened with subjective levels of interpretation. They ultimately frame the "objective grading" as biased, insensitive, inaccurate and far from objective.
In the world proposed by actor-network theory, we would seek to make every connection possible to grades received. The back box of an objective grading system would get opened. When someone needed to get better grades next time, we would explore connections to:
- previous experiences with getting graded, apprehensions, patterns of failure
- study circumstances, noise level, lighting, interference with concentration
- schedule constraints, available blocks of time, interruptions, competing obligations
- peer pressures, inescapable comparisons, contrary expectations
- psychological pressures, patterns of depression, sleep disorder, anxiety or paranoia
By making these connections, the absurdity of objectivity would be exposed. Giving useful and valid grading would get problematized as the need to make more numerous and robust connections. Getting better grades would be transformed into an emergent outcome of this complex assemblage of interdependencies.