TLDR: Grading policy at end of post
I can probably remember most of the grades I ever got in college, which I will promptly list here:
First-year (used in lieu of saying “freshman,” or the rather amusingly beloathed “Frosh”; same is true for subsequent years):
**also: UChicago uses “quarters” rather than semesters, with three terms in the academic year + one term for the summer.
Core humanities sequence, aka “HUME” (pronounced “hyoom”): Philosophical Perspectives, 1 and 2: B+, B-
Elementary Mandarin Chinese 101, 2, 3: A, A, A
**with Cai Laoshi [pronounced “tsai lao shirh”], the best teacher — as purveyor of knowledge — I’ve ever had
Calculus, Elementary Functions of, 1, 2, and 3: B+, B, P (with that wacky grad student guy who, as it turns out, is like, every grad student ever loll)
**I’m actually quite strong in math, but I bombed the calculus placement exam as a kind of private rebellion: when I first started at UChicago, I — like perhaps many of you — I wasn’t particularly happy about being there (not my first choice / wasn’t sure if I was even making the right choice)
Oh, the gym test. Didn’t do well on that one either, had to take (*gasp*) two gym classes. Total waste of time! Turned out to be one of the highlights of my college career, and gym was a bonafide savior at Cornell.
Intermediate Chinese 201, 2, 3: A, A, A
**with Wang Laoshi, truly living a Life of the Mind, like the scholarly company of Fan Jin and other robed gentlewo/men in Wu Jingzi’s The Scholars)
Core social theory (aka SOSC, pronounced “sosh,” o” as in “oval”): Self, Culture, and Society 1, 2, and 3: B+, A-, A-
** prof for the second two terms was a DOPE grad student in anthropology who let us write papers about anything we wanted. Like, you were allowed to have a conversation WITH Marx instead of just talking about why he’s important.
International Relations: B+
** actually a cool class. IR is basically a practical history of the world, anthropologically examining certain events with the goal of stopping war #uh #yup
Politics of China: B, or maybe B-…
**Prof was dopely smart and scared the sh*t outta me
Core science, take 1 (Astrophysics): W, or withdrawal, when you drop a course after the deadline. Why? A combination: class was so boring / didn’t study / bombed midterm
Take 2, (“Dynamic Environment” and… the second one I never went to): A, B-
**D.E. prof was DOPE and made the EFFORT for his undergrads, even though he was like, constantly digging ice in the Arctic
Core bio: um… B+, B-?
Arts of China: B-
**taught by a brilliant, young, and beautiful tenure-track professor fresh out of her PhD whose expectations of us lowly undergrads were a littttttle intensive lol
Uh… OH! The Construction and Deconstruction of the Inner Self in Modern Japanese Literature. Took this class on principle because the name was so next-level. Turned out to fundamentally change the way I view the world, even though the subject was something really specific that I knew absolutely nothing about beforehand. The Prof, who turns out to be a legend boss in the field, made every one of us feel like true junior scholars– that our ideas were delicate and important.
Archaeology of China: A-
Same deal as “The Construction and Deconstruction of the Inner Self in Modern Japanese Literature”: the name was too dope to pass up. To this day I’m not entirely sure what we learned, but it was definitely a fun class. Grad student classmates were also crazy and dope.
**Taught by a DOPE professor who’d lived this crazy, fabulous life that made both total and no sense at all. I recall that he once wrote on a student’s paper, “I have no idea what this means, but it sounds beautiful.” He could read oracle bones, and he always seemed to have a lot of natural fabrics and pendants around him. A very gentle person, a little mystical, oddly soothing to be around even if I fell asleep in every one of his classes (2-4pm is the time, y’all, lol).
Took French, wasn’t really focused on school then… A-, B+
Oh man, Qing Dynasty Chinese Law. Had a lot of respect for the prof, she was kind of a boss, but I fell asleep every time and the topic was pretty dry. B+
Core Civilization (or “civ”, China, Japan, Korea): B+, A-, A-
Ok, Japanese 101, 102, 103: A, B, B.
**The prof expected me to be some kind of Wunderkind in the beginning because I already knew Chinese, and I also thought: “How hard is this sh*t going to be?” Now let’s be clear, Japanese IS hard, but it’s not THAT hard, and I maintain that the pedagogy of the Japanese language makes it so impenetrable. I’ve written about this extensively in other places, so: FINITO
The required major’s only course (for EALC: East Asian Languages and Civ): Maybe this was 3rd year? B+
Thesis Writing Seminar: B+, B+
** No one, not even my professor OR my thesis adviser, thought my Honors Thesis would actually pass. I basically wrote it in a week, and on effectively 0 sleep whatsoever, and everyone was apparently shocked. “Honestly, we uh, didn’t believe you could do it. But wow, you really turned this around; it’s very well-written.” Sigh…
I took a bunch of other stuff too, but I don’t–
OH OH! Music!!
Music Theory II for Non-Majors: A
**I was SO PARANOID that I was actually failing this class, and went so far as to write the grad student teaching it — whom I later bumped into at the American Musicological Association (AMS) Annual Meeting several years later, lolz , and he was like: WAIT, I KNOW YOU!– a long email asking if I could take the class pass/fail because I didn’t want the GPA hit. He was like, um, you can, but you have a 97 average so I’d advise you to just take the class. Alrighty then!
History of Western Music, 1800’s – present: A
**Taught by a postdoc who is now a tenured professor at Cornell, and who served as one of my dissertation advisors. This class changed my life. My final paper was about Scott Joplin and Chopin, arguing that Ragtime should be performed with the same sensitivity of a nocturne. When I was writing it, it occurred to me that if my concurrent thesis were about music, then I might actually kind of want to write it. Famous last words #phd #cornellclassof2018
Overall GPA: 3.7, by the skin of my nose
FYI, UChicago is seriously NERDY, y’all. Total Hogwarts vibes– we actually routinely won the title “Campus Most Like Hogwarts” in alternative college rankings lists, lol. We even have a House System, or an organization system in dorms where each one is divided into smaller sections (“houses”) that throw study breaks, go on trips, etc etc. #hendersonhouse #hendu #piercetower The architecture is also intense: mostly gothic, but with splashes of neon post-modern and/or the ever-popular “brutalist” style: a brief architectural trend from the 1950’s- early 70’s inspired by prison design #foucalt #sosc #uchicagoclassof2009
Harper (Harpur? #gobearcats #binghamton #bu) Library on the South Quad
The Regenstein Library, aka “THE REG”, Bartlett Quad
** where the all-night library was (THE A LEVEL), and the stacks where people supposedly had sex (isn’t this true of every college?)
Botany Pond, by the Student Union (aka The Reynold’s Club)
The Max Palevsky dorms
The thing that was great about UChicago is that, for many of us, it was the first time where we could truly stretch our intellectual legs without constriction: socially (as in the small-town “Why do you think you’re better than us?” mentality), pedagogically (a wide range of course offerings taught by extremely qualified teachers? YES), and beyond. It was a haven for us dorky types, or at least it was before Administration sold out and went for the Common App. #Backinmyday, it was actually called the UnCommon App, and we had to answer insane essay questions, notably one I still remember from the 2005 application: “What would you do with a 10 gallon jar of mustard?” #uchicagoclassof2009 #10yearreunion #uchicago #2009
Although the system certainly wasn’t perfect, in retrospect the Core Classes really created a sense of community amongst the undergrads, particularly with the SOSC (social theory) sequence. Most of the sections read Marx and Adam Smith, while others read Foucault as well #selfcultureandsociety or perhaps even Lenin #poweridentityandressistance. It was truly next-level, all of us 19-year-olds gorging our faces at the all-you-can-eat Pierce Dining Hall (rest in peace!! #hendersonhouse #hendu), talking about Marxist theory with the twin forces of optimism and foolhardy haughtiness that comes with believing that, together, we can change the world…
Oh, and if you were tired of campus vibes? Take the train #redline #sigh or the bus (the #55 was dreaded; the #6 was superior if you were going downtown) and get yourself some dim sum from Chinatown
There is a disturbing trend in contemporary education — several, actually, but we won’t get into all of them here. For our purposes, one of these trends sees teachers giving out A’s because of various reasons, most notably: “Just give out an A because then you won’t get any push-back.” This can be from parents, which I hear is a challenge for many high school educators, or from students, which is more of a trend in post-secondary education.
As you can imagine, simply handing out A’s for this, or any reason is not only unfair, but also cheapens the value of education; at the same time, I believe that evaluating on such a scale denies students the access to growth and improvement that each and every student deserves. As an educator for ten years and counting, I have long dreaded giving out grades because it flattens one’s learning experience into something so crudely two-dimensional, while playing into the competitive atmosphere in schools that can be toxic. On the other hand, it cannot be denied that grades hold the power to change the lives of students, either by reinforcement or by urging us to grow.
For these reasons, I believe in grading on a modified curve: modified because it is not fair to assume that a mathematical model will accurately describe performance trends for all students, but on a curve nonetheless because there are levels of work produced that should be recognized within the broader context of the classroom.
As you can see, as an undergrad I was no stranger to B’s. While some of the grades were hard to swallow (that art history class, for instance, was intense– it was supposed to be a fun elective and ended up being way too much work and a brutal GPA hit), others really helped me. This is particularly true for the Core Hume sequence I took, Philosophical Perspectives– the first section, not the second (the second was another learning experience, in a different way). This was the first class for which I ever wrote an essay for college, and while getting a B+ was hard (like Bing, the students at UChicago are accustomed to being in the top of their classes in high school), I also saw it as a chance to actually look at my work objectively, and make my writing stronger and more air-tight.
No, it might not be fair that the girl from Philips Exeter Academy who knows what the heck “postmodernity” is is more prepared than I am for this class, but on the other hand, maybe this isn’t a death sentence.
And so I set out to learn. Not a bad outcome, right?
Or, as my Chinese professor said when I complained that learning how to write the Chinese characters was extremely hard:
“Welp, looks like you have to try harder.”
Indeed, 10 years later #uchicagoclassof2009 #reunion2019 I find myself particularly grateful for these marks. It provides a kind of… renewed philosophical perspective, shall we say?
Oh, and why was the second term of Philosophical Perspectives kind of meh? I got a B- with no constructive feedback from the Prof whatsoever. And while I didn’t learn much as a student from this experience, it proved influential to my teaching and evaluation policies: be fair, be transparent, and always, always give feedback.
And last: I thought long and hard about each of your grades; if you have any questions, please feel free to email or call (same number).