Thursday, June 23, 2011

A question of balance

GP essays are terribly boring to grade. They are an instant remedy for insomnia, and since I don't suffer from insomnia, I've become narcoleptic while trying desperately to finish my grading quota for the term.

The silver lining is that I now know why GP essays are boring: the kids invariably emphasize balance over argument. Balance is important -- it distinguishes a reasonable argument from that of a deranged, paranoid lunatic. But when balance becomes the first priority in an essay the result is either a nil response or a stilted response to the question.

Let's illustrate the situation numerically:

For an argumentative point, we'll assign a value of 1. The counter-point will then have a value of -1.

In perfectly balanced essays, we get 1 + (-1) = 0 => nil response.

In slightly better essays, we get 1 + (-1) + 1 (the refutation of the counter-point) = 1 => distracted response in which the counter-point has done nothing to advance the argument, but rather has simply thrown it off-track before the refutation contrives to 'rescue' the argument from becoming a nil response.

Both responses are extremely boring. The first (type 0) argument avoids answering the question, thus wasting my time reading it for no payoff. The second (type 1) argument wastes my time reading a counter-point that has no bearing on the argument in the first place. In either case, the reader (me) gains nothing new, nothing fresh, nothing insightful. *goes into mental shutdown mode...

So, what kind of essays DO we like to read? Every essay question has a subject and at least one context. Let's assign a numeric value of 1 to each:

1(subject) + 1(context) = 2

2 is an interesting answer because it's a response that does not self-negate, and it does not end predictably exactly where it started. 2 is insightful and surprising because it's a combination of many potential variables that can be put together in many different ways. 2 is new information where 0 and 1 are not.

See kids (and teachers!)? Balance is over-rated!


elim said...

But why is it in math? hahah!

Xmac said...

Because it proves my point.