Prime Time Crime


(Published in the Chilliwack Times week of Mar. 23, 2009)


Principals without principle


  By John Martin

This past week provided further evidence of just how far the public school system has fallen. It was widely reported that B.C. school principals have ordered teachers never to give students a score of zero when grading assignments. Whatís more, teachers have been instructed to always accept late work and allow students as many rewrites of tests as needed until they manage to get a pass.

Teachers are justifiably outraged at this outrageous intrusion into the classroom. True, it may mean students are spared any blows to their ever-precious self-esteem. And at the end of the day it may help to fudge the numbers to falsely demonstrate that some schools arenít underperforming quite as miserably as they actually are. Although Iím not convinced that a principalís fear of how the Fraser Institute ranks his or her school should be a factor in evaluating students.

But if the principals in this province think theyíre doing the kids any favours by further dumbing-down public education (if such a thing is even possible), they should give their pointy-heads a good shake. What these shortsighted administrators are clearly missing is the fact that, for many students, education doesnít end with grade 12. They carry on to college, university, trades school, technology institutes and so on. And through no fault of their own, theyíre in for a rude awakening. Worse, many are being set up for certain failure.

Every September I have 100 or so first year students, fresh out of high school, in my classes. I do give zeroes for unacceptable papers. I donít accept late work and there are no rewrite opportunities for tests and exams. And Iím far from unique in doing so. How do you think the next batch of high school graduates is going to fare in the post-secondary setting where standards and expectations are in place? Could public education be any more reckless in ill-preparing students for the next level?

It is mind numbing that principals could be so irresponsible to not consider the consequences of this self-serving stunt. Imagine if all educators adopted the same "move them to the next level no matter what" attitude that principals apparently have.

How would you like an accountant doing your taxes who needed three or four rewrites to pass his tests when he was training? What about a brake mechanic who couldnít keep up with his peers in trades school but was pushed along anyway? How would you feel about paying a lawyer by the hour who needed twice as much time as all her law school classmates to complete her work?

To be fair, it should be stressed that B.C. principals arenít alone.

Thereís a recurring theme in The Simpsons in which Principal Skinner conspires to keep the school district from realizing just how poor the students at Springfield Elementary are performing. On one occasion he even kidnapped and locked up Bart and a handful of other chronic underachievers so their inevitable, disastrous test scores wouldnít be calculated into the school average.

I guess B.C.ís principals never thought of that one.

Life is bound to occasionally imitate art. But when it imitates cartoons, itís time to ask some hard questions.

John Martin is a Criminologist at the University College of the Fraser Valley and can be contacted at


Prime Time Crime

Contributing 2009