A student writes:


As I'm sitting here going over the grading rubric for position paper #2 I seem to have come up with one or two grievances regarding the grading schema. First, I'm missing the purpose of explicitly stating ones agreement with each premise and conclusion. The task at hand is to evaluate the argument.


My responses are interpolated with the studentÕs comments.  (They appear underlined in red in my Word document that I am composing this in, but they may appear in some other color when I put this on the Web.)


Correct; the task is indeed to evaluate the argument: 

But evaluation has two parts an argument has to be evaluated

(1) for validity and (2) for soundness. 


(1) You are correct that, to evaluate for validity,

it is not necessary to state your agreement or disagreement

with either the premises or the conclusion;

you only have to say whether the conclusion would have to be true if the premises were true. 


(2) However, to evaluate for soundness, you do need to state whether (and why)

you think that the premises are true. 


As for evaluating the truth value of the conclusion,

certainly if you think that the argument is unsound,

it then becomes a separate issue whether the conclusion is true,

so it makes sense to evaluate its truth in that case. 

But even if you think the argument is sound,

it certainly doesnÕt hurt to consider the conclusion by itself,

as a kind of check on your evaluation. 

After all, if you have evaluated the argument as being sound

but still have a nagging doubt about the conclusion,

then something has gone wrong, and you need to re-evaluate your beliefs.


If one finds the argument problematic,

one ideally need not state each premise they agree with and explain why.

Rather, they only need exemplify the problems with the argument.


By ÒproblematicÓ, I assume you mean either invalid or unsound,

and, by ÒexemplifyÓ (which means Ògive an example ofÓ),

I assume you mean something like ÒstateÓ or ÒdescribeÓ. 

YouÕre right that, whether the argument is invalid or unsound,

you donÕt need to say which premises you agree with or why,

so consider that to be something extra that IÕm asking you to do. 

It certainly doesnÕt hurt to do it,

and it makes your evaluation that much more complete and thorough.


If the thesis of said paper is "Argument X is problematic",

stating the truth/validity of the agreeable premises seems

at best to be a waste of space and time,

and at worst a detraction from the argument/thesis.


A very nice example of what IÕm advocating! 

I quite agree with the validity of your argument here: 


If thatÕs the thesis of the position paper,

then you (technically) donÕt need to state or justify your agreement with the agreeable premises. 


However, I find your argument to be unsound,

because I think that your premise (Òthe thesisÉis ÔArgument X is problematicÕÓ) is false: 

The thesis is a statement of your position with respect to the argument,

especially its conclusion, and, for that, I think a full evaluation,

including a statement of your reasons for believing the premises, is reasonable.


The second, albeit much less important grievance,

regards the difference in grade assignment between 484/584.

According to the points to letter function,

I'd be better off taking the course for graduate credit

and receive a safety net converting a D+/C- into a straight C.


Yes; graduate grades are easier to get than undergrad grades;

thatÕs university policy, not mine. 

And there is normally very little, if any, difference between

a 400-level course and a 500-level course;

indeed, most upperclass undergrads who are eligible to take a 400-level class

can also take its 500-level analogue for undergraduate, or even graduate, credit.


Granted, there may be harsher points loss system imposed on those taking it for graduate credit.

If this is the case, then my argument would seem to fizzle.


At least for PP#1, I didnÕt distinguish between grads and undergrad when grading.


Now granted, I don't take my grade in a given to course to be the end all be all of that class.

On the contrary in fact.

However, as I see it, the grading schema is inherently much like the syllabus(if not part of).

It guides the course, direction, and manner of study.

Given that I suffer from the finite time problem,

what guides this path of study is of significant importance.

In some sense I have the disposition to say that the rubric is all syntax and no semantics.

(Say what you want about Syntax comprising Semantics)

If this were a math course, I might grant more leeway in my criticism.

However, I find this course to be on a fundamentally different plane of existence

than what is typically considered a math course.

Namely, it appears I'm being tested on my ability to follow a given procedure,

and not my mastery of conceptual material.

The latter I find to be of much greater importance,

and dare I say, the functional maxim of an educational institution.


Fair enough.  I, too, am more interested in the content rather than the mechanics. 

Unfortunately, I am required to give grades in a course like this,

and, letÕs face it, grades do help motivate some students. 

On the other hand, I think youÕll find that, in the end, a low grade on one position paper

wonÕt materially affect your course grade. 


Moreover, the purpose of grades on the position papers is to give you feedback,

encoded in the letter grade, of how you did on the assignment: 


     Did you demonstrate that you fully understood what was going on and what you had to do? 

     If so, then A.


     Did you demonstrate that you had no idea what was going on? 

     If so, then D. 


     (Did you fail to do anything?  If so, then F.) 


     Did you neither clearly demonstrate full understanding

     nor clearly demonstrate complete lack of understanding? 

     If so, then C.


Now, there might be another concern underlying your comments: 

Surely itÕs more important in the long run to say what you want to say in a paper

rather than to have to say it in some arbitrary-seeming, formulaic way. 

I agree. 

ThatÕs why you have the opportunity to write a term paper,

where you wonÕt be quite so constrained as you are in the position papers. 

But some students prefer to have a bit more guidance, or need such guidance,

and my requirements for the position papers are designed for that purpose. 

Think of them as like DumboÕs feather (in the classic Disney cartoon): 

They are there to help you fly; once you can fly on your own, you donÕt need the feather.