Friday, November 19, 2010

We've Finally Cut the Cord

It is with some sadness that I announce the termination of our subscription to The Globe and Mail, a paper that we have subscribed to continuously since our return to Ontario in 1988. Prior to that, in the 70's my wife was a Globe reader.

This was not a spur-of-the-moment decision, since we wanted to give every chance to the 'new and improved' Globe. Unfortunately, our vision of a good paper sharply diverges from John Stackhouse's, in that it has become obvious to us that the paper is trying to ensure its long-term viability by appealing to a younger and more politically conservative demographic. The most recent inkling of the latter came with the dismissal of long-time columnist Rick Salutin, who had a unique and original perspective on the people and events that make the news. With his dismissal came the elevation of Neil Reynolds, whose libertarian views seem tiresomely repetitive and predictable - he clearly lacks the wide-ranging intellect of Mr. Salutin.

In terms of the Arts and the Life section, the fact that most of the topics are of little interest to my wife and me seems to confirm the shift to a younger demographic. Personally, I think the Globe's strategy is a mistake, given that it is we baby boomers who have the most disposable income. It also ignores the fact that young people today tend to get most of their news from the Internet in general and social media in particular.

On a final note, I think we also recognize that as we get older, we inevitably have less and less influence on the world around us. That is, I suppose, the natural progression of things, and while I hardly begrudge younger generations the opportunity to exert their own influence on things, I wish, in the case of the new Globe and Mail, a better balance had been struck.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Student Assessment

My daughter, a graduate student, was recently relaying an experience with a student who was trying to get her to raise the mark on an essay she had evaluated. The story brought back memories of my teaching days, so I wrote the following for her, and thought I would share it on my blog, since many of the observations are equally applicable to the experience of high school teachers:

A Retired Educator's Guide to Essay-Markers Dealing with Importunate Students (i.e., those who try to wheedle marks they don't deserve)

The first thing to remember is that the importunate come in all shapes and sizes, from the most vocal to the quietest student. They share a common characteristic in that they all want elevated marks for a host of reasons, and, assuming that the marker has been diligent in the original assessment of their work, are almost uniformly undeserving of such consideration.

These are some of the wheedlers' most common strategies:

1. They may insist that this is the lowest mark they have ever received in any course, and reminisce fondly about their high school glory days, when they allege never having “received a mark below 85%. ”

2. Importunate students may try to enlist your sympathies by talking about how important a higher mark is to their future plans, be it grad school, medical school, or law school. This can be a remarkably successful ploy, given that the marker of the work in question is usually a grad student as well.

3. Should this stratagem not yield the desired effect, the more tenacious may begin to embark upon a form of psychological warfare, the goal being to undermine the assessor's self-confidence or self-esteem, as in the following scenarios:

a) The wheedler may suggest that you are being unnaturally obdurate in your refusal to raise the mark, thereby implying a dark defect of personality or character, an inability to relate to the goals and aspirations of a fellow human being.

b) The whiner may attempt to undermine your judgement and/or intellect by implying that you have failed to understand the remarkable insights he/she has offered in an essay that would be obvious to most people but is perhaps just 'beyond you.'

c) The even more aggressive student may take issue with specific comments you have made on his/her paper, although this approach is less frequently utilized since it would require him/her to actually have taken the time to read your comments rather than simply look at the mark.

How to Deal with Importunate Students:

First, a note of caution: one should always be prepared to listen to student objections, because even though it might be a rare occurrence, occasionally they may actually raise some valid issues. The more diligent the marker is, however, the less likely this is to happen. But one always wants to be certain not to fall into the trap of arrogance by making blanket statements such as “All marks are final.”

Probably the easiest and best way to deal with wheedlers is to tell them that they can always appeal the mark to the professor, but warn them that they will have to present specific academic reasons for their appeal; in other words, they have to offer specific arguments, based on their actual essay, for a mark reconsideration. Ergo, the common strategies of the wheedler listed in the first part of this document cannot be used. The fact that most of them will have no legitimate reason for the mark to be raised means that they are most unlikely to launch an appeal.

Should the professor wind up awarding the person a higher mark, do not allow the decision to undermine your self-confidence. Frequently such decisions are made for political or career reasons, or simply as a matter of expediency and have nothing to do with your judgement.

If you are determined to deal with the matter yourself, you can make a similar stipulation, but my feeling is that since the professor doesn't have to mark a classroom of papers, he/she should at least have to read the occasional one and deal with some of the messier aspects of academia.

Please feel free to distribute this document to whomever you think might benefit from it.

Monday, November 1, 2010

A Solution from Ebay

My last two posts outlined the situation I had with Ebay regarding an allegely unpaid item. I am happy to report that the problem has been solved. Below is the email I received this morning from them:

Thank you for contacting eBay concerning the Unpaid Item strike you

Our records indicate that this is the first Unpaid Item strike you have
appealed. Based on your effort to contact us, and the information you
have provided, we have removed the Strike from your file.

To assist you as well, we are providing the following information
regarding our Unpaid Item policy. Should you have any concern not
addressed in this response, please contact the appropriate department
through the Trust and Safety web form, located at the end of this email.

Since any future strikes could negatively affect your account, please
take a moment to review our Unpaid Item overview, and our Unpaid Item
Appeal information page, at the following web addresses:

If you have a problem communicating with a seller through email, you can
request your trading partner's contact information (including a phone
number) through the following web address:

If you have sent payment for the item in question and have not received
it, please review our Fraud Protection Program for a list of options to
consider at the following web address:

To help ensure success in future transactions we would like to provide
you with a few suggestions:

1. Carefully review each listing description. If you have any questions
about an item, be sure to use the "ask a seller a question" feature
before placing a bid.

2. Please review the shipping details and item description to make sure
you are eligible to bid on the item according to seller's terms. If you
live outside the seller's stated shipping area or the seller requests
that bidders with negative feedback not bid (and you have negative
feedback) do not place a bid.

3. If you have computer or connection problems, please remember that you
can access your eBay account through any computer with Internet access.
Your bids can be monitored through your "My eBay" page. To log into "My
eBay," simply click the "My eBay" link located at the top of any eBay
page. Then enter your User ID and password on the following page and
click the "Sign In" button.

If you have additional concerns, please contact us through the Trust and
Safety Webform below:

We appreciate the time you took to resolve this matter and wish you all
the best with your future eBay transactions.


eBay Customer Support