Free the People: Do We Need Academic Rubrics?

November 18th, 2016

Did the American people tell Abraham Lincoln that the 2 minute, 272 worded Gettysburg Address must be at least 10 minutes long, and a minimum of 500 words?  Did King Francis I order Leonardo Da Vinci to complete the unfinished Mona Lisa?  Did Pope Julius II require Michelangelo to finish the Sistine Chapel in no more than 3 years, with a maximum of 15 panels?  Absolutely not! These great leaders, innovators and painters created their masterpieces with free rein instead of working within strict authoritative guidelines.  It’s about time for change here at SXU.   It’s about time our professors remove our tight restraints and gave us much-needed liberty from the suffocating academic rubric.  It’s no wonder why the definition of “rubric” means “an authoritative rule”.  

Why is it every time I think of an academic rubric the first thing that comes to my mind is the annoying, perplexing and impossible 1980’s 3-D toy called the “Rubik’s Cube?” I never could figure that dang thing out and I usually ended up peeling off the stickers, rearranging them, and pasting them back onto proper squares in a desperate attempt to solve the conundrum. Once, after a few agonizing hours, I surrendered in total defeat by launching the obnoxious plastic puzzle against a concrete wall and watched in amusement as it exploded into a dozen pieces.  That was the last time I attempted to solve the tantalizing Rubik’s Cube.

As a matter of fact, I never even heard of an academic rubric until last year.  They certainly didn’t exist when I first attended college in the mid-90s.  Back then, professors evaluated student essays or presentations with an open-minded approach that encouraged the freedom of intellectual expression. Their lack of strict, unneeded oversight opened the door for deep intellectual discovery.  We articulated our creative ideas without being handcuffed by the dehumanizing boundaries of a rubric. Our assignments took on a life of their own and we had no problem staying on point. The flexibility sent us into multiple directions; and we learned self-discipline. Remember, we’re not robots coded to spit out information according to whatever program our owners design. Do we really need a scrupulous quality control measure to hinder creativity and stifle artistic expression?  Are we writing to the rubric or writing to an audience? Whose learning experience is this–theirs or ours?

Writing is an art (that I’ll never master!). Delivering a speech is an art.  Giving a presentation is an art. See, the more restrictions and required standards, the more you restrict free thought, obstruct artistic potential and interrupt creativity.  I say…get out of the way!  Free us. We don’t need anyone to hold our hands.

I know what you’re thinking…how will our professors grade us?  Who cares? That’s for them to figure out. Their M.A.s or P.H.D.s stand for something.  Have faith in their abundant knowledge and pay close attention to their constructive criticism and written praises. That’s why we hired them.  That’s how you really learn. What good is a “A” if you’re constrained to bogus parameters? Remember, deliver something you worked hard on and that you’re passionate about.    As long you learned something interesting and created something to the best of your ability, then you’ve concurred the objective. If you want to hand in garbage, then that is your problem. As the saying goes, garbage in, garbage out.  What are you here for in the first place–to learn or slack off?  

Unfortunately, unless we stand up, the awful academic rubric is here stay. So many have never experienced another way.  They’re indoctrinated. If you would; give it some deep thought, keep an open mind, and maybe someday SXU will remove our shakes and chains and liberate us from this modern form of censorship.

Eric Brouwer

Viewpoints Contributor

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