Friday, January 18, 2008

CP: "Culminating Project" or "Cultivating Paranoia"?

In order to graduate, all seniors in our school district must complete something called the Culminating Project, otherwise known as the "CP." Completing the CP takes three years, with the biggest push happening during first semester of senior year, when students turn in their final thesis paper and also give an oral presentation, complete with "findings," before the CP board.

After having his original proposal on socialism rejected, most likely for being too controversial, Aleks (who is more knowledgeable and passionate about politics than any adult I know) agreed to '''tone things down a bit" and presented his oral dissertation yesterday. His presentation was approved, so now Aleks (along with Kat, whose CP project was on the less controversial topic of CPR) is one step closer to graduating in the Spring.

Yesterday Kat and Aleks came home from school and told me that their friend Matt had been given a failing grade on his CP project, even though he had received a passing score on each of the individual components of the project. His report was on some aspect of interior design (feng shui, I think), and as part of his visual "findings," Matt presented a photo of his bedroom. Way off in the corner of the photo was a poster with a large marijuana leaf on it. It was inclusion of that photo, with that poster in it, that was the cause of his failing grade.

WTF??!! Are you frikkin KIDDING me?

We live in progressive, education-oriented Washington State, in a highly-performing district with high achieving, committed kids who take school seriously and generally go on to be professionally oriented, contributing citizens. Yeah, they also party... generally responsibly.

But that's not even the point! The point is that Matt completed and presented an acceptable CP report, containing all required components. It was judged by the graders as a passing project, but failed because one of the graders apparently had a personal qualm with a photo of something in Matt's own bedroom! The photo itself obviously was presented to show how the furniture in his room was arranged in a feng shui-compatible configuration, so the poster and its contents had no bearing whatsoever on the theme of his CP. How dare they fail him for this!

I sincerely hope his parents are up in arms about this -- no matter how they feel about weed and their kid's obvious affinity for it. (And heck, maybe he just likes the poster! Hmmm, nah...) If that happened to our kids, we'd be in the principal's office so fast! And from there we'd take it to the superintendent's office, if need be. THIS is exactly the problem with education (and, if you ask me, with politics): we get diverted and distracted by stuff that doesn't matter to the task at hand! We say we want kids to learn to think constructively and independently, and then we (and by "we," I mean the decision-making adults in charge) do inane things like this. How the hell did the contents of the poster determine or influence Matt's knowledge of feng shui? How was it even pertinent in any way to the content of his report -- other than that it was in a room with furniture arranged in a specific orientation? That's what his report was about; the poster had absolutely no bearing to anything! If it had been a poster of a cute kitten, would Matt have passed the CP?

And hey, come to think of it, someone DID do a CP report on cannibus and other drugs, and surely a picture of a marijuana leaf was (and should have been) part of that report! Did they fail that student too? And two years ago Kat did a report on her uncle, my brother, who was an activist in Berkeley in the 60's. She definitely covered all kinds of "questionable" things in that report, talking about how Michael broke the law along with all the other People's Park protesters, and how acid (FAR, far worse that weed, in my opinion) was a regular part of their culture. And Kat got an A on her report! If this particular grader had been assigned to her report, would she have received a failing grade because the report mentioned "icky stuff"?

Do you see where this is going? It's absolutely terrifying to me, and I can only hope that somehow, some information has been misconstrued.

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Anonymous said...

We have found a witch; may we burn her?

Anonymous said...

High School students in Washington State are presented with clear rules of what is to be included or not included for their completion of their project and it is followed by advisors that are teachers. This culminating report is presented to a panel.
I don't think you are getting the whole story! Plus if the student is clearly presenting a project on "feng shui" then a poster of a marijuana plant in his room plan would not be "feng shui" would it?
In society, as in the workplace etc. their is appropriate behaviors and speech to be used. I think by teaching kids who are entering the "real world" appropriate behavior is good thing. These high school kids are hopefully going to get jobs, would it be appropriate in the workplace to put a marijuana poster on your office wall? Plus, the student was not showing "feng shui". I guess you think he should pass because it was "good enough" or that he was showing his controversial side....that is not what the project is about.

Anonymous said...

Wow, I really disagree. There's no objective standard of "appropriate." And there's certainly nothing illegal about a picture of a marijuana leaf. I'd be very interested to see the "clear rules" for these projects. High school is not the workplace. This case might be of interest to local media and the ACLU.

Anonymous said...

No, maybe there isn't an "objective" standard of appropriate. Would it be o.k. to call someone a "niger" or would it be o.k to use the word "bomb" in a public transit place? Or what if a kid had a poster about justifying the killing of jews in WW2 This is what I am talking about.
I highly doubt that the kid just had a picture of a pot leaf on his poster and even if he did this project is a culmination project over the course of three years and has been worked on refined and edited by teachers and staff.This is a professional compile of work that is shown to colleges etc. High school is a zero tolerance place for drugs and alcohol on school premises. Allowing a poster of a pot plant to be used in a school project, which is technically what this is about would say not only is it o.k. but opens the flood gates to other things that kids would say is o.k. to have in their reports. This is about boundries and most parents do not have a clue what goes on school grounds let alone in classrooms etc. Parents seem to take whatever their kids say at face value and never question that maybe this particular kid may have been told once to take it out etc..
This set back is no way an indicator that the kid will not graduate...the kids do not even present until Spring. I think Carol is over reacting and being very dramatic.

Carol said...

First of all, the "Niger" is a river, so I'd say it'd be perfectly appropriate to use that word -- though probably not to describe a person.

But seriously, do you really think that what was on the poster in the KID'S BEDROOM should have ANY bearing at all on his CP grade about INTERIOR DESIGN? What was on the poster in the corner of his room -- which was photographed to show the arrangement of his furniture -- is, in my opinion, entirely immaterial to his report.

The students have a rubric of what they must do for the CP. Once the topic is approved, they must pass muster on a list of criteria. Matt DID pass in every one of those areas, but was failed due ONLY to the poster that happened to be on HIS wall in HIS OWN bedroom!

You mention the killing of Jews in WWII and Cellmaker alluded to the witch trials. I think both of you make a point (you, without intending to) about what happens when people make assumptions about others and persecute (or fail) them simply because of something they don't agree with about them, something unrelated to anything of importance.

If Matt is "partaking" at home, then the only adults who should care at ALL are his parents. This has NOTHING to do with a school's "zero tolerance" policy regarding drugs ON CAMPUS that you mention (which I agree with). This is about a poster in the corner of his room that has NO BEARING whatsoever to his CP topic (feng shui/interior decorating).

Let me ask you a question, Mr. or Ms. Anonymous (how about if, just to be on even ground and play fair, you identify yourself?): Let's say that Matt chose to do his CP on the dangers of marijuana. Would a graphic of the plant be appropriate then? Let's say that the poster in his room was about the dangers of weed; how would you feel about it then? Let's say it was a photo of a kitten... or even of a nuclear explosion. How is the content of that poster, no matter WHAT is on it, of ANY importance to his CP on the topic of interior design, to the graders, or to anyone at ALL (other than maybe his own family)?

My daughter did a report on Berkeley in the 60's. There was quite a bit of mention of drugs; how could there NOT be and the report still be comprehensive and accurate? She even included photos of (gasp!) people actively PARTAKING at People's Park! In your opinion, should she have been forbidden to do the report? Marked down because it mentioned drugs?

Think here about the mention that was made previously about witches and your own mention of the intolerances of Nazi Germany...

You say "this is about boundaries." How so? The only boundaries I think it's about are the ones that the administration and the CP graders over-stepped!

I assume you are an educator -- and that's what scares me. I'm one too, and what I think what is probably MOST important in education is a student feeling invested and interested in discovery and exploration and yes, even controversy. I think controversy -- along with dialog -- can be a great teacher. But I don't believe that censorship and blind authoritarianism are very good teachers at all!

You're right -- I AM being dramatic about this. That's because I care about education and I care about what this action signifies. I think it's VERY dangerous and you know, I don't believe that I'm over-reacting. And if I am, well -- just accuse me of being an ACTIVIST! I'd wear the label proudly.


Anonymous said...

What she said.

But also, how is failing this kid in any way useful, helpful, or rational? If the Powers That Be don't like his silly poster, wouldn't it be a great opportunity to, I don't know, have a conversation with the kid? I mean, if they want to teach him a lesson -- then teach him a lesson! Don't fail him, teach him! Failing him just seems petty and lazy. These people are supposed to be educators.

vailian said...

This is appalling. I feel so sorry for this kid, he is a victim of the blatant double standards that can so easily prevail in America.
I would be like you and would have made a serious attempt to have the grade re-examined.

Maria said...

That's ridiculous. If he passed each portion, and each portion has equal weight, he should pass the project. Certainly the weight of each portion was outlined, so even if he failed one section, he might be able to pass. Anyway, stupid stupid stupid... and if anonymous is an educator, there are more problems in our education system than I ever thought.

Jen said...

His parents aren't the only ones who should be up in arms about this. Carol, I agree with you 500%. And I also completely support you in your rebuttal to anonymous.

Spencer Lindsay said...

In another related incident, my daughter had a project refused based on "Inappropriate Content" last week. I totally agree with you Carol, in order to reject a project based on "Inappropriateness" (is that even a word?), the judge needs to define what is and is not appropriate.

Here's my story:

siemprecait said...

As a senior in our lovely Washington state, I feel your kids' pain.

The rules are somewhat vague, especially in my district. Although, to the best of my knowledge, you aren't allowed to promote the use of drugs or illegal substances. So if you discuss them in your presentation but not advocate for them, that's okay.

I guess whoever his panel was decided that the poster was promoting the drugs.

It's a completely subjective thing, and I hope to God his parents fight it. If he doesn't pass, they can prevent him from walking at graduation. What? No.

When I covered the CP for the school paper, a lot of students had similar reports of proposals being turned down because they were too controversial or whatever.

Augh. I want to bash people with my mind or something.

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