Parables of Zero

Once upon a time, in a vibrant city far, far away, there lived a man named Svenson.  Svenson was a skilled technologist who thrived when he was called on by his boss to work on building applications for IPads.  Nothing got Svenson out of bed in the morning quicker than a reminder from his IPhone calendar that on that particular day, he would be creating such applications.   While he was equally skilled in all other areas of technology, his motivation to work in those other areas was far less than the application building process.

One day, Svenson told his boss that he didn’t want to work on projects other than the apps, and that it would be okay for his boss to not pay him- to give him zero dollars, on the days he didn’t show up to work, but that he would show up on app building days, for which he would be paid according to the merit his work deserved- usually very high merit- top of his field even.

Across the world, professional basketball player Grant, a towering 7’2 inside presence on the court, after dominating all season in his league, where he is the biggest player, decided that he didn’t want to play in games where the other team had a player his size to contend with him.  He enjoyed the success of dominating smaller players, and didn’t really want to have to grow his game and learn to play against other big athletes.  So he arranged with his coach that he would get paid when he plays, and again, it would all be merit pay, but on games he took off, he would get zero dollars.  If he played in a game, but decided he didn’t want to finish at half-time, the team would pay him 50% of his salary for that game.

Finally, up in New York, Ashley was getting ready to star in her first Broadway play.  She was very excited because it allowed her to sing and dance jazz style, which was her preference.  But she also really enjoyed playing tennis, so she told her director that she would only do 1 or 2 shows a week. She was fine with not getting paid on those days- taking zero dollars, and getting paid only when she reported to work and performed in the play.   If she decided to leave after the first half of the play, she would only get 50% of her pay.

Of course, none of these scenarios would ever last very long, so why do we continue to allow students to “take the zero” on work/ assignments that they merely don’t want to do, don’t feel comfortable with, or would prefer doing something else instead? Why do we give them 50% on work for which they only attempt to complete half of what is required?

If we would rarely tolerate even the most gifted people in a particular field to work this way, why do we send a message to kids that it is okay by giving them the opt out of taking the zero or half credit?



One thought on “Parables of Zero

  1. kids used to get punished for not handing in homework. Does that still happen? I don’t think homework is actually useful in most cases, but it does seem surprising if they can just “not do it”

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