The Close Enough Phenomenon

  • A student comes into class on a day a paper is due.  “I left it in my printer at home,” she says.  “My mom can bring it in.  It’s not late, is it?”  Yes, it is.
  • Another student hands in homework.  It’s barely legible and he gives one-word responses to questions that ask for much more.  I give him half credit.  “But I did it.  Why didn’t I get full credit?”
  • I’m grading quizzes.  One is riddled with basic spelling errors and the handwriting is atrocious.  I take off points.  “But why does spelling count?” I’m asked when handing it back the next day.
  • A student is reprimanded for talking on the phone in the hallway before the end of the school day.  She is confused.  “There’s only three minutes left before the bell.  What’s the big deal?”

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I like to call this the Close Enough Phenomenon–when students believe that intention deserves credit, proximity begets exceptions, and effort equals quality.

This “close enough” concept is constantly validated.  Make a mistake in Microsoft Word and more often than not, it will correct it–spelling, capitalization, usage, you name it.  Mistype something into Google and get a helpful “Did you mean Boston Red Sox?”  I like telling students about the school in New Zealand that began accepting “text speak”–gatsby luved daisy 2 much 4 his own good, lol–on final exams a few years back because it was a “form of communication.”

This leads to a belief that being vague or incomplete is somehow okay, as long as the receiving end gets the picture.  Well, IMHO, I don’t think it’s okay.  There’s something to be said for standards, for sticking to the letter of the law.  We lose something when we start letting machines make up for our shortcomings.  We do a disservice to ourselves when we don’t meet expectations, when we don’t strive to excel, when we try to squeak by with the minimum.  Or less.

Don’t get me wrong.  I love the flexibility and latitude technology offers, and I am by no means perfect.  But for me, “conscientiousness” will never be replaced with “close enough.”