Moral question

I have a hot issue in my AP class right now, and I want your opinion.

Since we are drawing near to the end of the year, our AP English teacher is shutting down for the year. He let us do whatever for a few days, then passed out an assignment sheet to the class. He emphasized that this was not going to be graded. It was a sample college application that we were to fill out; when we were done we would form the class into groups. Each group would get a few essays, and the group would discuss and decide who would be accepted, turned down, or wait-listed. This whole process was, as the teacher emphasized, for our benefit; we would be able to use these essays a year down the line when we are all applying for colleges. I did the assignment, and had it with me, on time, just as he asked.

However, approximately 11 students did not turn in the paper, for one reason or another. Instead of doing the paper, they elected to start the AP summer work that is due next fall. They worked just as hard, if not harder, than the rest of the class.

When the teacher counted the essays, he found how many were missing, and came up with what he calls a betrayal essay. To make a long story short, it is a massively long essay that no student could possibly satisfactorily complete by the due date, Monday–not to mention we have final exams next week, which each student needs to be able to study for this weekend. This punishment assignment is weighted so heavily that, if not completed, it will dip any student’s grade one letter grade lower.

The more I think about it, the more agitated I get about it. I cannot figure out how to describe what I am feeling right now–it seems like there’s something wrong morally here, but I can’t put my finger on it. I can’t discuss with the teacher until I know what I’m going to say, and there’s no chance of making things right after the due date. That means I have 2 days to figure it out.

Do any of you see anything wrong here, or do you think that the teacher’s actions were justified?

BTW. I did the assignment, so I am not biased in that respect.

Thanks for your input,

EDIT: The teacher says that he never said it was optional–it is still a required assignment, but it isn’t going in the gradebook.

EDIT 2: Here is the assignment he gave those students.

Write an argumentative essay on the subject of betrayal. Specifically, answer the question, “What happens to a community (e.g., a classroom, a school, a town, a state, a country) when a significant portion of its members choose not to participate in an activity or event whose full benefits are dependent on the participation of the entire (or virtually the entire) community?”


  1. Minimum four (4) pages in length
  2. Minimum four (4) works cited (fiction or non-fiction sources), with corresponding citations
  3. Effective argumentative essay techniques (e.g., claim, data, warrant, concession, refutation, ethos appeals, logos appeals, pathos appeals)
  4. One (1) or more elaborated historical anecdotes (e.g., Dillard’s discussion of the French-Indian War)
  5. One (1) or more elaborated references to a current event
  6. Two (2) visual representations (e.g., photo, cartoon, advertisement, table, chart) that add meaning to your essay (insert a Text Box in Word, then insert your visual representation in the Text Box)
  7. One (1) or more elaborated excerpts (e.g., a short poem, a paragraph) from a work of literature that helped inform your purpose (place this in the body of your essay, or in a Text Box, as appropriate)
  8. Fifteen (15) or more different rhetorical devices – put a parenthetical reference in the body of your essay, naming the rhetorical device
  9. Proper MLA formatting (1” margins, double-spaced, 12-point font, heading, header)
  10. Signatures of two community members who can attest to the literary worthiness of your essay

This assignment is worth 300 points toward your 4th marking period grade.

The assignment will be graded on completeness, accuracy, and evidence of a robust, detailed, methodical, comprehensive, diligent, mature approach that honors the spirit of this assignment.

Failure to incorporate any one of the project requirements listed above will earn an automatic zero.

EDIT 3: And please don’t worry about sounding like a jerk or whatever. I want it raw.

That is definitely wrong. Especially if the teacher said that the essay was optional. There is no question that if students didn’t do it, that there is no reason for them to be ‘punished’. Anyway, what is a ‘betrayal’ or ‘punishment’ essay? That is ridiculous. Homework should not be a ‘punishment’… It should be a learning tool. Regardless of what students did instead of the essay (regardless of weather or not it was for the class), there is absolutley no reason that students should be held liable for an essay that was stated to be optional.

This teacher appears to have some control problems… ‘Betrayal’ work? Inconsistent grading policy?.. You guys are in AP, and took the exam. That is quite a feat in and of itself.


Read closely: I never wrote that it was optional, I just said it would not be graded.

That’s the position the teacher is making–he says it is still a required assignment, but not graded.

I do agree though, it is easy to believe the two are the same.

I also agree on the inconsistent grading policy.


I don’t know, your class did skip out on doing an “assignment.” There is no way that a paper is that hard that it cannot be done in one weekend, trust me I have done enough AP English work this week that I know what can and can’t be done. Besides this Betrayal Paper is probably a better way to prepare you for college than anything else. You will procrastinate in college and wait until the last second, so just do the paper and get over it.

I don’t want to be taken as a jerk by this post, it is just that whatever your teacher assigns as work is work and should be done. Just think of the deadline as your six week deadline for FIRST, just when you think you can’t do it, you are amazed by what you can do.

Go to youe guidance counselor, explain, and ask for advice. Or an administrator that you know. I need a lot more info to give an opinion, but those who work in the school may have better insight. On the other hand, a long essay that will interfere with other important exams may have an overly significant impact.

Fair? A fair is a place you take your kids. I get assignments at work that keep me late sometimes, weekends too, but that’s the nature of the beast.

But if the teacher is just being sadistic, perhaps someone in authority should be made aware.

Of course, no matter what: Turn in the big essay.


I agree with Jacob. “Betrayal essay” what are they thinking?!?!

11 students out of how many were missing the assignment?

Would you mind elaborating on what the “betrayal essay” is?

Does your school have a set grading policy?

Does that teacher have multiple sessions of that class? If so, did the other classes have to do the “betrayal essay”? If they didn’t does your school have any policies that would prohibit giving some sessions extra assignments?

EDIT: I do think the students who didn’t turn in the paper should have consequences, but not the entire class.

**(This is a dialog between EHaskins and me, I just am too lazy to put in the quote tags)
11 students out of how many were missing the assignment?

Our class has about 30 people.

Would you mind elaborating on what the “betrayal essay” is?

Read my post; I put the original assignment paper in.

Does your school have a set grading policy?

**The grading policy is set at the beginning of the year by the teacher. I’ll have a look at that syllabus real quick…
Does that teacher have multiple sessions of that class? If so, did the other classes have to do the “betrayal essay”? If they didn’t does your school have any policies that would prohibit giving some sessions extra assignments?

This is the only AP English class.

Someone needs to bring this to an Administrator’s attention. This is just… unspeakably immoral, dishonest, irresponsible, and just plain wrong. This person must have serious issues. (EDIT: ) Step 11 should not have to be included unless this was done in some senseless act of power-hungry rage… That is just an inappropriate requirement.

A student (should) get credit for what they do. If a student does not complete an assignment worth 0 points, they should get a score of 0/0 as opposed to 100/0.

Also, if this was a proper AP course, there should have been a syllabus. The only assignments that count toward your final grade should be outlined on the syllabus. Something worth this much can be added at ANY point without complete consent of the class. The teacher can only give you a grade based on the work outlined on the syllabus.

This is just absurd.


So he is imposing this ‘betrayal’ essay on EVERYONE? That is unbelievable. In what way was it your fault that the other students did not complete the assignment?

Even so, the other students should not be imposed with this assignment based on reasons I have already discussed.

If this is an AP class, then it should model a college class in every way. I have taken almost 80 college credits, and NEVER would something like this be accepted. EVER. EVER. It’s just so absurd. If you don’t complete an assignment, you don’t get points. It’s that easy. Ask your teacher if this was ever done to him in college…


I have to admit… there isn’t much to that essay. There’s a lot of content, but not much requirement for originial thought. Therefore; I do believe this is doable.

Now, onto the morality issue. “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.” When a fellow employee slacks off, you will have to pick up that slack. Happens everywhere. Because these eleven people have done wrong, everyone is being punished. Life is not fair.

Anyways, the more you read what other people think about this incident, the less time you have to do the actual assignment.

Sorry I was harsh, but it really isn’t THAT bad.

EDIT: I think that step 11 is totally justified. Satire is a personally unacceptable form of explanation.

The directions say its worth 300 points. How many possible points are their?

Your first edit has a quote from JBotAlan, but I wrote that and it got left when he was responding to my post. You might want to remove that quote.

Alright, so the original essays were sample college apps with discussion after as you said. Obviously he is getting you ready for college. Part of the class did not turn it in, a significantly large portion, so he made this assignment. This assignment is much like the ones I get in college, except instead of 4 pages it is 10, and still due a week from the date assigned. You are lucky that you get to experience this before it is thrown at you the week before your finals in college.
I agree with the teacher, yes it is finals and those are hard but as you stated this was not an optional assignment, he has all the right to give your class one to fill its place seeing as the assignment itself is not done. If your class knew that you would need to discuss these as part of the class then you should have encouraged the other students to do their work for the class, instead of work that is designated for summer.
Sorry guys, I am with the teacher, he is successfully preparing you for college, and the work world and has all the right to assign this.

Write an argumentative essay on the subject of betrayal. Specifically, answer the question, “What happens to a community (e.g., a classroom, a school, a town, a state, a country) when a significant portion of its members choose not to participate in an activity or event whose full benefits are dependent on the participation of the entire (or virtually the entire) community?”
I’d write a paper on the American Revolution. :stuck_out_tongue:


It’s probably worth 3 tests… speculation… That is just ABSURD!

Hey, Hey, Hey… Watch it… This might violate rule 11… :stuck_out_tongue:


Note that he is not giving the assignment to the whole class, just to the ones who ‘betrayed’ him.

I have to say this is OK, but 300 points is enough to lower any student’s grade one letter. I don’t know how many points there is–our school’s reporting system doesn’t show that info.

This assignment should not be that heavy. It is not right that the teacher can pull an assignment out of thin air and make it that point-heavy.


After reading the assignment over very carefully, I think it is a beautiful assignment. In that, I mean, beautiful. It could mine gold.

I fear though, because it is the end of the year, students are stressed and at year’s end - probably - and ready for the summer to begin - that the assignment will not be what it could be.

It is worthy of an AP English assignment and could be an incredible opportunity.

And what does happen to the community? That is a very interesting question.
Hello - Ken Leung, hope you read this assignment, it may provide a future essay for you.

After reading it again, from a newbie perspective, gosh, you’re right! I wish I could’ve written this, but with about a month to sort it out.

I fear though, because it is the end of the year, students are stressed and at year’s end - probably - and ready for the summer to begin - that the assignment will not be what it could be.

Thank you. That’s part of why this felt wrong; I just didn’t have that sorted out in my head yet.

I do wish I could’ve explored this earlier. Wow, I think I’m a nerd…:smiley:

I’m going to write a letter to the teacher. He will be open-minded to it as he always has been; the fact that I did the original assignment helps.

The short time and the heavy weight make it a punishment–something an assignment should never be. Assignments should be an invitation to stretch and grow and learn–isn’t that why we’re in school?

I’ll let you know what kind of response I get.

Thanks all.


I am inclined to take the teacher’s side on this. I’ve played in the orchestra at my high school for the last four years, and this seems like an issue we often ran into. Most classes are just groups of individual learning, with the occasional group project, but the vast majority of the work is individual. However, when the teacher creates a group assignment, everyone is forced to participate. This was an issue in the orchestra because if someone did not know their part, the entire group suffered. The original assignment is similar in the sense that it seems to fail to achieve its goal when not everyone participates. As a result, in orchestra, our orchestra teacher often guilt tripped us, punished us with incredibly hard assignments, and has been a general jerk for the last 4 years. For instance, he once walked out of our class yelling "this is why I am an alcoholic!” Alas, the teacher is in the right, and besides the essay he assigned is not that hard, my AP English teacher gave us 11 AP essays (from previous years) due the next day, and it wasn’t even to punish us…
Good luck!

I am going to agree with several of the posters here, Don, Kelli, Jaine and Jane. Life isn’t fair but it most certainly carries consequences. This will be viewed by some students as a blessing and most of the others as a curse. The reality lies in the failure to process the original assignment, worth points or not, graded or not. It still was an assignment that was not completed which always will have a consequence.
It is hard for anyone to judge when presented with this story as there is the possibility of so many more variables than those listed. My advice to students is to go to the teacher and have a discussion with him. Be sure to go with an open mind and I think you may be presented with a surprising response. Teachers for the most part want to teach and they want you to succeed. You do have to meet them halfway but when you do the result is incredible to behold.
A paper on the American Revolution is a brilliant idea!

He said the assignment will not be graded. Which means it will not be graded on the content, but did he say anything about a completion grade? I too agree it is unfair, but have also had teacher say the assignment will not be graded, meaning the content, and then we come to find out that there is a completion grade. Which the teacher though was fair because she said the content of what you hand in will not be graded, she never stated if there was a completion grade. Anyways I think it is unfair to punish the whole class, as you have no control over your classmates. It is like getting a bad grade on a group project because 1 group member did nothing. Go talk to an addministator. If that doesn’t work have your parents go talk to them admin, that always seemed to get the topic more attention for me. My school thought people would always make things up to get attention.


The assigned question is perfectly valid, and as others have pointed out, interesting. Given other circumstances, it would be worthy of serious consideration.

But the requirements described are asinine. He’s basically picked out many of the standard techniques for an essay, and said ‘use them all to excess’. The insistence upon 15 rhetorical devices, two illustrations and a literary excerpt is ample evidence of this. Those things are not to be used wantonly to add bulk to a piece—they’re there to emphasize your central ideas, as necessary. To require them in that quantity likely implies malice, for I have a hard time believing that an English teacher doesn’t know that they’re more likely to pollute the piece than to add meaning to it. Can you imagine if I decided to fill this post with similies and characterization, just because someone thought 15 was a nice number? It would likely be unreadable trash. Besides, writers like Asimov (with something like 450 published books to his name…) seemed to make do just fine with an unembellished style; why pretend that rhetorical devices are the only way to describe an argument?

And the signatures of two community members? That’s outrageous. Your opinions should not be subject to the ratification of two random individuals. He should be promoting an environment where you are free to express yourself, not forced to pander to their opinion of literary worthiness—especially not after you’ve taken the time to write the piece. (And while it makes sense to target your piece to the community which it concerns, that requirement should be easy for a teacher to evaluate; why involve others with such a simple task?) And on top of that, hunting down signatures is likely to be a waste of time.

The statement that the assignment will be “graded on completeness, accuracy, and evidence of a robust, detailed, methodical, comprehensive, diligent, mature approach that honors the spirit of this assignment” necessitates that you ask what the spirit of the assignment is. Indeed, when the assignment was created spontaneously, assigned preferentially, and so transparently describes his apparent emotion toward the students’ actions, it’s hard to imagine that the spirit of the assignment has anything to do with the qualities detailed in that phrase. Isn’t it a contradiction in terms to write of, and indeed demand maturity, and yet create an assignment in an episode of petulance?

Best of all, he writes that “[f]ailure to incorporate any one of the project requirements listed above will earn an automatic zero.” That’s the most damning evidence that this isn’t about pedagogy at all. The marks are supposed to say something about the quality of the work. If he’s going to allocate a large quantity of marks to a project, then that’s a pretty compelling reason to distribute marks for that which is of good quality, and to withhold them for that which is of poor quality. Making the marking scheme binary means that the student doesn’t get the feedback that the teacher owes them, concerning the quality of their work. How is the student supposed to improve the quality of their writing if they don’t know how badly they screwed up?

In the grand scheme of things, this is the sort of test that might be used to build loyalty, by negative reinforcement of any behaviour which is considered out of line. In some situations, like military units, unwavering compliance is considered a virtue. In other instances, however, the ability to prioritize tasks and reject or defer the least critical ones is more valuable—medical triage, for example. I don’t think that it’s appropriate to paint those who didn’t hand the original assignment in as having betrayed him, because it’s not at all clear that they were acting out of spite.

Sure, life isn’t fair. But that’s not an excuse for being a nuissance. If the requirements and consequences of the initial essay were spelled out in advance, I don’t think there would be any complaints. The problem exists because he moved the goalposts*, and in so doing, is betraying the students in the same manner in which he believes that they betrayed him. What sort of a lesson is that? If you’re feeling down, bring others down with you?

One wonders why he doesn’t simply have this discussion in class, out in the open, rather than screw around with the marking scheme.

You’re right to discuss this with him, and the other students. You’re also right to address the matter to his department head or administrator. Unfortunately, someone from the life-isn’t-fair department may well want to have a word with you—in essence, you could sabotage your standing in other areas by bringing a complaint. It’s the classic problem with whistleblowing; you risk people thinking less of you by doing it. With that in mind, I’ve got to agree with the advice that Don gave below; talk to someone who is required to keep the matter confidential, such as a guidance counsellor. They’ll (hopefully) be able to advise you on what is allowed by the school, and will (hopefully) shield you from any personal consequences arising from your criticism.

One thing that might be interesting to consider is that despite his apparent poor conduct, the teacher seemed to have good intentions when creating the original assignment. In light of that, it seems to me that whatever malice was applied to the creation of the second assignment was born out of an emotional reaction, rather than a calculated desire to wreak havoc. I suppose it’s as good example as any why you most often can’t simply pick sides and declare one to be good and the other to be evil.

*See, I can use rhetorical devices too!