When I was a child, a certain educational hypothesis was prevalent in Canadian schools: namely, it was believed that teachers could help weaker students by assigning them to work alongside stronger ones, on the basis that the stronger student’s academic skills would somehow osmote over to their peer. I have no idea whether this idea is still generally accepted, but I most certainly hope that it is not.
Because, you see, the basis of this theory is categorically false. While it is true that pairing weak students up with strong ones probably improves the marks of the former, it’s certainly not because they are magically absorbing a love of learning. Rather, the weak student gets a better mark because the strong student ends up doing all of the damn work! And the reason that this happens is, very simply, that the stronger students (for the most part) are stronger because they actually care about their marks. The weaker student doesn’t care, and this gives them all of the power in this relationship. They can refuse to work without violating their principles; the stronger student does not have this luxury.
Of course, I was one of the stronger students, and this very scenario happened to me more times than I care to remember. Whenever I even heard my teacher mention “partners” or “groups,” I would roll my eyes, because I knew that not only would I have to do twice as much work, I would have to do it while dragging along a lazy, disinterested, quite possibly abusive bag of dead weight*. Needless to say, for a long time I operated under the assumption that all group work was terrible.
But now, I find that I am forced to revise this impression, based upon my experiences here. It turns out, as a matter of fact, the working in groups can actually be quite amazing when all of the people involved are competent, motivated and disinclined to freeload. In fact, I’d say that it’s downright fun!
*Indeed, I suspect that too many experiences like this may account for the popularity of Objectivism amongst academically talented people in their teens. Thankfully, the spell usually wares-off shortly after they enter university, and find (thanks be to the Flying Spaghetti Monster) that most of the world isn’t actually like this.