I don’t like grades. I probably would have taught more than 33 years, had I not had to grade papers and keep grades.
Why do we have grades? Mostly, I think, to satisfy our college and university system’s way to weed out students from their prestigious institutions.
Our universities and colleges use grade points to eliminate the first group of students who would not succeed at their school. For example, if students have below a 3.0 grade point, they don’t apply to Harvard.
The second reason? To tell you the truth, I’m not sure.
An A in one class could be the equivalent of a B in another. Parents can brag that their kids have high grade points, but there are many situations where a kid with a 3.0 has a greater intelligence than someone with a 4.0. High grades are indicative of many things, but one of the biggest is that the kids who get them are conformists and dutiful citizens.
We seem to want to have a hierarchy of students who, at the top will be, valedictorian. But is that so important we should continue grades?
Karen Arnold, a researcher at Boston College, followed 81 high school valedictorians and salutatorians from graduation onward to see what became of them. She found that while all led very well adjusted, happy lives as doctors, lawyers, engineers, business people, and stay-at-home parents, none have changed the world.
The world-changers are those who take risks and in high school became experts in one thing — music, computers, psychology, art, writing, world peace, etc.
But I’m not such an idealist to think we will ever get rid of grades; however, how can we minimize the damage done?
When our son was turning out for select soccer, his dad asked me if they were going to show him his evaluation, and I said, “I hope not.”
I’m not sure why I answered that way. He was a good soccer player, but I didn’t want him to limit the beliefs in himself by his scores at the age of eight.
His dad then told me about a friend, a psychologist, who had never shown his son his report card throughout elementary school. He wanted his kid to learn for the joy of learning — not to please his parents and teachers with pluses, checks and minuses (elementary grades) or plain old grades. I do not know how his friend’s child has done in life, but I suspect very well.
Last school year, a couple students during my semester of teaching were far from being valedictorians, but they were very opinionated and outspoken. They could back up their opinions with evidence from their own lives, as well as with facts, statistics and testimony. They were also very truthful kids — definitely not politically correct — and when they felt a school rule was unjust, they let people know about it.
One had run into trouble during his school career, but he faced it and graduated. He doesn’t plan to go to a four-year college, but a trade school. Regardless, I hope he runs for the school board (and higher offices) someday to raise questions (and hopefully answer them) about how we educate our kids.
The main thing I dislike about grades is that they take away the intrinsic motivation to learn. We put so much emphasis on them, that kids lose the joy of learning for learning’s sake. It’s always for a grade. “How many points is this worth?” is a familiar refrain. They learn to get good grades so they’ll get into a good school and get a good job and marry a good person and have good kids so their kids will get good grades to get into a good school … . It’s a never-ending cycle.
I’ve probably done my best learning out of school, rather than in it. I have always wanted a madrone tree in our yard. I bought five saplings and learned how to plant them and take care of them. I am happy to report they are all doing well. My learning had purpose and I gave myself a way to judge my learning: whether my trees grew up or not!
I love to take writing courses and go to writing conferences where I simply learn what I want in an atmosphere of respect and admiration. I’m not aiming for a diploma or grade. I just want to improve my craft. And I don’t have a teacher giving me a grade with a red pen.
My life will go on learning — and teaching, whether I’m in a school or not. As adults, our jobs will be to minimize the ill effects of grades on kids and concentrate on what’s important — the learning. Happy 2017-18 school year!