We all stress ourselves out to memorize the formulas. We all have had that cram night before the final. We all BS homework at the last second so as not to “get a zero”. We all use Spark Notes. We all discuss answers post-test.
I started writing my ideas about learning on My Blog. Like many of the people likely reading this post, I am a student, and my interest in education unfortunately comes out of frustration. From the time I was young, school was about grades, “good grades” to be more specific. Why? Well to get into a good college of course.
I believe learning and school can, and should be a lot more than what school has made it out to be. I find learning in many things, for instance, I enjoy arguing with pundits on the news and exploring the city of New York (My favorite place on earth). Experiences like these make my mind what it is, and I am thankful for all the experiences I’ve had.
School has done a very sad and unfortunate thing. It has placed a number on my learning. No longer is my weekend trip to the city valued, but now it is merely a distraction from my SAT work or cramming for another test. No longer can I be at peace with a book, unless that book is called “Hot Words for the SAT”. My valuable learning experiences, discussions, debates, and really just exploring my mind, are secondary to the tests, quizzes, writing assignments, etc. that may make or break my status as “smart”.
Who has, or has had someone close to them cry over a bad grade? Did it make you mad? Did it make you/him/her hate the subject you/he/she got the bad grade in?
The extent we go to thinking and stressing over grades is honestly insane, but in the world we live in, it makes sense. Get the A, get into the brand name college, get the job, live in a gingerbread house with angels as children. That’s how it’s supposed to work. Of course, that’s not how it really works, but getting good grades certainly does give people advantages for getting into college, which is obviously a factor in our future.
I understand that in the world we live in, grades can make or break one’s life; I’m not going to dispute that. But I’m going to make an even bigger point. I’m here to say that the world we live in shouldn’t put stress on grades. Actually, I think grades are harmful.
Okay I know what your thinking now is “he is going to go on a rant about how grades are immoral and hurt kids feelings”. Well, to be honest, I think that has legitimacy, but I hope you’ll find the points I make a little deeper than that.
Grades have always been a big part of my life, as I’m sure they are yours, if you are a student. I prided myself on the 100s I would get on spelling tests, or the As I may have gotten in middle school and high school. Yes, when I got my first 79 it made me very upset. Yes, when I got a B in 8th grade math it killed me. And honestly, every kid who gets stressed over grades has every right to be stressed. College admissions, the need to compete with your classmates, and all the other attitudes our schools hammer into us scare the hell out of us.
And you know what, the grades I’m getting now are fine, but it’s still scary that I don’t have Ivy League quality grades. In addition to the stress caused by grades, there are many problems that I believe having grades causes regarding education.
Plain and simple, I think grades simplify, complicate, and take away from the beautiful process that is learning. Does that sound like a bit of a contradiction? Let me explain. Grades put a number on education. If two people both get an A in social studies, who would know that one person used to struggle? Who would know that the other person found some great insight into history? Who would know what they learned? And again, if a person got an F in math, let’s say, who would ever know if he really did understand the concepts he was taught? Maybe the kid really does think like a mathematician and just doesn’t like how math is taught in his class. The point is that learning is a complicated process hindered by grades.
Now, I also said that grades complicate learning. Grades put into education so many things that just shouldn’t be considered part of the learning process. Why should I have been thinking about college admissions in 5th grade? Why should teachers be forced to give a lower grade to a kid struggling in their class, yet whom they can tell has intelligence? Why should parents feel their child is a failure because of tests and grades? Why should a kid hate a subject for the rest of their life because of a class they got a bad grade in?
Grades and rote learning really go hand in hand. Memorizing, regurgitating the facts, and forgetting it the day after the test. I know a common argument I hear is that grades motivate people to work hard. And yes that is true. But when working hard means BSing homework at midnight or the period before, I think that causes more harm than good. Or when working hard means memorizing and regurgitating at the expense of having fun and enjoying one’s day, I think that’s a problem too. Honestly, grades cause kids to take shortcuts. Instead of understanding and thinking critically about a topic, kids memorize what they need to know for the test. That too, is not learning.
I think grades are part of a bigger problem with how we view learning. As I mentioned in an earlier post, learning shouldn’t be viewed as a competition, which unfortunately, it is. But another problem is our attitudes that everything has to be measured, and that if it’s not measured its not important. The immeasurable aspects of one’s learning are the most important. That is how a kid interacts with information, people, and his own mind.
We have to stop being preoccupied with standardization, we have to stop being preoccupied with “seeing progress” through numbers, we have to let kids be kids. Let me learn how I want to learn. Value the things I value. My trip to the city is as important, if not more so, than my grade on the SATs. Think of what made your mind work it’s hardest when you were in high school. What you loved doing. The experiences that made you, YOU. Now realize that in those moments, you were learning more than you ever could have by just trying to get “good grades”. I want to learn. But if school stays this way, then I don’t want to go to school.
Justin is an 11th grader at Syosset High School in New York. His frustration with school prompted him to start a blog entitled “My World As a Classroom” where he shares his feelings about school and learning. He feels that he learns best when he can follow his passions and explore his mind and new places.