Presumably (depending on one’s year of graduation) we have been graded for the past 15 years of our lives. Whether it’s an S for Satisfactory, a 4.0 for perfection or a B+ for you almost made it, most students have had an arbitrary numbering system attached to their name for as long as they can remember.
Upon my recent conclusion of undergraduate courses, I am undeniably reflecting on my time as a student. An adviser asked me the other day how it feels to be done. I said it felt good, but I wasn’t exactly sure why … I love learning, I love the University, I love my professors, my peers, Ann Arbor, etc. So again, why does it feel so good “to be done”? I thought for a moment and said, “It is liberating to not be graded for my work for, what feels like, the first time in my life.”
We are innately social creatures, we attempt to be well-rounded, and we strive for excellence, to be healthy and physically fit and to maintain close relationships with others, while also miraculously obtaining a 4.0. If the pursuits that I listed above are truly the essence of life, then this 4.0 pressure is not feasible and only marginalizes what one considers important about our existence.
Mentors often tell us grades cannot possibly calculate one’s improvement or a student’s knowledge — yet their existence persists, and not only that, but grades continue to be a predominant factor in being admitted to most forms of collegiate education. If grades supposedly “don’t matter that much,” then why is it still the form in which we are reviewed? No one wants to be the student who craves the A- instead of the B+ or the B instead of the C, but we are living in a culture that grooms students to be grade grubbers. Professors similarly dislike this neediness for higher grades and often choose to stick to a bell curve. If grades don’t truly matter, then why not give the student an A or just a big P for pass? Perhaps it’s because there is a similar pressure from public universities to not inflate grades or for professors to appear tough. Whatever the reason, the pressure comes from all angles.
It is not my point to direct fingers at a particular branch of education, but rather to show the vicious cycle and the paradox in which students are trapped. Maybe it’s not the fault of the students, professors or even universities as a whole, but moreover the symbol of what education has grown to mean and the ideas that it perpetuates that underlie the real problem.
Perhaps I am suggesting abolishing standardized testing or a reformation of our system of grading, but what really must occur is a change in the system of education as a whole. In Ken Robinson’s video, “Changing Education Paradigms,” the narrator discusses how the foundation of education began in a time when women didn’t have rights and slavery existed. It is ignorant to think that the ideologies and structures that were created back then should be maintained nearly 400 years later, when we have progressed way beyond these confines. Robinson states, “The problem is they are trying to meet the future by doing what they did in the past.”
Yes, this argument has been presented before, but it’s still difficult to find the change. In order to create a learning community where we practice what we preach, a huge shift in the paradigm of education is hopefully on the rise. If nothing more, at least for the time being, it is helpful to recognize the paradox and pressure students face. As much as one can, we can individually attempt to live outside of the paradox: learn in classes, work hard and hopefully the arbitrary letter will follow in the right direction. And, if not, remember that this grade is flat, it has no breath, no heartbeat, no laughter, no passion and in no way can reflect the complexity of a person.