Young People Ask . . .
Why Worry About Grades?
GRADING is morally wrong, practically ineffective, and a major deterrent to learning.” So concluded teacher James Bellanca after observing the “negative effect” grades had on his own children. Our previous issue zeroed in on just a few of such problems. But should grades therefore be brushed off as unimportant? Not at all. However, there are some difficulties to overcome.
“Guessing Was the Best Way”
One 17-year-old describes the tests one teacher gave as “just plain memorization. No thinking.” Similar complaints are often heard about homework assignments. “They sometimes give really senseless homework, like making you draw pictures,” says 14-year-old Les. “In our school,” adds 17-year-old Heather, “you’re in trouble if you’re not artistic.” In this connection even prominent educators, such as Dr. William Glasser, claim school often fails to teach youths how to think, analyze and reason. And it is, frankly, easier to grade students’ ability to memorize than it is their ability to reason. One youth recalls: “[My teacher’s] tests were concerned with small details and one could receive the same grade whether or not he studied. Guessing was the best way.”
Guessing and last-minute memorizing may rack up points on a test. But how much does one really retain? And if one hasn’t really mastered a subject like math, what good will high grades be when one day a bit of math is needed to balance a checkbook? And worse yet, if one resorts to cheating—a disturbing 55 percent of youths polled in one survey confess to this—of what value at all are top grades on a report card?
Cultivating “Thinking Ability”
Of course, many teachers are aware of these problems and construct tests and homework assignments that are challenging and stimulating. But what if you find yourself in a class where guessing or memorizing seem the ways to success—where learning takes a backseat to grades? Realize that merely getting good grades is not enough. Make a goal of cultivating what Solomon called “thinking ability.” (Proverbs 1:4) This is the knack of taking raw information and drawing sound, practical conclusions from it.
How do you develop it? Solomon says: “A wise person will listen and take in more instruction.” (Proverbs 1:5) So listen to your teacher, even if he or she is not a thrilling orator. If possible, sit close to the front of the classroom. Ask questions. “Take in more instruction” by digging deeper into the subject, especially when it seems dull. Don’t confine yourself to what will appear on some test.
Another way is to search for the practical value of what you are learning. Here is where the God-fearing youth has a real advantage. For the Bible says: “The fear of Jehovah is the beginning of knowledge.” (Proverbs 1:7) Suppose, for example, that you are in science class. Learning the laws of physics may seem pure drudgery. But the God-fearing youth wants to learn as much about his Creator as possible. He knows that through creation God’s “invisible qualities are clearly seen.” (Romans 1:20) Science class can therefore become an opportunity to gain further knowledge of Jehovah’s creative wisdom!
What about history? A Christian is interested in history because it so often touches on the outworking of Jehovah’s purposes. Seven major world powers (including the present Anglo-American combine) are discussed right in the Bible itself! (Revelation 17:10; Daniel, chapter 7) It is faith building to see how accurately these prophecies are fulfilled.
If you take an interest in school, it can actually contribute to the development of your “thinking ability.”
Failing a grade—especially after trying hard to pass—can just devastate a youth’s self-respect. Some, like Mr. Bellanca mentioned at the outset, have thus concluded that grades should be done away with. Educator Max Rafferty, though, argued: “As long as we live, we’re graded on what we know, how well we get results . . . A school that kids the kids into thinking that life is going to be all Roman candles is not a school. It’s a dream factory.” Similarly, Paul Copperman charges in his book The Literacy Hoax: “Contemporary educators who reduce or eliminate standards out of concern for a child’s self-esteem risk damaging the child far more seriously when they send him into the world poorly prepared to survive and function.”
A recent report on U.S. education entitled “A Nation at Risk” illustrates how many “poorly prepared” people there are just in the United States! “Some 23 million American adults are functionally illiterate by the simplest tests of everyday reading, writing, and comprehension,” the report claimed. So while you may suffer the occasional humiliation of failing a test or bringing home a bad report card, don’t forget that the pain of emerging from school uneducated or unprepared for life can be far worse. Rather than feeling sorry for yourself when you do poorly on a test, try to learn from your mistakes. You can even ask your teacher to help you correct your wrong answers.
“None of the kids in our schools care whether they pass or fail,” claimed one group of school-aged youths when asked if taking tests creates stress. But when asked about bringing home the results of such seeming apathy—a bad report card—some said, “That is definitely stressful!”
Indeed, fear of facing a disappointed parent has at times given birth to elaborate stall tactics. “I used to put my report card on the kitchen table, go upstairs and try to sleep till the next day,” recalls one youth. “What I’d do,” says another, “is wait till the last second to show it to my mother. I’d take it to her in the morning when she was just about to go to work and say, ‘Here, you’ve got to sign this.’ She didn’t have time to deal with me”—at least for the moment.
“I simply used to change the marks on my card,” said another youth who even tried her hand at forgery! “I got caught, though,” she admits. “My teacher called my mother and said she hoped I’d do better next term. Mom said, ‘But she got an 85!’ Then she realized I had changed the six to an eight.”
Grades obviously can mean the difference between war and peace with parents. Forgery or stall tactics, however, are wrong ways to keep peace. Your parents are rightly concerned about your progress in school. Understand that they want what is best for you and know how important it is that you do well in school. True, some parents may go a bit overboard in their demands. When this is the case, high-school teacher Barbara Mayer advises: “If you feel your folks are expecting more than you can honestly deliver, a little attempt at communication may go a long way.” When your parents really know how you feel, they may be inclined to reconsider their position.
Usually, however, your parents simply want your grades to reflect your abilities. So when your grades are under par, you may need some encouragement—or discipline. “Listen, my son, to the discipline of your father, and do not forsake the law of your mother,” said Solomon. (Proverbs 1:8) Of course, if there are legitimate reasons for slipping grades (perhaps health or emotional upset) let them know. Possibly they can help out.
So how important are grades? Though they have shortcomings and at times are not too accurate, they are, nonetheless, useful tools. For all their flaws and problems, they can be a way for you, your teachers and your parents to keep tabs on your progress through school. Don’t view grades as enemies. View them as challenges, obstacles to conquer. While you are in school take full advantage of the opportunities there to learn. And remember, as one writer put it, “The real education in your life is going to take place in your head, not on your report card.”
[Picture on page 13]
Listen, and ask questions—you’ll get much more out of classroom discussions