“You know what really grinds my gears?” as Peter Griffin of Family Guy fame would say. Grades. Grades annoy me more than a textbook that continuously switches between unit systems for no apparent reason. A letter that supposedly reflects the mastery of a subject actually disallows students to learn to their full potential. And the reasons for this endless frustration are as follows:
I cannot possibly count the number of times that I have had the privilege of seeing friends post “FINALS — Fudge I Never Actually Learned Stuff” — but with a more colorful vocabulary — on Facebook. Why? Because during the entire semester that my classmates sat in lecture, the information presented found itself in the minds of the students only long enough to do well on midterms; however, after crossing that bridge, all “useless” knowledge now found itself abandoned. As a result, some of my peers would scurry about to relocate the misplaced information during final examination period.
How is this actually learning? How can students learn anything from such a system? If grades didn’t exist, then students wouldn’t feel the need to learn information just to pass a test. Rather, they would either learn … or they wouldn’t. Why not let people decide what they want to know and what they don’t? There really is no reason to cloud the mind with information that is unnecessary in order to do what one wants to do. Sherlock Holmes never retained the fact that the sun was the center of our solar system, but he never suffered for it. True, he’s a fictional character, but, honestly, how would that information help an accountant? Or a businessman?
When people compete for grades, unity disappears. Instead, grades hinder the advancement of knowledge because students sabotage or refuse to help each other in an effort to boost their grade. Take for example, medical and law students. Whenever these scholars come to mind, the term “cutthroat” pops into my head. Grades encourage students to be self-serving and lone wolves because helping out a fellow student might result in the mentor outscoring the mentee. Nowadays, Harvard Medical School and other such institutions have implemented a pass/no record system for the first two years, perhaps as a result of the realization that competing for grades just leads to negative consequences.
This pressure negatively affects the learning environment. True, not everyone expresses such selfish tendencies, but I believe that the fact that the temptation is even there in the first place demonstrates that grades stink and that learning can be enhanced without them. Even if an unlimited amount of A’s can be granted to deserving students, institutions that have class ranks still suffer from this negative competition because helping a peer do well in one class could result in a lower class rank.
The Grade is a Lie
My hands start to sweat, and my heart starts to race. I don’t really understand why I’m acting as if a horde of velociraptors has been set loose upon myself and my unfortunate classmates. It’s only a test, right? If I fail, it’s no big deal, right? Right? Why haven’t I calmed down yet? Crap, I’m going to fail. I’m going to end up working at McDonald’s. What will my mom think? Wait, what am I doing again?
Unfortunately, I’ve become more than acquainted with this line of thinking over my educational career. Whenever I freak out, I tend to score lower on tests than I normally would. Does that mean I don’t know the information? Well, in some cases, perhaps; however, normally the test in question will just reflect my ability to stress myself out to the point that I no longer even know what my name is. In essence, poor test takers have a disadvantage to good test takers; therefore, grades do not always accurately reflect the knowledge of a student.
Instead of having grades, students should be allowed to do everything in groups — group tests, group quizzes, group homework assignments. And why not? In real life, most jobs require that their employees work well with other people, and it will be a rare event indeed when an employee is forbidden to consult with outside sources or their colleagues.
Until our educational systems reflect reality, I will continue to proclaim that yes, grades suck.