Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Date: Tue 12/16/2003 6:18 AM
Random Thought: The Cost of Grades Is Too High

Well, it's finally the end of the semester. Boy, do I need the good cheer of the holiday season. The lingering goodbyes and the tearful till we meet agains with students during the last-day-of-class closure has been replaced this past week by a grateful and relieving feeling that a suffocating weight has been lifted. This past week is that dirgeful coda to the joyful semester with students when I do not feel happy, when my feet and heart are heavy, when my energy is depleted, when I feel dirty and corrupted, almost evil. My teeth hurt from all the angry gnashing I've done this past week. After doing everything within my power to instill a love of learning, arouse a belief in each student of his or her own unique potential, convince each of them that there's nothing average about any of them, persuade them that there's a hell of a lot more meaningful to an education than merely getting a grade, it would be so easy to now feel like a sellout. It's that time when I realize once again how the formal institution of education has become such a barrier to the spiritual experience of learning. You all know what time it is. It is that time when the whole concept of love of learning is almost totally undermined by the most anti-learning, fear inducing devise conceived by the mind of man. It's the time of concocting final grades. If I was a drinking man, I'd go out and get snookered, three sheets to the wind snookered.

Instead, of flaying myself, I've got a question. Actually I have a bunch of questions. Why is it that so many people--students, faculty, administrators, parents, et al--get nervous, defensive, testy, upset, downright aggressive when some of us seem to be playing with the definition of academic success? Is it because by questioning grades as the absolute measure of achievement, some of us are asking if achievement is as easy to attain and define as it is made to seem? Is it because we don't want to face the fact that a lot of us are conscious of the fact that grades don't make the grade, that achievement isn't always what it seems? Is it because we want a cookbook of precise, objective, how-to-do techniques for identifying academic achievement and thereby avoiding the inevitable subjective messiness of human interaction? Is it because we have a difficult time facing the fact that education is as much, if not more, art than it is science? Is it because we prefer the easily manageable quantifying definition that education is about measurable information transmitting and receiving to a difficult to manage transcending and amorphous definition that education is all about unimaginable diverse people? Is it because we don't want to think about the tension we help create between conformity and freedom, between uniformity and uniqueness? Is it because we profess we don't want students to ask submissively "what do you want" and then demand in word or deed they submissively do what we want? Is it because we don't want to think about the tension between "love the system and dismiss the people" on one hand and "love the people and hate the system" on the other. Is it because we don't want to think about how grades make it harder to respect, understand, appreciate, love, have faith it, have hope for each person whom we are grading? Is it because we don't want to think how we have been duped into believing, to paraphrase the Bard, that "the grade doth make the person?" Is it because we don't want to think about how we somehow convert guesses, approximations, impressions, suggestions, estimatations, hunches into truth? Is it because we don't want to think about the fact that Magna Cum Laude in academics doesn't automatically translate into Magna Cum Laude outside of and beyond the academy--or even inside it? Is it because while we pronounce that we understand that others don't understand, we really not sure we understand what it we understand or are supposed to understand? Is it because in denial we don't want to admit that we're addicted and corrupting "gradeoholics" who can't really stop any time we want? Is it because we don't want to face what we really mean when we say, "He got a low grade, but has come a long way and has learn an awful lot?" Is it because we don't want to face what students mean when they say, "It's a snap course. I won't learn much, but it will up my GPA?" Is it that we just don't want to think about it?

I sometimes think and feel so many in our academic culture, if so many in our society as a whole, has raised the concept of grades to the depths of infallible dogma to be unquestioningly obeyed, and frowns on such tinkering and sees such questions as heretical departures from THE ABSOLUTE TRUTH.

         Make it a good day.


         Louis Schmier      
         Department of History
         Valdosta State University
         Valdosta, GA  31698                 /~\        /\ /\
         912-333-5947              /^\      /     \    /  /~\  \   /~\__/\
                                 /     \__/         \/  /  /\ /~\/         \
                          /\/\-/ /^\_____\____________/__/_______/^\
                        -_~    /  "If you want to climb mountains,   \ /^\
                         _ _ /      don't practice on mole hills" -    \____

Return to The Complete Random Thoughts of Louis Schmier
Return to the Random Thoughts of Louis Schmier