That’s an ‘A’ for us here in my district. But what does it mean? As a Math teacher I’ve boosted an 84% up two points to hand out the often elusive ‘A’, and I’ve also adamantly refused to move an 85% up to that plateau. Because to me the mark should represent a level of comprehension that ‘points’ on a test don’t always represent well. Perhaps that’s because my tests were flawed, as the results on them didn’t always represent how much the concepts were understood.

But why do ‘WE’, educators and students, put so much weight on ‘the grade’ in the first place? How much do they matter?

On his blog, “A Boundless World: Connecting Humanity Unleashing Potential”, Bud answers that question on behalf of himself and many of his graduating friends of the class of ’09:

Why Our Current Education System Is Failing

The post is lengthy, but well worth the time to read it… go on now, I’ll wait right here… :-)

Here was my comment response:


What a thoughtful post!
As Chris Lehman says in this video, “What happens in school is real life, not preparation for real life.”
I think that the ‘missing piece’ when it comes to education today, is that it tries to fill us with important things rather than make us feel important and valued… it feeds us content, but doesn’t leave us contented in any meaningful way.
I wrote a post a while back about the ‘Square Peg’ students that we try to fit into the ‘Round Holes’ of education. It seems both you and I have had an education that feels that way. I didn’t fit, but I didn’t care. I did assignments my way, not the teacher’s way and wore my C+ badge with honour.
I had some amazing teachers along the way, and I had some that weren’t… and the main difference was that the good ones inspired me to care and do my best.
But I think you hit the issue at the core, it is the system itself that seems to suck the life out of students at a young age. As you eloquently said,

“Education is about unleashing one’s confidence. Education is learning from failure. Education is growing from experience. Education is discovering your passions then pursuing them.

Education is not rote memorization. Education is not analyzing books that have no meaning to you. Education is not wasting your time on subjects you hate. Education is not being paralyzed because your afraid to fail.”

There is an old proverb that says, “When one eye is fixed upon your destination, there is only one eye left with which to find the Way” (Found in Zen in the Martial Arts by Joe Hyams.)

Marks seem to take our attention away from what matters. I find it funny that we can assess young kids without grades and then around Grade 3 we suddenly start indoctrinating students into the paradigm of good marks = success…. and the really important things we learn in Kindergarten about sharing, respecting and loving one another, as well as communicating how we feel and getting along with each other, suddenly takes a back seat to achieving some sort of success beyond these things that really matter.

Looking back on his post, I really like what Bud says here:

In no way am I suggesting getting good grades is a bad thing; that would be foolish. Getting good grades is not the problem. Allowing grades to dictate one’s life is.

Grades don’t guarantee success.

Passion + Determination + Positive Attitude = Success

I’ll give you an A if you transform the world :-)

I’m not sure what others think, but I think that it is very likely Bud, and many of the other misfits and square pegs, will indeed transform the world.

A+ to you Bud… not that it matters!

9 comments on ““Chasing the A”

  1. Amen, to both of you.

    Teaching the TALONS we espouse that real learning can seldom be measured by something so crude as numbers, and make a distinction between marks-for-report cards and expectations that go beyond the curriculum on a personal level: the real challenges in our class – as the real challenges of life – involve reflection and risk, a personal investment that is not met where there is a tangible fear of failure (with ramifications that could ruin into “YOUR ENTIRE LIFE!”).

    When posed with the inevitable report card, I have found that comprehensive assessment activities have been the most effective in personalizing and empowering learning, while giving an honest reflection of the student’s comprehension of the government’s outcomes. I have students discuss how they went about learning about the topic, sharing strategies and taking ownership over the process. Those who invest throughout the project rise to the occaision, when they must speak to their committment to their learning,and can refer to specific examples of their engagement, while those who may have passively studied only textbook and peer-generated notes package will contribute less to a conversation about ‘shared’ learning.

    Which all works fine and well in a classroom where the students are peers for two years, who share responsibilites for class trips, events, and community service projects. While some more linear thinkers balk at the idea of self-assessment, and student-created criteria, I tell them that they will only have teachers for a few more years: at some point they will need to know themselves when they have done a ‘good job.’ But in a ‘mainstream’ honours class I taught this past school year, creating such an environment of collaboration and risk-taking among a class of students one year from graduation (a class which yeilded one of my all-time favourite student quotes: A girl in the class showed me her report card, bearing marks in the upper 90s through three courses (chemistry, biology, and PE) and a 92% in my English course. “I know this isn’t my best class,” she said. “But I don’t think it’s my 92-class.” Sigh.). Conversations were guarded, and essay topics seldom shared; more than once a week – even several weeks from report cards – I had discussions with individual students concerned about their grade; report card times were a flood of offers to ‘make up’ marks, ‘rewrite,’ and on and on.

    In my opinion, grades spoil the true potential of student learning. Having seen many of my friends, intelligent, ambitious, creative and successful friends make liars of many of our teachers, counsellors & administrators, I feel strongly that what we choose to measure in school is a far cry from what we seek to achieve.

    Thanks for making me realize this is not my lone opinion!

  2. When I was a child I sat an exam.
    The test was so simple
    There was no way I could fail.

    Q1. Describe the taste of the moon.

    It tastes like Creation I wrote,
    it has the flavour of starlight.

    Q2. What colour is Love?

    Love is the colour of the water a man
    lost in the desert finds, I wrote.

    Q3. Why do snowflakes melt?

    I wrote, they melt because they fall
    onto the warm tongue of God.

    There were other questions.
    They were as simple.

    I described the grief of Adam when he was expelled from Eden.
    I wrote down the exact weight of an elephant’s dream.

    Yet today, many years later,
    For my living I sweep the streets
    or clean out the toilets of the fat hotels.

    Why? Because I constantly failed my exams.
    Why? Well, let me set a test.
    Q1. How large is a child’s imagination?
    Q2. How shallow is the soul of the Minister for Exams?

    Brian Patten

  3. Dude…don’t get me started… I wrote a post a year back called the “Futilitarian State” . It was at about this time of year when I was reading a plethora of report cards. I can’t stand grades and everything they stand for. Their purpose is no greater than serving as a comparison tool so that the Jones can say that their kid is learning. They have no real meaning. It is like money. It doesn’t have real value unless the government says it does. Grades give parents an excuse not to participate in children’s learning. THEY SUCK and are the scourge of learning. But other than that they are great.

  4. Hey David!
    I’ve heard that you have been doing a lot of traveling around the world! Last time I talked to you, you were in Thailand! What other places have you been to lately? Which one has been your favorite? Next Summer I’ll be in Greece! I am very excited about that! Have you ever been to Greece?

  5. Hi Danny,

    Greece… Wow! No, I’ve never been there, but my wife has and she has told me that it is a great place to visit. Will you get to go to some of the beautiful islands or maybe climb Mount Olympus?

    I went to Vietnam after Thailand and my favourite part of that trip was an overnight boat cruise in Halong Bay.

    Be sure to blog about your trip to Greece, and share some pictures too!

  6. When I used to have my own grade 8 class, we would inevitably start the year off with a discussion about grades. I found it difficult to emphasize good work habits and a good work ethic and putting forth your best effort, without guaranteeing that those things would result in a definitive grade (i.e. an A or a B). Students had a hard time seeing the rewards in anything other than their report card – and truthfully, I couldn’t blame them. It has to be the biggest form of cognitive dissonance that I experience as an educator. In any case, I did (do) my best to emphasize that we all need to strive to be the best people we can be, within our academic pursuits, but more importantly outside of them. At the end of the day I want my students to be proud of who they are, and I want them to be people that I am proud to know.

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