Friday, May 15, 2015

There's More To Learning Than Getting Good Grades

Last night was the awards program at my daughter's school. (An update for the new readers: My oldest daughter escaped from homeschooling, past the moats and hungry alligators, to enter a local Early College High School program. She's currently finishing up her second year in the program.)

She is a Capricorn with a strong perfectionist streak which she legitimately inherited from me. Also being highly competitive (even when the other competitors don't realize they are in a competition) and being pretty freakin' smart, she totally racked up on some awards. In fact, she got a pretty good leg workout from all those trips up the stage steps... and maybe a good bicep workout from the handshakes with faculty members. She's going to be so buff this summer!

As her mom, I sat in the audience in an appropriately dowdy outfit, snapping pictures and cheering with just enough restraint to not embarrass her too badly. Then I called her grandparents and then bragged about her achievements on social media... because that's my job.

I'm proud of her accomplishments. She has showed an amazing work ethic and some serious determination... and a knack for playing the game. I don't in any way want to take away from her achievements. They are incredible, and I am kind of in awe of her. The grades she is making now will likely land her a college education that her parents couldn't otherwise afford.

I just hope she understands (and I really think she does, because she's smart beyond regurgitating the answers that teachers and standardized tests are looking for) that there is far more to life than good grades, that there is, in fact, a huge difference between performance and actual learning.

Unfortunately, our school systems have an accepted (even praised) protocol of grades, standardized test scores, contests, competition, awards and recognition. In her two relatively short years in the system, my daughter has already walked away with what the system would deem success. She does, after all, have a scrapbook bulging with achievement awards and merit certificates.

But competitions and contests can be enemies of learning. Students can become more interested in beating people, of out-performing their peers, than they are in actually learning something. The competition can also drive struggling students to give up, because they just can't perform on the same level, they can't compete with their higher achieving classmates. Along the way, all of them can lose their intrinsic desire to learn and can become suspicious of their peers. When you find yourself in competition with others, you might hesitate to share ideas or help one another understand even basic concepts.

Thinking can become superficial as students learn to recite desired answers and produce work that pleases those in authority. The system's worship of the Almighty A, of good grades and standardized test scores, comes often at the detriment of students' passion and excitement and even their psychological well-being. Testing and performance are so emphasized that some students come away from exam week with something akin to PTSD.

It's dumb.

Grades are dumb.

They are really just a superficial way to measure compliance and conformity, not things of real value like critical thinking and creative problem solving... those are the skills kids will need to lead society's future, and the public school system will be hard-pressed to find a bubble sheet to measure them. So while I know that my daughter enjoys the thrill of the good grade pursuit, I hope she remembers the real and valuable things about learning.

I'm proud of my daughter, but not necessarily because of her GPA. Her work ethic and her desire to dive into a subject for deeper understanding, her ability to think her way through a problem, of entertaining opinions other than her own (or her teachers'), of reading with passion beyond the assigned material, the way she learns from her mistakes and adapts to many different situations... those are the things I hope stick with her. Those are the things I'm most proud of...

And she didn't get a certificate for that.


1 comment:

Robin Follette said...

Grades. :/ One of my daughters can ace a test with her eyes closed while writing with invisible ink. The other, equally intelligent, does not do well on exams. Equal knowledge, different grades. It's maddening. If I were starting over again with children I would not have them in "traditional" school.

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