Saturday, July 21, 2007

Education and Grades

As a graduate student in education, I think alot about the state of education, what the education system(s) are, and what transformations I would like to see in my little world. As a 1st year student, one of the 1st things I was told was that “grades don’t matter” and that “I shouldn’t worry about grades.” Fortunately for me I have never been hugely motivated by grades…perhaps because I have always gotten good grades and not needed to worry about them. However, I started thinking about this statement recently because I realized I had been lied to. Grades do matter, because if they didn’t, we wouldn’t use them. So, what does it mean to say that grades don’t matter, but still give grades. From an educational standpoint, grades could be viewed as a obstacle to educative experiences or “learning” because students will only want to gain “knowledge” that is useful to get a good grade and pass the class. We perhaps think that once we get to the “highest” levels of education that grades won’t matter as much because we will be delving into the specialty area and want to gain “knowledge”…unfortunately this is not the case. Yes, I do want to gain knowledge, but in the back of my head, I am constantly reminded that I want to “pass” and get a 4.0 because that “legitimates” me. But inevitably, it does not legitimate me or make me feel better…in fact the courses where I don’t have to worry about grades are the classes where I feel I experience the most growth. Why then, do we grade, especially at the graduate level? Is it because we are to anxious to let go of this tradition of grades? Is it because we need a standard measure of how people are “progressing” in their education? Can knowledge and the engagement in knowledge be assessed in such a matter (obviously NCLB assumes so, but then does NCLB actually deal with engagement in knowledge or just vomiting knowledge on a standardized test). If grades truly don’t matter, why does my particular College of Education still rely on this method of assessment? Why not imagine new possibilities for assessing students that do not hinder students from engaging with knowledge so that they can get the “best” grade. Why not focus on dialogues and discussions with students to actually engage them and ourselves in the issues being discussed in a course. Yes, such a method could take more time, but would it transform education to focus on the engagement of knowledge, the ability to debate and dialogue about issues, rather than the ability to pass an exam that often does not allow one to engage in knowledge. All in all, don’t say grades don’t matter when students are still graded…having grades makes them important and an issue of mattering. If grades don’t matter, throw them out. Don’t use them and imagine an alternative, that may not be perfect and perhaps may not be better (afterall how do we make such a value judgment) but may perhaps allow us to view education as a form of engaging in knowledge as opposed to simply obtaining knowledge as docile bodies in desks…docile in order to “learn” and achieve by the standards that are set, docile by the disciplinary powers that provide us with the freedom, but a freedom that inevitably constrains us from taking risks and truly engaging ourselves and others.

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