Grades & Goodness

I know, I know– I should be studying right now.

In fact, I should be pulling all-nighters with Redbull (never tasted it… doesn’t appeal to me) with the amount of work I have to do in so little time. Yet I’m oddly very calm about it all– it’s very typical of me to remain always calm until the last possible minute when it comes to midterms and assignments. But despite my laid-back attitude, something just ticked me off right now– a simple comment, a simple sentence, and I just need to write about this or it will be very distracting while I try reading my bioinorganic chemistry textbook.

My friend, a fellow teacher, posted this on Facebook about 20 minutes ago:

i care more

Now. What do you do on Facebook when you like something?

You like it. So I ‘liked’ it.

You can also comment. So I commented my approval.

Then some guy writes this:

   “ya but it takes good grades for the most part to be the mover and shakers of society… “

I didn’t bother replying to that. I don’t know him, probably never will, and I’m not much of a debater… and even if I was, publicly putting him in his place would be more humiliating and a booster for my ego than anything else.

So silent I remained.  But my immediate thought was… “Really bro? Does it really?”

I’m not saying grades are irrelevant to getting good society roles– you need them for admission to college and university and so forth– but they’re not inclusively the only factor, if even one of the important ones. I think society values wealth, influence, connections, networking, and corporate interests far more than the percentage value you got on your grade eight science test.

This brought to mind something interesting my bioinorgic professor recently said (just quoting him is making me feel guilty I’m not using this time to study for his midterm!):

“I always wonder why schools and universities make you sit through examinations. It’s not representative of real life. Never after this will you be asked during your life to sit down and write everything you’ve ever learned to memorize on a piece of paper.” (Then he adds with a chuckle) “But of course, there is a purpose behind examinations. It’s the way humanity works. Many people won’t put in the effort to learn without being forced to.”

There is some wisdom behind that, I must say. I do see that many people wouldn’t bother to open up a textbook from the 80’s casually in their free time and use it for pleasure reading. (You never know, though!) But I think that the reason that people wouldn’t bother schooling themselves is really for the reason the school system itself is set up. They’re not against education, they’re against rote meaningless learning.

Back to grades– I think it’s ironic that the classes I got lower marks in, yet struggled and put in my all, I believe I understand better than classes I may have gotten 100% in high school, yet can’t for the life of me recall what I learned there. I struggled endlessly in high school physics– stayed after school every day until I understood the problem– and passed I did, but not with the 100% I got in biology. Yet I can honestly say I benefited more from that physics class until now, than I did in a biology class that I was simply expected to spew out the words I memorized off a diagram. After the final exam, I never thought about it again.

So are grades representative? Not necessarily. Did my 100% in biology high school indicate somehow I was going to become a biologist in society and make a difference? No. I instead opted for chemistry and physics, the things I struggled in, and made it my mission to help others see the relevance of seemingly irrelevant things (at that point of their lives).

To my dear my Facebook brotha-from-anotha-motha: To be a mover and shaker of society, you need something called courage and determination and strong will and a vision. These things are not learned from “punishments in the form of exams” (Sugata Mitra) and nor are they necessarily determined from the amount of information one can spew out. Because the sad reality is that school often feeds lots of information, and not necessarily always education, into young minds.

I do believe assessment is important, though.. but must every assessment be done so under pressure? Public speaking is critically important for future leaders– but must that one and only French oral presentation to be presented by a shy student who stutters and is an introvert have to be the one determining grade on whether or not he ‘knows’ French?

Grades frighten me a lot because I am afraid to fall into the same mistakes that I am criticizing. Will I be just another person imposing useless pressure on my students or will I actually somehow bring out the best of them? Will my classroom be just another dreaded hour of the day or will it be a safe zone, a community, a learning place for all?

I don’t know. But John T. Gatto’s words give me a sliver of hope:

“Now for the good news. Once you understand the logic behind modern schooling, its tricks and traps are fairly easy to avoid. School trains children to be employees and consumers; teach your own to be leaders and adventurers. School trains children to obey reflexively; teach your own to think critically and independently. Well-schooled kids have a low threshold for boredom; help your own develop an inner life so that they’ll never be bored… Challenge your kids with plenty of solitude so that they can learn to enjoy their own company, to conduct inner dialogues.”

… InshaAllah! Time will tell.

the short road

And God knows best.

A.S.

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