Talking to a group of students (probably around high school level), they shared that they believed “grades” in education were important. Some of their thoughts were that it was an accurate assessment of where they were (and in some ways better than comments) and that it showed how they compared to others.
To be honest, these comments surprised me, so I asked them to dig deeper. One student chose to share her voice, and courageously shared a story of how when she was younger, she struggled a great deal with literacy and numeracy, and that it bothered her. Visibly upset, she continued by telling how seeing the grades that others had, motivated her to improve in those areas herself. Her bravery and honesty were so commendable, that many thanked her for sharing her story.
After that moment, I could not stop thinking about her story. In some way, it made me feel that in some way because she wasn’t able to do the same thing as others at the same time, it might not have only motivated her, but could have also demoralized her. Sometimes competition is something that drives people (I definitely have that side in myself), but at an early age, do we teach kids that if they are not good at the same things in school, they are less than others? I have refrained from saying “our smartest students”, and have chosen to say, “our most academically successful students”, because there is a difference. There are many of my peers that went to school that I may have done better than in school, but it doesn’t mean that I was smarter than them.
Student Erica Goldson shared this same thinking in her 2010 valedictorian speech:
I am graduating. I should look at this as a positive experience, especially being at the top of my class. However, in retrospect, I cannot say that I am any more intelligent than my peers. I can attest that I am only the best at doing what I am told and working the system. Yet, here I stand, and I am supposed to be proud that I have completed this period of indoctrination. I will leave in the fall to go on to the next phase expected of me, in order to receive a paper document that certifies that I am capable of work. But I contest that I am a human being, a thinker, an adventurer – not a worker. A worker is someone who is trapped within repetition – a slave of the system set up before him. But now, I have successfully shown that I was the best slave. I did what I was told to the extreme. While others sat in class and doodled to later become great artists, I sat in class to take notes and become a great test-taker. While others would come to class without their homework done because they were reading about an interest of theirs, I never missed an assignment. While others were creating music and writing lyrics, I decided to do extra credit, even though I never needed it. So, I wonder, why did I even want this position? Sure, I earned it, but what will come of it? When I leave educational institutionalism, will I be successful or forever lost? I have no clue about what I want to do with my life; I have no interests because I saw every subject of study as work, and I excelled at every subject just for the purpose of excelling, not learning.
There are times when you are a kid, that you just wish you were an adult, and then you become an adult, and miss the days of being a kid. What is scary is that the pressures of being a kid now, seem to be a lot different from when I grew up. I hope that as educators, we can learn to communicate and convey to our students that although they might not have the same strengths or abilities as someone else, it doesn’t make them less.