Learning vs. Grades

Schools today exist no longer as centers for growth and learning, at least not in the same expansive capacity they used to. They have evolved to become a pipeline, efficiently streamlined and cut down to run students through a twelve-year program of fulfilling prerequisites for college. One example is the loss of crucial programs like Home Economics and shop classes, either to budget cuts or disinterest, in exchange for a college fast-track curriculum. The curriculum is streamlined by eliminating nearly everything but the four essentials of math, science, english and history .We at Mills are fortunate to have Culinary Arts and Woodworking as holdovers from that period, but trade or life skills classes have been deemed superfluous in most other places. This is detrimental because it perpetuates an absolute disregard for the things the shop and Home Economics classes used to teach, which convinces students they have no other choice but higher education.  Encouraging higher education isn’t a bad thing, however, completely ignoring every other option in favor of higher education is. This is just one example of the current situation of the education system: students have been conditioned to care about their grades more than learning itself, to the detriment of the student, the school and the education system in general.


The overemphasis of grades over learning in high school causes students to create new study habits and conditions them to learn differently. Instead of “learning to learn”, students now make only the minimum effort they need to to do well on the tests and exams, so that a good GPA is achieved before anything else. According to InsideHigherEd’s Joseph Holtgreive, students are conditioned to do so during high school: “It’s understandable why so much emphasis is placed on the measurement of their performance, GPA. Without an exceptional record in high school, their chances of getting accepted into an elite university are slim. With so much at stake, they can’t afford to not focus on reaching the main goal. Yet while these students think they’re keeping their eyes on the ball, they are actually just staring at the scoreboard.” The scoreboard here is one’s GPA, which is forced to the forefront of the student’s mind by the current atmosphere of high school. With the GPA as the constant focus of the student, the intended priority (learning) is pushed to the side or overlooked completely.  The “GPA over everything” attitude is understandably prominent amongst high schoolers; however, it’s also representative of just how far actual learning has sunk in the academic hierarchy of importance. Grades and college preparation have climbed that hierarchy, far past their intended place in it. To make way, learning has been bumped several steps down and has been deemed as much less important as it once was.


Although grades are overemphasized, they do indeed serve a useful and necessary purpose. Grades serve as a quantification of progress in the curriculum; they show how much a student knows at any given moment, and can help quantify their issues with the curriculum, allowing teachers to fix them. No other system has been able to do a better job at any of those than the system of grading we have now. Keeping them around provides the data that schools, teachers and students all need to plan and execute improvements.


In the modern day, the school system forces students to be diligent and hardworking. Ideally, it would instill a love of learning and enjoyment in education. In reality, the school system instills a priority on grades and occasionally questionable work ethics, which will not serve the student well past high school. The remedy to this would be a return to the roots of education and a commitment to actually achieve what the schools purport themselves to: promote a love of learning and use grades only to quantify their progress. This means emphasizing learning over grades as an objective and maintaining that standard throughout high school.


The face of education in the US has changed. Once a bastion of learning and progress, the schools of today have shed that impression, in favor of that of the efficient and expedient factory that takes in brand-new freshman and spits out college-ready seniors. Some may see these changes as irreversible; instead, they are relatively simple to reconcile. The system simply has to revert to what it once was, and change the emphasis from grades back to learning.


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