FREEDOM OF FAILURE
-Kim I. Melton (Virginia Commonwealth University)
As our country moves further into the twenty-first century it must closely evaluate its current system of carrying out procedures. Where better to start looking than at its future, today’s students; however, an evaluation of today’s students would not net positive results. This is because of the general indifference and passiveness that many students display due to their fear of failure and fear of getting bad grades. A simple solution to this problem would be to abolish grades altogether and to reinstate the power of learning to gain knowledge and character, not to get a grade. However, it is not a case of simply wanting to get rid of grades to find “the easy way out.” Instead of grades, a feedback system would be implemented toward eliminating the lack of learning and the apathy that is currently displayed by most students.
First, to assume that a grade is an indicator of future performance ignores the likelihood that students will seldom see material from this course in isolation in the real world. This material will need to be integrated with material from other courses and from life experience. Grading motivates students to make a grade-not to learn for the sake of gaining knowledge. Students need and deserve feedback; however, feedback does not have to be in the form of a numerical or letter grade. In fact, the addition of the grade often negates any gains that could have been achieved from other feedback. Consider two cases. Case 1: A student works very hard on a paper and submits it. The instructor writes comments on the paper, and returns it. What does the student do? The student probably reads the comments, questions and learns. Case 2: The same student does the same work, submits the same paper , the instructor writes the same comments, but this time puts a 60 at the top of the paper before returning it. What does the student do this time? The student tosses the paper down, complains that the work was for nothing, and never reads the comments. The use of feedback allows the student to gain insight into his/her errors without the use of a grade. A grade would only discourage a student and cause him/her to unappreciated his/her abilities.
Second, the abolishing of students grades will allow students to break free from the shackles of conformity. They will be allowed to actually learn instead of just memorizing facts for a test and soon forgetting the information completely. A “good” student in a grade-based society would know what it is like to have to conform to just getting good grades (not truly learning) in order to have a chance at a better future. Many times, there are classes that a student is interested in, that would be really challenging, that he/she simply does not take because of the risk of getting a bad grade, even the dreaded “F.” These classes may teach a student some very valuable lessons, however, the student will never find out as long as grades still exist. In our current system a student needs very high grades to be accepted to graduate school and eventually to obtain a prestigious job. These young scholars fear the threat of a bad grade, so they forego a potentially valuable experience; instead, they rely on classes in which they can memorize facts, take the test, get the good grade, and move on, without really learning or retaining knowledge.
For a long time, achieving good grades and nothing more, has been the ultimate goal in a student’s academic life. This is a standard that was set centuries ago by “grown-ups” who needed a way of ranking students based solely on a letter or numbers. Individuality and creativity were pushed aside so colleges, universities, graduate schools and employers would be able to judge their candidates. Why are grades thought to be the most accurate way to judge individuals? Why must schools provide the testing and grades that are utilized by institutes of higher learning and also by potential employers? How can these institutions accurately judge someone based solely on a system that encourages memorization and underhanded tactics (such as cheating)instead of learning for the sake of benefiting oneself and one’s future? That is why universities, graduate schools, and employers should devise their own methods of comprehensive testing to replace grades. That would more accurately show an individual’s abilities, strengths, and weaknesses. Therefore, eliminating grades would allow a person’s unique qualities to dominate instead of just their OAC average or class rank.
In conclusion, our school systems should allow a feedback system, as opposed to a grading system, that will encourage and interest a student. Students, as well as adults, have become too dependent on using grades as a way of judging intelligence and performance. The only feasible way of eliminating this problem is through a gradual removal of grades. Abolishing grades and freeing students from the pressures associated with getting good grades would be a step in the right direction. It would allow students the opportunity to take a chance, fail, succeed, challenge and be challenged. Most importantly, though, it would allow our future leaders to do something they have been restricted from for too long; to learn.