Grades: An Acknowledgement That Schooling Is Insufficiently Rewarding

I’m currently reading “A Language Older Than Words” by Derrik Jensen and came across this gem that I was keen on sharing with you all:

Grades, as is true once again for wages later in life, are an implicit acknowledgement that the process of schooling is insufficiently rewarding on its own grounds for people to participate of their own volition. If I go fishing, the time on the water—listening to frogs, smelling the rich black scent of decaying cattails, holding long conversations with my fishing partner, watching osprey dive to emerge holding wriggling trout—serves me well enough to make me want to return. And even if I have a bad day fishing, which, as the bumper sticker proclaims, is supposed to be “better than a good day at work,” I still receive the reward of dinner. The process and product are their own primary rewards. I fish; I catch fish; I eat fish. I enjoy getting better at fishing. I enjoy eating fish. No grades nor dollars are required to convince me to do it. Only when essential rewards disappear does the need for grades or dollars arise.

Now, I’m not really a big fisherman, but I think you get the general idea. We’re all contributing to a great project, which in and of itself is sufficiently rewarding to garner participation. This is awesome.

About jessykate

Jessy is a technologist, hacker, designer of experimental institutions, and community builder.

One comment

  1. This perspective is misleading, though seductive.

    Metrics and competition are invaluable, even if it is only competing against oneself, or against the extremes of what it is possible to achieve. Any process without regular feedback cycles — the tighter and more transparent (in causality) the better — cannot hope to be effective, not to mention optimized.

    If I want to do something very well, no matter what it is, whether or not I have internal motivation to do it — and often those internal motivations are great — external, reliable metrics (whether they are grades or percentages or ratings) are essential.

    An unreliable, sporadic external metric such as a semesterly grade provided by a fallible teacher through a series of exams (many of which may be confusing or non-transparent in how they assess work and ability), may not be ideal. But it is an effort to reach that ideal. Unlike any pretense that metrics are unnecessary.

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