I read a post at [NoodleFood](http://www.dianahsieh.com/blog/) this morning, [1 in 7 Americans functionally illiterate](http://www.dianahsieh.com/blog/2009/02/1-in-7-americans-functionally.shtml). And it reminded me of how grades are treated versus knowledge. The primary reason you go to school is to gain knowledge. Grades are simply a tool used by the educators to assess your grasp of what they are teaching. Contrary to their purpose the grades, degrees and diplomas seem to be seen by students as some magic stamp. They are trying to achieve the reverse of cause and effect. The students and parents want the effect which is the good grade and what that can mean for their life and careers, without enacting the cause which is learning the subject. My brother teaches writing at Temple University and he'll occasionally share the excuses and pleading that he receives from students and astoundingly, from their parents. He once had a students father ask him for a better grade, offering no valid reasons only the fact that she needed it. I would never have been able to ask my parents to plead for charity from a teacher. Had I tried my father would have given me hell and refused.

I always saw the line at the teacher after a grade was returned going to beg for points as an insane waste of time. Getting good grades was easy. I was there to learn, and they measured my knowledge of the subject matter to give me a grade. It all worked out really well.

The only time I remember going to the teacher after a test (not after it was graded) was when I found part of the test unfair. The mid-term had a question worth 40% of the grade on the test. The point tested by the question was covered, but only in two or three paragraphs out of many chapters in the reading. It was never addressed in the lectures or homework problems. I thought the proportion of the grade it represented was unjust. The point was not essential to the overall understanding of the course, but could represent a whole letter grade overall.

I went to explain my concern and was greeted with condescension and derision, possibly justified, as there was a group there to complain and, I assume, beg for a better grade a priori. He told me, "I'm sorry you didn't do well on the exam but I will not change it." I made an enemy for life when I told him, "I'm sure I got an A on the exam, I just thought the weight of that question was unfair." He then confirmed my name. I was not worried because I was not making an idle boast. I got a 96/100. He never liked me much after that which I had a hard time understanding. As I clearly met his criteria and respectfully was raising a valid point.

I didn't like him much after that either, because I saw him as a small person trying to prove his superior knowledge by slipping unfair questions into a mid-term. His superior knowledge was already acknowledged, why else would I listen to his lectures? He of course was abusing the idea behind grades as well, using them as a false measure of self-worth.

But although I judged him dishonest he was not overtly malicious and continued to give worthwhile lectures, which I continued to attend. I was there to learn, not to achieve friendships with professors or even letter grades. Those things were valuable, but secondary. So the point is, remember your purpose in school or in sending your children to school.

You send your children to school to learn, so help them learn. Help them to understand cause and effect. Don't cripple them by teaching them how to appeal to pity for better letter grades. They'll just end up not understanding the words "former" and "latter" in a college classroom somewhere.

And to reiterate what I took as Diana's point, if they are not able to learn because the school is not able to teach. Hold the teachers accountable. And attack everything that makes any incompetence on their part acceptable.

AuthorKevin McAllister