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It All Works Out in the End: Morning Minutes, April 22, 2016

Morning, all. So, one of the objections that I anticipated has already been raised by Megahn in her response to my proposed approach for next year. So, since it’s out on the table, I would like to address it, for I imagine it is not Megahn’s concern alone.

Anticipated Objection #4: It is not fair to give all kids the same grade. If one kid works really hard and another kid does nothing, and they both get the same grade, then that is not fair. There have to be consequences for actions.

Reasoned Response #4: I understand this line of thinking. I have lived it–more or less–for the nearly forty years that I have been in the public-school system as either a student or a teacher. When I was Megahn’s age, I would have written her letter; she echos what would have been my sentiment at the time. I was Megahn. Even as recently as seven years ago, when I was completing my master’s degree, I recall being annoyed that essentially everyone in the grad program received A’s . One particular moment comes to mind when I had spent 40+ hours on my leadership-platform paper, and a peer had spent only 2 hours on it the night before, and we both received a 4.0. I was incredulous, miffed at the unfairness of it all. How could he get the same grade? It was unfair. It was…I get it. I get it, Megahn, trust me, I get it. It is unfair. But.

But, I see things differently now. I have to. Disappointed and disillusioned by the current realities in school, with kids disengaged and unmotivated, with learning on life support, I decided–as you all know by now–to approach things differently to help restore and revitalize the true purpose of education: learning. And that requires new thinking, a step away from tradition, a step that will challenge conventional wisdom, which includes that which we have always thought fair and just: hard work pays off, and choices have consequences.

For the next two years, kids will make choices, as they always have, but now their choices will be based on their commitment to their learning, not their compliance to the system. You see the A is a gift but it is not the reward. It is a shiny trinket meant to please in the moment. The reward is learning. And as I suggested earlier this week, I can give grades but I cannot give learning. Yes, every kid will be given an A next year, but every kid will not reach the same learning end next year. The A is of no real consequence in the end. In the end, what matters is the learning, and that learning will carry consequences far into the future. Sadly some kids will not “live into” their A’s next year, and for the moment it will seem a victory as that A appears on their transcripts, but it will be a shallow victory that will catch up with them at some point–it always does. So, for my Megahns out there, I would counsel that you not worry about others’ paths. Let them be. They, as you, will make choices. And they, as you, will face consequences. What they receive as a grade, has no bearing on what really matters in the end: your learning.

And that is the mind shift that I want my approach to carry: kids concerned first and kids concerned most about their learning. Not this person’s. Not that person’s. Their own. And not for mom. And not for dad. And certainly not for me. For themselves. For it is they alone who will reap the rewards. Or not. Actions will have consequences. They always do.

Happy Friday, all. Thank you for the feedback and support this week. Have a great weekend.



5 Replies to “It All Works Out in the End: Morning Minutes, April 22, 2016”

  • In my mind I see all students starting with an “A”. Equally they all have the choice what they will do with this gifted “A”. In the beginning they are equals, with the same opportunities to keep this “A”. So there is striving done to keep this “A”, and the choice and responsibility lies with the individual. All will have the same opportunity. This is my understanding, there should not be a division.

  • I understand that the reward is learning, not the “A.” But as a parent of a child who, because of his hard work, good time management, desire, and diligence to learning received an academic scholarship because of all his As, it is a little concerning to me. There are other rewards tied to the A other than just being a letter on a transcript. So I am not sure it is right for those that don’t necessarily put forth that same effort, that they receive that same A. I also understand that some kids who work their hardest will never reach an A in the traditional grading system, and maybe your system is good for them. My concern is those who have the potential but don’t put the work into it. Why should they get an A and have potential for other rewards because of the A on their transcript.

    • Thank you for joining the conversation, Susan. I hear you. And please know that I have and continue to wonder and worry about these very things as I move forward. One thought here is that one A in my class is probably not going to result in the “wrong kid” winning a scholarship. And, too, since we are talking about honors kids in my classes, most of these kids will be the ones competing for the academic accolades,and since they are all getting the same grade no one’s at an advantage. Granted, they can’t get ahead with my class since the playing field is level, but their getting ahead or competing for academic accolades is not my primary concern. Their learning is. I am certainly taking a risk and possibly impacting some kids’ opportunities, but that opportunity should not come at the cost of making sure some kids stay behind. I think of how we have accepted past practice as okay because it’s what has always been done. In particular, I think of one story right here at CHS where a 4.0 kid’s standing was dashed because of one assignment, which resulted in her getting an A-. That seems okay, but there is more to the story. The assignment in question was done, done correctly, and turned in on time, but she had forgotten to put her name on it. The teacher admitted that she knew whose assignment it was because of the penmanship, but her policy for no-name papers was a zero, and she could not go against her policy–that would be unfair to the rest of the kids. I know there is some crazy to my approach, but this is crazy-crazy. I suspect that this will be the only blemish on this student’s transcript, for she is an exceptional student. This is not fairness. Some kids benefited unfairly from this teacher’s policy. This student will no longer be in the running for some of the rewards that her peers will, and not because of her peers’ diligence and hard work, but because of some teacher’s arbitrary policy that put her into the loser category. This, sadly, is not an isolated incident, stuff like this, to varying degrees, happens every day. And because there are plenty of incidents where kids are placed in the loser circle because of teachers’ policies, I am going to do different and use my policy to place kids in the winner circle. And not forever. My goal right now is not to give kids A’s for the next 20 years. It is a 2 year experiment to learn about learning without the distraction of grades, seeking to do no harm during the process. Thus the A. Thanks, Sus. Truly. Your helping me work through this.

      • What are you hoping to accomplish with this study? What is it you’re trying to change in the grand scheme of things and to what degree. As a student who works sometimes past midnight trying to finish assignments and study for tests to maintain and A, the thought of that kind of stress being lifted is admittedly appealing. But for me, my drive is to get the A. I’ve talked to many of my fellow students and that’s what drives them too. You said you want us to focus on the learning and before I would have completely agreed. The learning is what we should be there for. But it’s not for most of us anymore once we get to this degree in our schooling. We lost a passion for learning that I don’t think is realistic to try to revive this late. Granted I’m only a sophomore but I’m sure if you speak to other students you may discover that a the will to learn for the sake of learning and knowledge is almost not feasible. Which is why I wonder what you want to accomplish with this, how far do you want this to go? Do you want it to spread? I can’t help but see this as giving participation ribbons to kids in a soccer game weather they lose or win. I don’t mean to sound pompous by saying that but I always thought that while the grading system could use improvement, it was meant to be a ” you get out what you put in” thing.

        • Ah, Steph. It is you who exposed the chink in my armor yesterday. How far do I want to go? Far, young friend, far. I aim to change the world, a world that would cause our young to lose “a passion for learning.” I cannot live in that world, so I would see it change. I shed my armor, then, for it is weak, and I will face the foe as I am. It is all I need. I will put your post on my wall next year,as I reminder that I do this for you and all you represent–the young to whom I would give the world. A gift that begins with an A, a symbol to represent that which was once pure: a love of learning.

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