Earlier in May, during a commencement speech former president George W. Bush said to the graduating students:
“To those of you who are graduating this afternoon with high honors, awards and distinctions, I say, ‘Well done.’ And as I like to tell the C students: You too, can be president.” (See video)
This blog is not to debate the 43rd US President. I want to elaborate on my thoughts on the matter of grading. Does it work? Does it promote learning? Is it serving the student or the teacher?
I believe I have been a student all my life. My mother still asks me if I didn’t exit my infant stage, in which I asked ‘why?’ every time. I think I can speak for what motivates a student. I have seen students that say I do not care if I get a C, I just want to pass. I have seen students that say, ‘Oh my God, I got a B, I am going to die.’ Does a grade say a student learned the material? I had a professor during my bachelor, that said when he asked about something students should had learn from previous courses that he was using to scaffold into the new knowledge, and not one student answered: ‘crédito aprobado, crédito olvidado’ (in Spanish it rhymes, it means: approved credit, forgotten credit.’ Students are more focused in passing the class, than in learning and cementing knowledge to use later in their other classes or profession. It has happened to me.
During my bachelor degree, I took the courses required in the curriculum that guaranteed that I would of finish and graduate. Now, in a more mature (I believe) stage of my life, pursuing a doctoral degree, I take classes that call my attention that I want to learn from. Most of the time, I am auditing them, no grade involved. I see that I get more immersed in the topics than when I took a required course in order to graduate. But will these be the case with all students? How do we gauge the transfer of knowledge? Is the grade a tool for the teacher to learn how well he disseminated the material? Or is it to know how well the student ‘learned it’? Are the grades forcing students to look inside the box and not explore their creativity and look out of the box? All difficult questions, maybe, with not a single simple answer…