In Alfie Kohn’s article , The Case Against Grades, the author deconstructs the traditional grading system. The author opens up a big wound, pours salt in it and offers lukewarm examples as the balm. While I agree that teaching towards the grade is not the best learning strategy, I am also aware that the traditional grading system is subject to larger systems and bigger issues. For example, if the school system, as a whole, does not agree to change how we evaluate learning, then the individual teacher that elects for a “non-grade” learning environment runs the risk of being terminated or they might jeopardize their school’s position. Now, there is a larger way of being and doing that modern society participates in…and that is risk culture.
Risk culture is fueled by fear. Fear of losing one’s job, fear of failing school, fear of disappointing one’s parents, fear of lawsuits, fear of not getting into college. The list of fears is neverending, and risk culture is what drives us closer to quantifying success with a rigid grading system. So if we are going to deconstruct the grading system, we should consciously take steps to deconstruct the larger systems that will eventually undermine any advances taken at the sub-system level.
This article left me wondering what was occurring at the higher levels of society—like the school board and the college systems that review the applications of the students participating in a non-grade environment.
Questions to Ponder: What type colleges were willing to accept narrative summaries instead of grades? Did the non-grade teachers have the support of their leadership?