Growing up without grades   Leave a comment

I remember watching a news story about a teen who was in trouble with the law.  The parents were being interviewed and made comments about how they couldn’t believe their son was involved in this crime – emphasizing that he was an A student after all. Their implication being that the morals of an A student must be higher than that of a C student.  Grades have become more than just a reflection of a student’s work, it has become something that defines and labels a student.

A few years ago, my older three kids were in Tae Kwan Do where my two boys earned their first degree black belts.  Their instructor was a wonderful man that we respected very much, but I could not agree with him about the emphasis he put on grades.  He regularly told the kids that they needed to get A’s to be successful in life and had a sign in the studio that read, “The A students of today are the leaders of tomorrow.” I understood where he was coming from and that he just wanted the kids to do well in school – but there is an underlying belief in our culture that a kid’s future success hangs in the balance and it is determined by their grades.  Mainstream thought pushes the ‘get good grades’ mantra from earliest elementary school.  School, for kids then, becomes a place in which to perform.  Children see that ‘A’ students are treated differently than ‘C’ students – they may even see that in their own families between siblings. They learn very early on that grades matter in how they are viewed and treated by others, and even how they view themselves.  

The intense stress placed on earning A’s from the time a child is five years old until they graduate can take the joy of learning out of school.  Learning is not done for the sake of learning, it’s done to be able to receive an extrinsic reward at the end of a class with a grade that will determine how others view you.  School becomes a place that does not really encourage a love of learning.  Studying is done because one wants to be able to receive a grade needed to keep up a desired grade point average or for elementary school age kids – to avoid negative feedback from disappointed parents. Children enter school with great expectations, but as the years go by, many become disenchanted and burned out, but often have no other choice than to keep plodding through.  It’s a game – play it right, especially in high school with all the activities that are crammed in to look good on a college application – and they will have a ticket to ‘success.’

Success depends on how one defines it.  Our culture says in order to succeed a child must get A’s in school, so then they can get into the right university – because after all, one doesn’t want to end up going to a technical school.  That will determine the kind of good paying job that is landed – because, of course, all successful people need to live in the right house in the right part of town, drive the right car and vacation in all the right destinations.  There you have it;  success.  Really?  It actually seems kind of empty and I think many people who have driven themselves hard down this road since their schooling days eventually come to question this definition of success. 

Our homeschooling environment does not include grades.  I never thought about it actually.  I can see the need for a teacher to have graded tests so she can track the progress of an entire class, but that isn’t necessary in a homeschooling setting.  I can see whether or not my children understand and are learning.  If they do not understand something or made errors on some work, then they go over it again and fix it.  I find no need to place a grade on learning.  We learn because it’s interesting and even if they don’t find something particularly interesting like say, grammar – I try to help them understand the need to learn it as a part of becoming an educated, well rounded person. 

For us, pursuing knowledge is not done to be rewarded with a grade, but to understand the value of educating yourself throughout a lifetime – not just equating education with formal schooling.  They are free to learn without being labeled because of the grades they earn.


Posted February 27, 2011 by The Nonconformist Mom in education, homeschooling

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