A bright student and exceptional writer came through one of my classes, but she had no idea at first where she was on the map. She said that none of her high school teachers ever engaged her about her aptitude and performance. This means that grades did not tell the story since a student can make an A in a string of English classes but still have unanswered questions.
This does not imply blame toward high school teachers, not at all. Classes can be large, with student behavior a constant challenge. Teachers may have to put out fires continually while trying to maintain an orderly classroom. Then too, some students are shy, non-assertive, or show no signs of blooming.
This is not to bash grades; they are a necessary evil. Considered as a measurement in the moment, grades might be seen in a purely objective light; but students, families, and institutions often put various kinds of spin on grades.
When I was young, the first pressures about grades were parental. After my father took off never to return, when I was in the fifth grade, slippage concerning grades might have occurred except that friendly competition formed in the classroom. It is hard to resist a fellow student’s question, “What did you get on the test?” This was a good thing since my mother had refreshed her elementary school teaching certificate, and with four kids was weary of body at the end of a day. She could only cheer us on so much.
In high school, a competitive friend came along. We played chess, pool, guitars, and sports. All of this was very competitive—heads on with one thing after another, including the classroom. His parents were very particular about education, so the atmosphere of education hovered over everyone who came over. Fortunately, competition was friendly, likely with a tad of goading now and then, though all I remember is that my friend constantly pressed me to do my best.
For a season in college, studies got bumped down in priority. Living in a dorm 600 miles from home, it took time for the craziness to settle down. Early on, it was just not cool to study too much.
In later years, grades have communicated two perspectives. Grades are grades, and the world runs on competition and comparison. However, it is a fine thing to arrive at comparing one’s self more with personal possibilities and not so much with others. Many intangibles come into play like effort, energy, persistence, and strategy.
Life is lived mostly without grades. Yes, grades are on those transcripts—as they should be. Of more importance, however, are the choices about what to learn that one makes over the years. Out the vast sea of knowledge come the particular magnets that draw me the individual and you the individual.
Early in life, it feels normal to gravitate toward what represents a certain earning power. Later on, learning evolves toward what draws us. Attraction woos a person to pick up that certain book or magazine, to watch that particular documentary, and to visit that kind of museum.
The ideal is for occupation and learning interests to be one and the same. That does not always happen, but it can, either early or late in the land of the free.