On Grade Mentality: To Give Credit Where Credit Is Due

Ella Spitz, Contributing Writer

I notice that when asked about a class, students tend to complain about their grade or their teacher’s grading system. I cannot think of a single time when a peer has even mentioned how much they have learned in response to the question unless prompted to. That sickens me to my core. My inner student, my inner intellectual, is crushed. How absurd it is to think of school as a vehicle for grades!

Imagine one putting so much thought into a number or letter and to go as far as letting it dictate their life. Imagine them being so unsure of their own capabilities that they trust and worry about someone else’s judgment over their own.

One should know when they haven’t learned enough and need to broaden their horizons in order to learn more. In fact, that is what should dictate their life. The hunger for more knowledge should be so overwhelming that the concept of grades becomes an afterthought.

An important distinction must be made between the desire to learn and the desire to earn a better grade. Expanding one’s knowledge is obviously not the same as wanting a better grade.

A student asking for “extra credit” is seen as a representation of that student’s willingness to learn, but I believe that it proves the opposite; that the student does not care about their learning, but only their grade.

When teachers provide extra credit options, it only sways the student more toward not caring about their learning. To the person that disagrees, to the person that defends themselves or other students, I pose this question: why didn’t the student search for a way to expand their knowledge before this assignment? Why is the student now willing to do the work, after it was presented to them as an opportunity to increase their grade? Why isn’t the student being a student?

The hunger for more knowledge should be so overwhelming that the concept of grades becomes an afterthought.

I understand and acknowledge the specific cases in which the student feels they have no choice but to receive extra credit to better their grade.

Say, for example, the student has an uncommitted teacher and their grade is solely based on the results of tests. In those difficult cases, I implore those students to, fine, complete the extra credit—but don’t stop there.

I want them to continue to learn, to not limit themselves just because they won’t earn credit, and to remember that that is what will make them better students in the future. A student should seek knowledge. They should go beyond the limits of the information presented to them, without the expectation to receive acknowledgment for their expansion of knowledge.

I understand that the responsibility doesn’t lie solely in the students. It is clear that the main perpetrator is the system we live in. We inhale toxins daily that sully our minds, that tell us grades are necessary to achieve success in the world. We have to redefine what “success” means, and the only way to do so is to destroy the institutions that reinforce its warped image.


This piece also appears in our April 2019 print edition.