Radu Luchian(ov): Pastime: Commentary
On Grades

"You have got to pay attention, you have got to study and you have to do your homework. You have to score higher than everybody else. Otherwise, there is always somebody there waiting to take your place." -- Daisy Fuentes

As correct as the first sentence in this quote is, opinions like the second sentence are powerful stress-inducers. Sadly, in the western society they are highly believed.

Applied to everyone they are also illogical: it's impossible for everyone to get higher scores than everyone else. Not to mention that they are both internally and externally inconsistent. Thus comparing grades to determine a qualitative hierarchy of students is a flawed technique, affecting student self-esteem more than anything else, and thus enlarging the gap between 'good' and 'poor' students... It is comparing the knowledge of the individual knowledge pieces through indirect, chaotic measurement.

So what alternatives are there? Many, and there are lots of books and research on the topic. My favorite, though, is the following:

"I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand." -- Confucius

During the times when resources were incomparably scarcer and human needs and wants were simpler, we had apprenticeships. That system got marred in politics once it grew out of shape into various Guild systems, but the basic idea was right: allow students to apply their knowledge and learn much better, with much higher retention rates and far less redundancy, grading final work and the steps to it by direct, consistently measurable comparison.


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