Re: grading ourselves to death

Marcy Bauman (marcyb@UMD.UMICH.EDU)
Thu, 5 Sep 1996 16:02:34 -0400

On Thu, 5 Sep 1996, Steve Krause wrote:

> a rebel had I choosen not to go to college. But I also think there are a
> lot of people for whom the choice of going to college labels them a rebel
> or outsider as well.

Well, maybe the point isn't whether college is voluntary or not,
but rather, if you've chosen to go to college, what other choices are you
implicated in? I think Steve's right to remind us that most of our
students see college as a ticket to a better future, whether they're
there with the sanction of their family and community or not. And to
get that better future, they need certification, and to get that
certification, they need decent grades.

I think it's that need for grades -- that way of seeing the grade
as the means to an end -- that causes problems in the classroom. It
makes people insecure when they face a new grading scheme, and it makes
them less likely to take risks (in any classroom), and to be obedient and

> just saying that we also ought to remember that a lot of students have
> goals that a) require us to give them an idea about what to do and study
> and b) require us to give them some sort of approval about how they did it.

I'd agree with Steve here, except that: While I'd say that
students need us to give them feedback about how they accomplished a
task, but I wouldn't call that feedback "approval." I don't think
people ought to be put in the position of seeking approval from another
adult after the age of, oh, thirteen or so. It strikes me that the
relationship of two adults, one of whom is more accomplished in one area
than the other, and from whom the other seeks to learn something, is much
more respectful and considered than relationships where one party is in a
position to approve of another. I know that Steve didn't mean to imply
that we ought to condescend, or anything of the sort. But the linking of
grades and approval makes me _real_ nervous.

> On a slightly different note, I wonder if we're carrying on this
> conversation because as a community of people with an unusually high
> concern and involvement in education (teachers, grad students, professors,
> etc.) and thus were in our own college careers overly concerned about
> grades.

In my case, this is undeniably true. Although I wasn't the sort
who got all As, or anything (I don't have that much self-discipline), I
was dead intent on getting the teacher's approval (hey! There's that
word again!) -- so much so that it wasn't until I was thirty years old
that I could read a book and decide if _I_ liked it without being told
to. That's downright _crippling_. And now I get to watch my kids going
through all of that, seeing their motivation getting stifled and fighting
that tooth and nail. It's scary.


Marcy Bauman
Writing Program
University of Michigan-Dearborn
4901 Evergreen Rd.
Dearborn, MI 48128

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