A colleague of mine emailed this article to our English Department last week:
Dear Student: I Don't Lie Awake At Night Thinking of Ways to Ruin Your Life by Art Carden. I encourage you to read it first BEFORE reading my commentary below. Not only was I surprised by the refreshing honesty of this particular economist, I enjoyed reading how well he can identify with his students and their insecurities.
I emailed my response to my department. I was the only one to share my thoughts and the colleague who originally emailed me was the only one who responded to what I wrote. I didn't need any "validation". I was hopeful my response would solicit other responses and an open dialogue. Sadly, it didn't. Perhaps posting it here, on my blog, will generate more discussion...
I can hope, right?
Here's the email I sent my colleague:
Thanks for sharing. A well-written article (even though I didn’t think the religious references were necessary). It’s unfortunate for all of us (students, teachers, parents, and society) that so much emphasis, emotion, energy is focused on grades and what people think of us. How differently education would be perceived if we could do away with grades and GPAs altogether and instead use a Pass/Fail system. I’ve never believed grades were a determining factor in a student’s intelligence or abilities. Think about those students who ROCK at one type of writing, but then totally BOMB another genre/form/type. Does this mean they’re horrible writers? I don’t think so. Think about those students who may not understand poetry well, but can talk in great length about a novel they’ve read, a character they can relate to, or why they enjoyed a book.
I’ll admit that I didn’t do well in my college grammar courses, or my Literature courses. I was lucky if I pulled a B or a C in them. I didn’t think ill of my professors, I simply hadn’t matured enough as a reader or a writer to understand the value of what they taught me or how it connected to my life. I also wasn’t a skilled reader/writer. Experience, teaching students who struggle with reading and writing, and a great deal of professional development, training, and practice at becoming a mature reader and writer have allowed me to develop my craft as a teacher and as a writer—two challenging skills to develop and master in one’s life (I’m still working on the mastery part). I, too, believe that students earn the grades they deserve; however, what I’m more concerned with is how my students develop as readers and writers throughout the school year. In my opinion, I think, at times, grades, point values, and test scores can be extremely damaging and punitive. This is why I use a YES/NO/INCOMPLETE value for assignments in my grade book; why I give my students a goals like: reading 20 books in a school year; writing 20 pieces in a school year; and by giving them reasonable deadlines to meet these goals.
I also believe that our society does very little to promote one’s self-worth. Perhaps this is why our students feel like we’re “attacking them, judging them, or don’t like them” when they earn a lower grade. Or, that students who earn “higher grades” are perceived as “favorites” or “teacher’s pets”. How ironic this is when our students are the most confident in the world. Yet, when it comes to feeling “worthy” so many of them struggle. And we must remember, more than anything else, what our mindset was like at that age (perhaps the greatest point in the writer’s article is that he’s still maturing).
I’ll leave you with this quote:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. ...We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? … Your playing small does not serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. … And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we’re liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”