A for Effort

I remember my first A-. Chemistry. Tears. Frustration. And a few sassy words.

I mean really, I’m a journalism major with certificates in African Studies and ESL.

Now, I have to ask myself why I would expect to receive an A in a class like chemistry–a class so removed from my talents, abilities, or interests.

This article, written by a professor at Duke, argues for the expulsion of the traditional grading system–not because it’s inherently limited or unfair–but because it has created a philosophy that students (and many of them) can somehow be perfect.

I’ll admit this is a fairly recent realization, but I can’t be the best at everything. I DSC_0469simply can’t. I will always write a much better poem than equation and I will always earn a higher mark on a paper than a calculus test. It’s who I am.

It’s almost easier to think about it from another student’s point of view. Would I be thrilled if every science/math major received the same grade as me on a prose? No, because, unlike me, that is not where their strength lies (more than likely). Assuming we put in the same amount of work/effort, I should naturally do better.

Likewise, I shouldn’t expect to receive an A in every math/science course. Some people (most people) will always be naturally better at thinking about derivatives and scientific notation than me.

I think it’s important to note that an A isn’t necessarily perfect. I can receive an A in many classes with a 93 percent. To do-away with A’s entirely would make it difficult to identify true strengths and commend students when it is due.

However, receiving an A in every subject is an extremely unrealistic goal. Still, the 4.0 has and continues to be the mark that many students expect to hit (including myself 95 percent of the time).

I see where Michael Gillespie is coming from. Students set unrealistic goals to impress employers/scholarship foundations/peers and many educators meet them there to simplify the system.

For me to receive all A’s–especially in math and science–is to overlook weaknesses that are real.
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And while weaknesses aren’t fun and they don’t always feel good, I’m beginning to realize that they give meaning to my strengths.

Not to mention, I have been able to relieve myself of  a ton of pressure by realizing that I can’t (and genuinely should not) be the best at everything. Do I still try? Yes. Do I still panic like a mad woman at the sight of a B? A bit.

However, upon rational thought and breathing, I almost always succeed in reminding myself that A’s are not for every subject or assignment.

Anyone who knows me knows that this thinking is totally NOT how I operate. Let’s just say, it’s a work in progress. A for effort (pun intended).

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Love this quote. But perhaps it’s the fish that must remember… Tree or not, it’s a damn good swimmer.

Until next time,
– md

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