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.
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).

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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