I was very lucky to spend this pre-holiday weekend in my hometown of Baltimore visiting with family and friends. The weekend was full of great food, family bonding, and playing with my one-year-old niece Stella (who is the cutest!). Another weekend activity was going through my closets and cleaning out my old college books and papers. I actually quite enjoyed the chore. I quickly became very caught up in reading my old college essays.
One essay in particular stuck out.
I wrote the paper first semester freshman year for a very difficult English class. The thesis of the paper focused on the practice of not giving letter grades in progressive elementary schools. I argued that letter grades were important for all students because they were an objective measure of performance. Further, I argued that I was personally disserved by the absence of letter grades in my progressive elementary school because I could never figure out how I was doing. When I received the non-letter grade of “good” on an assignment, I thought I was doing really well. What I didn’t realize is that “good” was really a euphemism for a “C,” while “great” and “excellent” represented “B,” and “A” respectively.
Now, ten years later, I find it funny that I wrote this paper. I was totally ignorant.
The reason I criticized progressive education for not giving letter grades to young children is because I totally misunderstood the purpose of education. As a young college student, I saw school assignments as a purely two-dimensional exercise. The teacher asks the student to do an assignment, the student does the assignment, and the teacher gives a grade. I always knew that learning was more important than grades – but I confused the concept of “learning” with “doing a good job on an assignment.” I always worked very hard to complete my assignments – but I had not yet developed a true thirst for learning.
Assignments in school are like ground ball drills in Lacrosse, or practicing lay-ups in basketball. Doing these drills perfectly means nothing if you can’t apply those skills to the real game. The reason I wanted everyone to have letter grades is because I wanted to know how I was doing on my assignments. I didn’t realize that the assignments were not the real game – it was just practice.
I used to look at learning as something that had to get done. A drill that had to be completed; a box that had to be checked. Today I have an insatiable thirst for knowledge – I spend practically every free moment listening to audiobooks, watching TED talks or Kahn Academy videos. My understanding of what it means to learn has completely evolved.
Back in college, I thought I had it all figured out. Looking back now, ten years later, I realize I was actually quite foolish. I can’t wait to see what new things I discover in the next ten years that will make me look back on this blog post and think to myself: “wow, I was totally ignorant.”