I was chatting with M. today and the title of this post is one of her sentences which really stood out. She was relating a class discussion based on the professor's question of what each of their reactions would be if he didn't give grades to them. She spoke up and said that it wouldn't matter. It was how she was used to functioning and didn't need grades to motivate her. Apparently what followed was a rather lively discussion with M. being the only student (who spoke up) to support the non-grade opinion. At least one of the pro-grade supporters indicated that he needed grades because otherwise he would have no motivation to do any of the work.
This whole discussion leaves me with mixed feelings. I am thrilled (but not surprised) that M. was willing to take a stand for a minority view. It is not an easy thing to do. I am also thrilled that she has thought about what it is she is doing at college. It was a conscience decision made after looking at the different options available to her and not just the non-decision of going because that was what came next. She is there to learn, and having made that decision needs no coercion to do so.
I am also very saddened. Having the luxury to go to college is not always appreciated by those who are there. And it is a luxury. To be able to take four (or more) years of your life to just study and learn (sometimes with a little work on the side) is something that is not available to everyone. Yet so many young people take it for granted. Going to college is just what happens. It is assumed that a young person will go and it is often treated as a continuation of high school, but with better social opportunities and fewer adults. You can hear it in the words chosen: grades are the carrot held out to the student to get them to do the work assigned in class. The grade becomes an end in itself. The student does what is required to get the good grade and the idea that the purpose of it all is to learn something is lost.
And if you're curious, we don't grade our children. If grades are used to determine the degree of a student's mastery of a topic, then all of mine get A's all the time. It's not because they're all brilliant, but because with such a small group of students we can continue to work on a subject until it is mastered. It may take months of practicing borrowing, but eventually borrowing is mastered. Grades are also used to communicate to the other adults in the child's life how they are doing in their classes. I know how my children are doing. I work with each of them everyday and am well aware of their strengths and weaknesses. I know far more about what my children know and how they learn than a grade could ever tell me.
To brag about my oldest just a bit more, she has some photos on her blog of the most recent project she completed for her 3D art class. I think it's cool. Go take a look at it: Magpie's Shiny Objects