Emphasis on grades diminishes liberal arts values, erodes learning

an illustration of a human figure being frustrated surrounded by floating grades
By Tanvi Shukla

No question asked at a liberal arts college is less interesting than, “What grade did you get?” The whole objective of a small liberal arts institution is to avoid the inherent bureaucracy of a larger school, so as to best engage in real, vulnerable learning. To cede an inch of emphasis over to grades in our daily consciousness is to wave a white flag facing the educational institutions who wish to make us tired and uninterested. Lewis & Clark depicting a similar situation, often finds its students obsessing over the grade rubrics rather than the learning essense of assignments. 

The grade point average (GPA) and the letter grade are not articles which convey actual learning or understanding. They merely exist in order to quantify success in a course for the convenience of registrars, allowing them to assign a number (or a letter) to students rather than take the time to assess these skills orally. Although the letter grade and the GPA are both convenient and necessary for processing large numbers of students and conveying academic success quickly and conveniently, they do not exist for the benefit of learning. It instead works in the benefit of admission committees who can choose whether or not to accept you based on a single value: an academic credit score, if you will. 

It is the stated objective of a liberal arts college to always prioritize learning, and at institutions where grades are easily and instantly accessible, the presence of these grades can distract from that goal. Students obsess over their grades, and treat their schoolwork as a game meant to be played and won as rather than ideas meant to be analyzed and discussed in depth.

Beyond that, it distracts the professor, who now has to deal with an army of students asking why they did not receive a perfect score on their latest assignment. One of the objectives of a liberal arts education is to provide space for nuance and subjectivity. The inherent drawback is that one may not be instantly provided with unsubjective quantified progress. This leads to students running behind  a letter grade instead of focusing on education throughout the semester. 

Grades in a collegiate setting are only relevant as insurance policy for the jobs and programs which follow after. Their inappropriately quantitative nature goes against the values of our college and reduces the miracle of education. It is our job as students to assist as much as we can in the task of personal bookkeeping, so that professors can dedicate themselves to our teaching. 

Keep our schools emphasis on the content of our classes as they are happening, not on their appearance after we graduate. We all played that game in high school and managed to get into this college. Now it is our time to actually learn.

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