On Thursday, one of my students bombed his vocabulary and sentence structure test. He seemed less disappointed when he found out that he could retake it and receive some remedial instruction pre-retake. This morning he was waiting for me when I arrived at school. We reviewed comma splices (and how to avoid them), as well as the complex sentence structure. He retook the test and I told him I’d have the results for him later in the day.
When I gave him the results, he seemed pleased to learn that he recovered almost all of his points. He told me that his father had texted him earlier in the day to find out how he did on his retake. When this student told him he didn’t know the results yet, his father, (sensing his son’s apprehension regarding the results, I imagine) said, “Don’t worry about the grade. Focus on what you’re learning.”
That is a remarkable things for a parent to say in the day and age of the Almighty GPA, high-stakes test scores, and an overall desire to “keep up with the Joneses.” Our culture has a general obsession with how people look on paper regardless of what they actually know and can do. We can talk multiple measures all we want, but until more colleges start looking at the student as a total package and actually using multiple measures to determine admission, and even more importantly, who receives scholarship awards, we will continue to perpetuate the culture of distilling people into numbers. (I realize this isn’t the ONLY thing that needs to happen, but it would be a very influential place to start. I also believe that those who run colleges are starting to recognize this.) We can push from the bottom, but what we really need is some top-end action.
I can tell students that it’s important for them to challenge themselves by taking more difficult classes, by doing their best, by trying, even when trying is hard, and I might make a difference, but when a child grows up in a home where the learning process is valued above sheer numbers, that is the most powerful influence of all. Learning is a lifestyle. What a powerful message–what a powerful gift–that father gave to his son this afternoon.
Many students spend so much time fixating on their GPAs that they lose sight of what school should really be about–learning transferable skills that they can take with them into the world (not just college, but THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD). Any time I hear of parents taking some of the pressure off of their children by assuring them that the process they are going through is more valuable than a number on a paper or in a grade book, that makes my heart happy. It gives me hope for our system.