By God’s grace, my last few weeks have been marked by classroom success. A few encouraging words from professors, admiring comments from students, and – what else? – those happy “10/10″ and “A” notes at the tops of returned papers.
But, I’m growing suspicious of the way these grades make me feel.
Grades have always been strongly associated with virtue in my mind. To do good and to do well are virtually indistinct to me. And, the little buzz I get from “95%” written on a midterm makes feel like I’ve followed some Eleventh Commandment. There are Biblical grounds for learning and education, but I’m not sure there’s much in the Bible (or the wider world) to support the independent virtue of earning those artificial little “A”s and “B”s.
There are worse things I could prioritize. I could choose any of the Christian Girl’s Black Bag of Bad Behavior Examples: money, power, sex, drugs; it’s a surprise when I reach in that bag and pull out “good grades.” After all, one of the reasons I want good grades is because I value and enjoy learning. But, when the choice is between learning and doing what the teacher wants, I find myself feeling selfish and irresponsible if I choose learning.
An example: I’ve been trying to get through The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Economics so that I can understand the basics behind the economic development course I’m taking this semester. But, time is limited. And, even though I don’t understand many concepts in Jeffrey Sachs and Amartya Sen’s works (and would understand them better if I took the time to read the Idiot’s Guide), I’ve been neglecting the basics for the sake of getting the homework done. I know enough to get through a class discussion, but not enough to remember their ideas in the future. Not enough to learn.
And, beyond the distinction between learning and grades, I feel Priority Drift stretching out to other areas of my life. What do I do if the choice is between taking a Sabbath and being prepared to turn in my homework? Or between helping a broken-hearted friend and meeting a paper deadline? I lean toward the grades.
So, I have a problem. It’s a strange addiction, and one more often addressed by the dealers than the addicts; whole books of advice help teachers create assignments and assessments that encourage real learning over grade-mongering. For my part, I’m going cold turkey. I’m going to stop looking at my grades. Being blind to my GPA may prevent it from taking over my vision.