Learning versus Academic Success

In the post on standards-based grading, I asked a couple of questions at the end of the post.  Basically, I was asking about the difference between learning and academic success.

If you are new to education, you may have heard the term, “doing school” or “gaming the system.” If you are not new to education, I’m pretty sure you have heard the terms and are probably thinking, “Oh, no, not another post on this!”  It is an important topic, though, so I thought I would post something about it here.

One day I was a participant in a training session about managing transcripts.  Related to that is, of course, the dreaded GPA.  As I was listening (yes, I really was), I started thinking back to the late 80s, when I was in high school.  Then, I couldn’t have cared less about my GPA, but watched as many classmates bit their fingernails to the nub over it and their class rank.  Those who were most successful improving their GPA were those who learned how to “do school.”  After hearing my trainer’s story, I had to wonder: Do those who outperform everyone else actually learn more?

In my trainer’s story, class rank and GPA took priority over becoming a well-educated human being.  The Valedictorian in her graduating class loaded his schedule with as many study halls as he could take in his senior year so his GPA would stay very high and he would ‘earn’ that spot. Meanwhile, his main competition (my colleague) decided to take a music theory course that counted for the usual number of credits, and other courses in which she would actually learn something important to her. He did win the valedictory spot and she did end up as Salutatorian. If it had been a fair competition, she may have won. In fact, since I know her, I know she would have won!

Mr. Valedictorian learned how to “game the system.” Ms. Salutatorian learned something else, something she would remember throughout her career as a cellist.

What are we teaching our kids when we ask them to win, no matter how they win? We are teaching them that what they do in school does not really matter. We are saying to them, “Spending days in study hall to maintain that GPA is all right; after all, what you learn in high school is ‘bogus’ anyway.  It is what you’ll learn in college that is more important.”

For this reason, I am glad that my high school did not have study halls, electives that were basically study-hall in disguise, or any other such nonsense. Each one of us had to take courses that would prepare us for college. Each of us had to spend hours each night on homework. Many of us had a long commute to school because we wanted to attend that school and were willing to make the sacrifice. What we learned in those courses made (for me at least) college a breeze compared to high school. I still consider freshman year of high school to be the hardest year of school of my academic career. It was because of the program I struggled through that I can honestly say I believe I am a well-educated and independent learner. Teachers showed me how to use the tools, then told me to go out into the world and use them.

What are we telling kids like Mr. Valedictorian? That he can skirt by, do the bare minimum, and still be considered successful. Perhaps that is the real problem with school today. Perhaps what we are teaching kids is to aim for mediocrity. How does that translate to college and career readiness?

 

Related Article: http://shawncornally.com/wordpress/?p=3954

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