Disregarding grades encourages personal, fulfilling education

Maeve Plunkett , asst. opinions editor

A few weeks ago, my history class lamented the fact that we don’t know enough about the political parties. We were all eager to create the list on the board of areas we felt our education was lacking. But the second our teacher started to say things like “twenty minute presentation” and “seven page article,” the wide eyes narrowed and our hands started to nervously play with our pens.

We all say we want to learn about the election, but once the word “essay” leaves the teacher’s mouth, we are ready to be ignorant again. We brag to colleges about the challenging courses we take, but groan day in and day out about the homework load. Why is that?

Are we just so fed up with learning that we can only be interested on the surface level? Honestly, I think it all comes down to the grades.

Grades instill fear in learners. They are a threat for the slackers and a treat constantly being snagged away from the try-hards. Everyone wants that A, but no one wants to do the work to get it.

I’ve struggled for a long time with grades. As the typical over-achieving academy student, my first B came as a cold hard slap in the face. The first F I received on a test threw me into a downward spiral that lasted over a year.

For a long time, my grades dictated how I felt. If I got an A, it was a good day and I walked home with a smile on my face. If I did poorly, for whatever reason (forgetting a minor homework assignment or getting lots of little red ink letters on a scantron), I’d walk around lost in a fit of anger and desperation, looking for someone to blame.

My feelings of desperation never emerged because I felt like I didn’t know what I was doing. I may have felt unsure, but that wouldn’t hurt. It was that percentage that just kept falling in Powerschool, the number that I knew would destroy my future prospects.

Well, that’s crap.

It’s taken me a long time to figure this out, but I am a much better learner when I’m not concerned about grades. I’m currently taking Advanced Topics in Mathematics and it is kicking my butt, yet I’m not giving up.

Last year, my breathing would have sped up with every red “X” I marked on a math assignment. Don’t even get me started on what would have happened if I’d seen a D in the gradebook, in the test column, no less.

But let me tell you, this year, I’m marking those questions wrong with pride. I’m raising my hand and letting my teacher know just how confused I am about these crazy things called matrices and how the heck I am supposed to multiply them.

I used to be scared of having questions, never wanting people to know that I was anything less than perfect. A lot of that came from being expected to fit into the Harvard mold by my parents, teachers and peers. I didn’t want to be the one who held up the class with questions or the one who blew off studying for a test because she was sick.

But you know what? I finally started to listen to those friends who tell you that your health is more important than your grades. I finally found that a hard class is much more tolerable when you aren’t sticking your nose up about how easy it must be for you.

This is the first time I’ve fully understood that someone can be smart and still struggle. I didn’t learn that lesson from people saying it though, I learned it from people actually going out there and doing it.

I have been humbled by some wonderful human beings. That chemistry teacher who failed me, that girl in my physics class who never stopped asking questions no matter how she did on a quiz, that friend who gets B’s and wears them with pride.

They have shown me the way of a real learner. A real learner doesn’t back down because of a bad grade or forgotten test, nor do they care about what the teacher thinks of the essay they write. A real learner is in it for the knowledge and the process.

For me, I couldn’t see it until I let go of my Powerschool app. Sure, I still check my grades, but I don’t turn red when I see low percentages. I don’t immediately tell my friends how stupid my teacher is while internally blaming myself for every failure in the universe.

This year, I’m no longer staring at my workload with dread. I’m also not feeling down about that D I got on the first test. There’s no time to sit around moping and complaining about the next assignment.

I pull out my colorful pens and start organizing my notes so I do better on that next test because now I know what I don’t know. It only took me until senior year to truly admire the socratic learner, the student who accepts that they can’t know everything, but never stops asking questions in pursuit of such impossible knowledge.

I’m not going to do better because I want to raise my grade; I’m going to do better for myself, because why else would a humanities-driven person like myself take Advanced Topics in Mathematics?