Do grades crush creativity?

Grades are something that all students currently have to live with. Like it or not, in every class you take, you will be graded on a scale of A-F, and the score that you earn will affect your GPA, positively or negatively.

There are two sides to grades. Grades are good because they allow students to compare themselves to each other — some people see this as a bad thing, but it is healthy because it makes our society more competitive and encourages strong work ethic. However, according to a Slate article, “The Case Against Grades,” grades can stifle children’s creativity.

As a student, it’s amazing to think how much work you put into a class to only get a report card with the letter grade you were hoping for in return. It’s almost as if many students measure their self worth by the grades they earn. In fact, a 2002 study at the University of Michigan found that 80 percent of students surveyed based their self-worth on academic performance.

Honors students who make outstanding grades are considered highly intelligent. Teachers want these kind of students and they want to turn students unlike them into the “model honors student”. However, what our academic society has lost is the definition of intelligence.

Teachers and students alike do not realize that intelligence is not your ability to memorize endless facts, it’s not your ability to do a complex mathematical equations, and it’s not having the entire dictionary memorized. Intelligence is a person’s ability to connect experiences and thoughts to each other, to relate to people, and most of all to be creative by thinking a different way than others.

So, while one student might make better grades, the student failing algebra could be far more intelligent. It’s all perspective. Albert Einstein said, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” This quote is the entire reason that a person’s intelligence can not be properly measured by a letter grade.

Most teachers unknowingly limit creativity in their classes. They stick to writing papers instead of projects and having a test instead of having a thought-provoking conversation. They focus too much on what grading requirements they need to meet and not actual learning. Teachers do not focus on their students talents and apply the knowledge in a way that is easy for the students to learn.

People are “smart” in different things. For example, a musician who can play by ear and can compose their own music is very “smart”, in music. A football player can remember and apply plays that they learn, they are “smart” in athletics and strategy. An artist has to be artistically “smart” to paint or draw something creative and visually appealing. These are skills that are no less valuable than being academically “smart”.

“A number of studies show students’ willingness to take on challenging tasks diminishes when grades are involved, but without grades, students left on their own tend to seek out more challenging problems,” said the Slate article.

So, grades really can crush your creativity. When a student is “smart” in one of the different areas mentioned, they often aren’t recognized for it as much as an academically “smart” student. When students realize that their talents won’t help them in a certain class, they result to being a robot in class. They have no desire to learn or to try to apply their natural talents to the class. Part of this is the teacher’s fault for not trying to appeal to that student’s learning style. However, most of the fault is in the grading system and its tendency to discourage both learning and creative thought.


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