Our Homes Are Classrooms, Our Backyards Are Classrooms, Our Lives Are Classrooms

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Every teacher, student, and parent has their own philosophy of education or perspective on how students should be taught so they can receive the best education possible. A common definition of education is, “an enlightening process of acquiring and understanding general knowledge as well as developing reasoning and judgement skills.” This definition does hold true today in that learning and understanding are main goals for many parents, students and teachers, however, inconsistent grading processes are slowly degrading this goal. The question I have is whether students are actually gaining knowledge and developing skills to the best of their ability or are they simply studying to take a test and regurgitate facts. What many people don’t realize is that students don’t need to be in a classroom setting and receive grades to gain knowledge and develop skills. The reality is, students are learning in all aspects of their life, but don’t recognize it after being brainwashed with grades and the idea that all learning relates to school.

I am a strong advocate for the elimination of grades, however, I do understand that grades are the only method that can be effectively used to measure a student’s understanding and success. There is really no way we can get rid of them completely, however, a focus on grades and requiring students be able to answer questions correctly is completely contradicting their desire to learn and be curious in learning. Curiosity is about not knowing the answers and having a strong desire to learn them, but we prevent students from being curious if they are expected to have all the answers. Some students no longer care what they are learning as long as they are performing well, and they will take the easiest possible route to success. Unless we figure out a way to teach students that the “easiest possible route” is just as bad as a failing letter grade, students will continue to “learn” with this mindset. Students won’t be curious and study their interests with the stress of grades in education today.

School curriculums emphasize historical figures and innovative scientists from the past who have made a huge impact on the world today. All these people were taught by someone who encouraged them to work hard, solve problems and be innovative, not just perform a certain way on a test. In history many great thinkers did not attend school and never had to undergo the pressure of an exam or to graduate high school and get into college, but still managed to be educated even if it was informal. Malcolm X, for example, is a political figure that didn’t have to meet particular standards and get a certain average each year. He once sarcastically describes to a college group that he got his bachelor degree in Harlem to demonstrate all that he learned throughout his life in this city. This different hustling lifestyle taught him many of the communication skills and insights that he needed at the time and helped him define a path to succeed.

Malcolm’s actions and determination are recognized during a racist time period and the skills he attained throughout his experience are admired. At the same time, however, there are many great thinkers who did go to college, get their bachelors or masters, and got a well paid job. School is probably not the determining factor for success, but whether they could handle the pressure and stress. The historical figures that were successful in life didn’t go to school, but they still dealt with challenges and expectations in society and they were able to handle it appropriately which is what made them successful. They may not have been given a formal education in a classroom with grades, tests and other peers, but they were still learning. Today, it is stressed so much that all learning occurs in a school setting but this is not the case and students need to realize that informal education is just as effective. It is the combination and interaction of both informal and formal learning that lead people to be successful and knowledgeable, however, students fail to recognize this crucial balance.

Many students are memorizing information until they get a grade they are satisfied with and then forget all the material from the test. Is this really learning? Based on history, it is clear that students can learn just as well without the constant pressure from grades. Alfie Kohn describes in her Case Against Grades how students can learn reasoning skills and use and understand information without having to undergo a certain assessment or test. Students spend so much time worrying and comparing themselves to others rather than actually taking something away from the class and completing the task. Grades are distracting students and parents from what teachers say the goal of education is, and promoting a fear of failure instead. It is difficult, however, to recognize if a student truly understands a concept unless they prove it by taking a test, which is why the dismissal of grades completely would probably not a be an option. Schools can, however, help students recognize that they are always learning in all aspects of their life.

There are many possible solutions to help improve students thinking and curiosity without grades. Students could write reflections and display evidence to defend a grade they deserve, or they can be able to revise an assignment completely after understanding their mistakes rather than dismiss the bad grade. If schools place less a focus on meeting standards it would eliminate a lot of the pressure on students and positively affect the process of how they think. Having something like a negotiable final grade will allow students to reflect on their own learning more and understand that the grades they receive on tests and quizzes don’t determine their future entirely.

Schools are in no way a complete failure, but they are not perfect either and grades clearly plays a big role in this downfall. Public education is currently crippling students and not providing them with the autonomy to bend the borders and challenge themselves. We have grown up so used to formal education, including the 5 paragraph essay, exit slips and pop quizzes, that students fail to recognize all the learning they are doing outside the classroom that is fundamental to their success. If this grade-orientated environment continues to be the main motivation for students to put forth their best effort, then little progress will made. Students will simply learn not for themselves but for others and for how others view them. The meaning of education is not to teach students how to pass a test and memorize information but rather teach students to enjoy learning and gain knowledge. Schools shouldn’t be primarily numerical based but rather based off skills and behaviors instead of just acquiring information. Schools should find a way to emphasize the importance of intertwining both informal and formal education.