School Is an Economy and Its Currency Is the Grade

Any meaningful school reform needs to recognize the reality of our educational system

Bernie Bleske
Age of Awareness
Published in
10 min readMar 14, 2019


Credit: solidcolours/iStock/Getty Images Plus

In a perfect classroom, every student would willingly and joyfully do what is asked because learning is its own reward. In such a classroom, students would not compete with each other. The quality of their work wouldn’t reflect anything other than their own growth and individual needs. In a perfect classroom, every student would be a willing and engaged participant; the only classroom management necessary would be containing their exuberance. In a perfect classroom, students would not get paid for doing schoolwork.

But wait—who pays students to do schoolwork? Students don’t get paid to go to school. They go to school because they have to, and they do the work because we tell them to. Right?

Try as we might, we cannot divorce school from the features and behaviors that make up an economy: competition, trade, limited commodities, and the use of a currency.

For all the talk of how important education is to employment and the market, we give surprisingly little attention to the economy of school itself. In fact, much of school’s structure, curriculum, and content is deliberately designed to help us avoid acknowledging aspects of a market economy…