By Arya Mehta
I know this is quite a cliché/cheesy opinion column article in college magazines or even high school publications but I think in Week 11, when we’re all struggling to get to the finish line, this serves as an important reminder that our grades don’t define our worth or predict our future. I think in a place like UCR where people have almost over-achieving tendencies, grades matter a lot. While that is understandable when it comes to things like gaining scholarships for the future or even as a form of validation, this can be unhealthy if it’s given too much focus. Grades are a quantitative way for the job market and higher education institutions to read you better. It is a form of disciplinary power (sorry to bring Foucault into the narrative but we love him) to govern you. Therefore, grades end up being worse for your education since it disincentivizes taking risks for our learning, it incentivizes grades as an end goal and are insufficient markers of performance.
What is disciplinary power? Foucault describes disciplinary power as a mechanism of power which regulates an individual’s behavior in society. Discipline is a way in which power can be exercised and the school (or education institute) is a breeding ground for that as a system of surveillance. By surveilling your performance within the system, it gives you the tools to govern yourself through things like deadlines and homework. If you do not govern yourself and act in a disciplined manner, you will fail. There is a clear link between your visibility to the institution through your ability to discipline yourself and achieving good grades. This also makes it easier for you to be read in the job market since grades are quantifications of your capabilities and how well you govern yourself as a student. These are vast reductions of your identity and you as an individual, but these reductions make you governable and legible to the state and institutions.
On a simpler, less far-fetched note, grades disincentivizes taking risks, and by extension, creativity due to the fear of failure. Since it is much easier to achieve an A by staying on the safe side and confining to the boundaries institutions put on our learning, people tend to avoid creative risks that could mean exploration into a topic that has not been touched before due to the risk of getting a B instead of the A.
Due to the dis-incentivization of creativity and taking risks, grades become a goal in itself. Have you ever memorized random details for an exam that you have no passion for the night before your exam and hated every moment of it just to achieve that A in the exam? Instead of becoming a space of learning, it becomes a toxic mechanism used to advance yourself in an arena where you might not have any personal perception or ideas to contribute.
Lastly, grades are not feedback. They create hierarchy for institutions to gauge your worth in the job market. In qualitative learning, there are no limits because there are always ways to improve and learn more. However, quantitatively, you can either achieve an A (meaning you know everything and you’re winning at life) or you end up with an F (meaning you need to reevaluate your existence). This doesn’t take into account your mental health, physical health, or general state of existence. Moreover, the creation of hierarchy determines your worth in the classroom. Even if you have good ideas to contribute, your ‘C’ status could diminish your value either to other students in class or even to the professor. It is incredibly one-dimensional that puts you into a good-bad student dichotomy that does not tell you anything about your learning capabilities.
These grades are less an indicator of your learning capabilities and more a way for institutions and organizations to read you. After all, numbers are much simpler than viewing the complexities that each one of us possess as people. By basing your worth on grades, the only thing you achieve is extreme discipline that does not determine your success, just your ability to conform within the system (which is not necessarily a bad thing, just something to consider). In summary, grades do not signify your learning, disincentivize creativity and taking risks, become an end goal within themselves, and lastly, do not provide qualitative, multi-dimensional feedback that should complement learning.
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