Pursuing perfection | The Triangle

Pursuing perfection

The demeaning nature of grades

Photograph courtesy of Ben Ahrens at The Triangle

Dear professors,

In anticipation of the Winter 2017-18 term beginning, I have been preparing myself for the barrage of degradation inherent to grading that I will undoubtedly experience.

Last term, a professor told me, “Grades are demeaning.”

“I know,” I replied, “but I need a good grade anyway.”

Much to my own discomfort, my dignity during these next few years is a sacrifice I am willing to make for my survival, and for sake of the hope that someday I will be on the other side of a particular power divide and able to execute change.

So, over these next few years I will continue to flatten and form myself to be the obedient student the system demands me to be and rewards me for with little A+’s printed on bland, white transcripts.

I will cultivate a critical, thoughtful side of myself as well, but that is a secretive side for which I will have to sacrifice sleep, sanity and relationships in order to not infringe upon my A-worthy activities; there is only so much time in a day which renders prioritization of both a crucial and dismal task. My thoughtful side is a side which, sadly, I am afraid I will not be able to show for many years. Academia does not afford for it, and the industry it fuels has no place for such disruptive thinking.

College-related applications are a testament to academia’s unwarranted affinity for grades and the blind obedience they produce. Drexel program applications repeatedly ask students for their GPAs. The Common Application transfer application for the 2018-19 school year provides ample space to discuss academic pursuits while disproportionately limiting discussion of the ways students have grown outside of what is reflected in grades.

It appears the professional world is no different.

Upon interviewing for a high-level position in a large company with three college degrees, and years of field and life experience, my dad was asked to produce his high school transcript. For students entering the professional world at an entry level, the weight of grades can only be assumed to be heftier.

But, it is not the practice of using grades as an entry point which is so offensive; it is the context of scarcity, rights and privilege in which such practices are situated, and the resource deficits that result that are the greatest assaults.

Grades grant access to vital resources which should be rights. As gateways/impediments to jobs through which healthcare, pensions and savings are allocated, grades possess immense and unwarranted power, preserving a corrupted, unfair and inhumane meritocracy and the particular values which have informed it.

Grades mediate between humans and health, retirement and security; as proxies, they are a poor representation of merit and character. As currency which grants access to vital resources, they are a distraction from the fact that it is unethical to distribute necessary goods on the basis of merit. Accordingly, there is a need for disruptive grading to be embedded within a larger movement for human rights rather than situated in an isolated manner.

Last term, I was assured by several professors that I should not worry about grades as they are demeaning and inaccurate representations of myself as both a student and a person. But until we, as a society, can agree that as people we are entitled to basic goods and eudaemonia regardless of what kind of people we are, grades will remain a concern. On my way to school each morning, I pass people left to weather the frigid elements, excluded unnecessarily from shelter and security, and am reminded of my own disposability. I cannot help but wonder where the mercilessness ends; I am starting to think it does not.

As students, grades are not where our power lies. We can cultivate ourselves into incredible human beings outside of the classroom, but ultimately we are at the mercy of professors with regards to grades as the entry into interviews and jobs and the basic goods such opportunities afford.

So professors, please fight the system, but do not do so by simply refusing to give anyone an A or neglecting to grade papers until final grades are due unless you are willing to advocate for human rights simultaneously. As emerging professionals, we will not be given the opportunity to tell the narrative behind the C you curved our class to in protest of the system, or to reassure the corporation that prefers a similar candidate bearing all A’s that we, too, deserve the healthcare benefits the job provides. To professors who say grades are demeaning and negate our concerns about them … we know.

We know grades flatten us and we do not need a reminder. We need a grade (a good one), or we need you to challenge the system in ways that go beyond our transcripts; we need you to begin a dialogue on human rights. Simply reminding us that we are demeaning ourselves or grading disruptively without acknowledging and addressing the larger context does nothing other than make us feel that you do not recognize the system to which we are confined, and jeopardizes our survival in what appears to be ruthless world.

Last year, after one particularly frigid day, a homeless man I talked to each day on my way into school never came back. I do not know for sure what happened to him, but I have my suspicions. Accordingly, I am increasingly aware of my own vulnerability and the system’s affinity for, or predication on, disposability. There is no safety net; so please, let’s talk human rights, or be kind with your grading. We know we are more than our grades; we just need to get in the door for an interview to show the world that.