Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Lousy "B"

I don't usually think of myself as a competitive person. I don't even like competition, and don't usually sign up for it, much preferring low key and fun to seriousness. If I can avoid situations where I or my children are being graded, evaluated or judged by outside sources, then by all means, I do.

I know evaluations are abundant in life, but in some cases I end up caring less about the material that's being evaluated than I care about the grade I get on the test- and that, in my opinion, defeats the point of true "education." I like to think I'm at a place in life where I am beyond caring what others say because I know if I am doing my best or not.

But, sometimes I find myself in a situation where assessment is not an option. For example, I've been taking some community college classes, and while I philosophically don't put a lot of value in fill in the blank tests and grades, I sure do light up when I get an "A."

The thing is, everyone who is truly interested in a subject is going to take something slightly different from it, and what I find most fascinating and important about a subject may or may not be what my instructor chose to ask about.

When a person is cramming boring notes from the study guide into their brain instead of contemplating and exploring the meaning behind the material, they can be pretty sure they are not learning it for life, and will most likely forget it after the test because they never really cared.

It seems to me that multiple choice tests can only gauge whether or not the taker has memorized certain information. They don't really reflect true learning, lasting impact or overall comprehension. In fact, sometimes a person can do all right on a multiple choice test by simply eliminating the obviously wrong answers and taking a guess. Essay questions demand more independent thought, but people can certainly rambled their way through them as well.

In any case, what I'm trying to instill in my kids is a love of learning for the sake of learning, not jumping through a hoop to please someone else. It's hard though because grades and tests are a reality that we all come up against at some time or another. I may tell myself the grade isn't the point, the knowledge is, but I sure find myself frustrated if I get anything less than an "A" myself.

My family members have all teased me about my not so subtle habit of pointing out my good grades, and comparing them to the class average. So, last week when I took a test in my communication class and got a lousy "B," I found myself very frustrated and annoyed. I'll admit that most of the questions that I missed were based on technical lingo that I will never use in life, and that while studying, I focused on the understanding of communication dynamics more than the scholarly names.

So while I do feel like I learned a lot, I missed a few factoids the professor chose to test us on. I still did pretty well, but for some reason, a strong "B" didn't feel good enough.

Seeing the snooty look upon her mothers' face, Girl Child asked "Isn't a "B" still really good?" and that's when I realized that I was not really walking the talk, and was leaning towards both bad sport and bad example. It's not a "lousy B," it's a perfectly good "B."

The point is that I am learning a lot of interesting things in the class that I will use in life, so I shouldn't worry that I missed a couple of answers on things I would never use.

I did my best, and that is good enough (and in my defense, the teacher was really tricky with some of the questions.) So, instead of talking about my grades with my family, I've started talking about the interesting theories and discussions- shifting the focus back to sharing what I am learning about rather than how I am being evaluated.

And, even though I am philosophically not competitive, I am still happy to know my "B" is better than many other people in the class got- and I think I can still pull off an "A" for my semester grade- but in an effort to make it seem like my grade doesn't bother me one way or another, I just won't mention that part to my kids.


  1. I'm extremely competitive and a perfectionist. I, too, have to stop and remind myself sometimes that my effort was fine and I did the best I could and that the point isn't the "letter grade" or the "evaluation," but rather how I can apply everything to my life.

  2. That would be difficult, but a great lesson to learn as a family!


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