Category Archives: Education

Lost and Found

A happy family lived in a nice town near a big city. The mom, dad, and the two boys were the sort of people you would want next door.   On Saturday mornings, they walked on the beach  with the dog.   On Sundays, they went to church together, came home to a big lunch, and watched football.
The older son was a model student. His grades and SAT scores  got him into the prestigious university in the city. He came home on weekends for time with family and church.
The younger son was a likable kid who did not try to match the achievements of his brother. When he reached his senior year in high school, he didn’t fill out college applications. The day after high school graduation, he asked for the money his parents had saved for college. “I need a year to see the world and think about what I want to do with my life.” The boy kept asking all summer. His parents were not happy with the idea, but they finally relented, despite strong objections from older brother.  They moved the money to a checking account in the boy’s name.   He promptly booked a flight to Paris for the following weekend.
On the trip to the airport, the younger son talked excitedly about his upcoming adventure. His parents were quiet, and his older brother was sullen. At curbside, Mom tried to hide her tears while embracing the boy and reminding him to call home as soon as he landed.
He did not call home that day or week or month. His parents made some ineffective inquiries with friends in Europe, and they were desperate with worry. Finally a post card came from their boy. “Hi Mom and Dad. Lost my phone. Sorry I didn’t write sooner, but having a great time, meeting amazing people, and seeing the world. More later.” The postcard was from Bangkok.
Mom and Dad were relieved somewhat, but their worries grew again as they heard nothing from their boy for the following months.
Their older son continued to thrive in his studies and landed an internship at a large company. He visited Mom and Dad regularly, but he often harped on about the insanity of letting his little brother choose travel over college, and they felt the loss of his respect and love.
A year went by. The older son graduated with honors and took a good position with  company where he had been an intern. There was only one more post card from the younger son, this time from L.A. “Hi Mom and Dad. Back in the good old USA. Going to get a job in Hollywood. More later.”
Older brother was disgusted. “Obviously, he wasted all your money. He’s really going to make our family proud, flipping burgers in L.A.  He should be getting his degree! I can’t believe you let him do this!”
Another year went by. The older son bought a house and got married to a sophisticated young lady he met at a company party. The wedding was perfect in every way, except for the absence of the younger brother. None of the guests had heard anything from him, and Mom and Dad were sick with worry and fear.
On a Saturday morning in July, Dad took the dog for the walk on the beach. Mom rarely joined them any more.  Only the dog was there to see the tears Dad shed while walking and praying for his lost boy.
They neared the north end of the beach. There were some weathered cypress on the hillside just above the dunes, and Dad could see a tent among the trees. “More homeless people every year,” he mumbled to himself.
A gaunt looking man came out of the tent and stumbled down the hill toward them.  The dog bounded up, knocked him over, and licked his grimy face and hands mercilessly.   Dad rushed to join the puppy pile, weeping and laughing with joy.  He grabbed his phone while still hugging the man, speed dialed Mom, and burst out with, “Guess what I found at the beach!    Yes!  Do that!  I don’t care who you invite or what it costs!   Our boy is home!”
Mom immediately flurried a huge breakfast, contacted friends and relatives with the news, and called the catering company to order  food for a party that night.
They didn’t hear from the older brother until later that morning.”Yes, I got your message.  What do you think you’re doing giving him a party!   I don’t seem to remember getting a party when I landed this job.  No, we’re not coming.  I have work to do.  You can’t reward him for being an idiot!”
Dad put the phone down slowly and went over to Mom.  She had stopped cleaning to listen. He held her hands. “We’re having the party.   Our son is found.   Now we must find his brother.”


Grades are Like Money (and money can be a good thing)

In a previous blog about grades, I warned that the love of good grades could be like the love of money, “the root of all kinds of evil “(I Timothy 6:10)   I promoted the idea that our goal is to help students to love learning and not just focus on grades.   I suggested that an overemphasis on grades can tempt students to take harmful shortcuts.  Students, teachers, and parents can slip into an unhealthy focus on grades instead of learning.

And now for the other side of the story.   Money can be the proper reward for quality labor, and it can be stewarded for good purposes.  So can grades.

So when are grades good?   When are they highly valuable?

1.  When students use them to set goals to guide their next steps.
2.  When classroom instruction and assignments are good.
3.  When an “A” indicates genuine excellence.

1.   Grades can be very helpful for students who use them to set goals and guide their next steps.   I have often seen students who look at grades just to compare themselves with others, or as a judgment levied by the teacher.   Classmates are seen as competitors, and teachers are seen as judges.   On the other hand, I have seen good students who are really eager to learn and to improve.   They focus on the problems they have missed or the note from the teacher providing improvement suggestions.   They compare their score with the goal they set for themselves.  They are like a competitive runner who checks each of his training times in preparation for his next race.   For this student, grades are good information, but they are not an end in themselves.   They are like money in the hands of a person who is saving up for something of high value.   It is interesting to note that our best students are also the ones most likely to log into PowerSchool.   These students care and they keep track of upcoming assignments and of their progress.

2.   The value of the grade should directly correspond with the quality of the assignments and classroom instruction.   I see our school becoming stronger as we train students toward greater creativity, intellectual curiosity, thinking skills, and ability to learn well with others.  We want to enhance each class period and assignment by adding these emphases to other core literacies.   We want to replace tests of short-term memory of snippets of information with assignments that develop good thinking.    These changes place a lot of responsibility on the teachers to look for ways to improve each lesson and assignment.

But it’s worth the extra effort, because high quality classroom instruction and assignments  are essential for learning and for high value grades.   As we push into more assignments that require increasingly better thinking, our students will stretch.  They won’t get high grades simply from completing assignments, cramming information, or decoding test questions.  We believe that students will enjoy learning as it is increasingly stimulating and meaningful.  It is wonderful to learn new things and to discover new intellectual abilities.   The thrill of intellectual discovery can rival the joy we experience in learning to ride a bike or paint a picture or make music.

3.  An “A” should indicate excellence.     We must avoid inflationary pressures in our grading.   Students want high grades, and parents sometimes demand them, but an “A” is for students who do excellent work on assignments and who invest themselves in the learning that the assignment intends.  Curiosity and creativity coupled with precision, accuracy, thoroughness, and quality of presentation are some key characteristics of excellent work.    Excellent students are invested in their learning.  Great students are not apathetic, just trying to figure out how to do the minimum required.   They care, they get involved in their learning, and they look for ways to excel.   An “A” is a great encouragement to such a student.    It’s like a really good tip given to a waiter who doesn’t just deliver the food, but who connects with his customers and looks for ways to serve and make the meal a wonderful experience.

I was proud of some 9th grade students in a class that I supervised recently.   Their assignment was to write a story using twenty vocabulary words.   Some of the students not only completed the assignment, but they thoughtfully incorporated the words into clever stories.   A couple of students even wrote sequels to earlier stories they had written.  This was evidence of personal investment.   They cared and made the story meaningful, exceeding the basic requirement to use the vocabulary words.  Getting an “A” on a high quality assignment like this means a lot more than getting one for completing a word search puzzle or matching words with definitions.

To sum up, grades are like money, and they can be used for good.   It’s the love of money or grades that gets us in trouble.   Grades can be rewarding and encouraging and can help guide a student in setting goals and identifying the next things to learn.

Grades are like Money

Grades are the currency of the academic world.   Like money, they can be useful.   Like money, they can help us become evil if we love them.   The scriptures remind us that “The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.”   Like money, grades should not become an end in themselves, nor should they be seen as the key resource needed for progress.   A student who piles up good grades in her transcript without seeking knowledge is like a miser who collects and adds up his gold coins in order to admire them.    She is likely to become yet another boring and aimless adult who is the proud owner of a great G.P.A.

A beautiful transcript filled with A’s is no guarantee of future success in academics or in life. On the other hand, a beautiful transcript filled with A’s can be one great indicator that a student has learned well, has been growing in diligence, and has learned to understand how to work well with other people.   

Learning is the end of education, and so grades are used in most schools to support learning.   To the extent that they support learning, they are useful.   They become a problem to the extent that they undermine learning.   Grades potentially motivate students to just cram for tests, to cheat, to take shortcuts, to satisfy others’ expectations, and to beat the system.    They also can also be a tool that a wise teacher uses to track student learning, that a student uses to help evaluate her own progress, and that helps both teachers and students identify the next priorities for learning.  

I believe that it harms students to get a good grade in a course without learning the skills and knowledge that are the purpose for the course.    A teacher is responsible to assess students on actual learning, not just on completion of assignments, test taking skills, and short-term memory of facts.   A student is responsible to become a learner and needs curiousity, determination, gratitude and a growing joy in gaining skills and knowledge.   This is the path of learning, and it leads a student toward success in college, a flourishing life, and toward the God, the Source of life, truth, and every good thing.