As we prepare to enter the holidays, burdened by complaints from students upset about getting an A instead of an A+ and whining about grades instead of wanting to talk about what they might have learned, I thought this article by Ralph Hexter, president of Hampshire College, in Inside Higher Education provides a bigger perspective.
Here are some excerpts:
“Much of what lies behind our current economic train-wreck stems from short-sightedness — focus on short-term goals and gains — and near-sightedness — seeking to maximize one vector without regard for context in which that vector has value to begin with.”
Hexter discusses how higher education has, perhaps, missed the boat in educating students rather than simply perpetuating a race for high grades and credentials.
“The system we use to grade students doesn’t just mirror this scale of values. It blesses and promotes it. Even as the admissions officers of our most prestigious colleges and universities claim to seek “well-rounded students,” they are choosing among students who have already learned to play the high-score-and-grades game in high school. Most colleges and universities do not question what students and their parents want of them: Enough seats in the “right” majors so they can get their passport to a professional school. How? By wracking up the same string of A’s during their undergraduate years as they did before. Little time for experimentation, for taking risks — where the only “loss” might be a less than perfect transcript. If they don’t get into the right graduate or professional program they might not get the credential that is the ticket to a job where they can reap larger profits more quickly than those who went before them, in the same fields. Because, the assumption is, those fields will always be profitable.”
Hexter then describes the doing away with grades at his institution.
“This philosophy undergirds Hampshire’s whole system of education. Instead of choosing among pre-set majors — predetermined fields with established questions — each student crafts a unique educational plan of work that must be approved by two professors. Each student submits a portfolio to show that she or he has achieved the agreed-upon goals, and faculty evaluate the totality of each student’s accomplishments. Our students come to know that the first step in learning is defining the question and setting it in context. Even more: To take responsibility for deciding which questions to ask, quite often of a status quo that seems unassailable, and then by means of study, research, interrogation, and creative reflection, to reframe the question in light of changing circumstances.”
I need to search for something like this. I am tired of students pre-occupied with grades and credentials who miss the point that they are here to learn something. Radical experimentation is in order.
The article is “The Economic Collapse and Educational Values” and is at http://www.insidehighered.com/views/2008/12/18/hexter.