The Importance and the Unimportance of Grades

Like any athletic competition, academics is performed to score and win. The points, however, appear as grades-- A, B, C, D, F which then turn into numbers. Students want to score, and teachers and parents want them to win--to do well.

However, in athletics and in academics, not everyone wins. Not everyone earns A's and B's. Average grades may reflect lack of effort, discipline, or studiousness but not always. A grade measures effort, mastery, and ability, but often effort alone does not suffice to earn the best, highest grade. There is nothing dishonorable about an average grade when the student performs to the best of his ability but does not succeed in achieving the desired grade.

Some subjects are by their very nature more difficult than others for some students. As long as a student honestly tries, exerts a genuine effort, completes homework diligently, and learns as much as he can, he is competing in the game and deserves recognition and encouragement. Just because a team does not win a championship does mean they did not play well or compete with heart and soul.

The most valuable accomplishment for students, teachers, and parents is to instill in the young a love for learning, not an obsession with the highest grades. Athletics is for the pure joy and exhilaration of the sport; the winning or losing, ultimately, is secondary. The word "homework" of course signifies just that, work or labor. But learning is more than homework. It is a liberal activity or pursuit, something that is valuable or desirable for its own sake just as the nature of play is rewarding in and of itself for its pure fun.

The human mind created by God is playful, imaginative, inventive, and creative. Just as human beings play in their bodies when they run, kick, ski, or dance, they also need to learn to play with their minds by thinking, reading, writing, listening, and answering. Anyone who enjoys working, playing, or learning usually does well because of the joy that attends the activity. Grades are not paychecks for certain hours of work based on wages. They are reflections of the spirit, energy, love, and joy. Wonder and delight are the beginning of knowledge. Mere diligence or perfunctory performance is not the answer.

To overemphasize winning is to kill the spirit just as being compulsive about grades is self-defeating. Vince Lombardi, a famous and devout Catholic coach who attended daily Mass captured the secret of success both in athletics and academics: "Winning isn't everything; wanting to win is." Play for the sheer love of the game and do not be surprised at how you will win.

Written by Dr. Mitchell Kalpakgian, High School Humanities Teacher at Mount Royal Academy