Viewpoint: Education more than grades

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    By ELYSSA MADSEN

    I did it. I’m graduating from BYU with all A’s. (OK, I got a B in intro to advertising, but a dab of white-out on my transcripts took care of that one.)

    I’d like to say my GPA is the result of being a smart, dedicated student, but in reality my GPA is more about efficiency and being good with numbers. I’ve played the game for four years now, figuring out exactly what percentage I would have to get on every test and paper to keep my grade at 93 percent. No lower, no higher.

    It has taken dogged persistence, growing a calculator as another appendage, and a fair amount of wheedling during office hours that I am sure had labeled me as the communications department’s most annoying student. I have memorized every phylum of the plant kingdom two hours before a Biology 130 test, only to forget them at the exact instant I handed my Scantron to the Testing Center warden. I have done my editing homework during the American Heritage lab, my American Heritage homework during the Physical Science lab, and skipped my Physical Science homework altogether because the points could be made up in extra credit. And it worked: I’ve made the Dean’s List, kept my scholarship and chosen a graduate school.

    Now that I’m graduating, however, I’m having a crisis. I wonder, have I traded my educational soul for a smoke-and-mirrors GPA? Sure, I got an A in world literature, but I did so without reading Milton, Quixote or Byron, counting on Cliff’s Notes and proficient writing skills to get me through. I can’t change a flat, speak another language or locate Latvia on a map, but I’m graduating in the top five percent of my class.

    I know that the 3.85 scholarship cutoff isn’t what education is about. My education is about craving knowledge, looking under rocks, reading Annie Dillard because you want to, teaching children about truth and figuring out how your heater works.

    And this semester, I’m trying to do better. I’m taking a graduate creative writing class that is over my head because I couldn’t justify passing up the chance to work with Leslie Norris. I doubt I’ll get an A, But I get to spend three hours a week listening to Professor Norris’s Welsh accent. I read the paper, arrange flowers, go to class even when I don’t need to, ask questions that won’t impress the teacher and write in my journal.

    I can afford to.

    I don’t need to renew my scholarship, graduate school is taken care of. Basically, I can just sit back, relax and actually learn now.

    I realize there are many people out there who don’t have that luxury — that the people on scholarship can’t stop worrying about GPA because, for many, it’s the only way they are even at the university. I fear GPA fixation will intensify as admission standards get higher and higher, and we admit only the breed of high school students who have mastered the numbers game already. To them, this column will be the same kind of idealistic annoyance as the first-day-of-school-forget-about-grades-learn-for-the-love-of-learning sermon professors deliver. To them, it’s a nice idea, but far outside the realm of practicality. I understand where they are coming from. I’ve been there. I don’t know what to do about it. And it makes me sad.

    But we have to do something, anything. We have to find a way to reconcile the need for incentive with the pressure and misdirection it causes. We have to bring education to a higher plane, far above petty squabbles about whether a student deserves an A or an A minus. If not, we might as well hand students a list of cereal names the first day, give them five minutes to memorize it, have them regurgitate it, and give fat shiny diplomas to the one who remember the most.

    Cheerios … Apple Jacks … Kix … .

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