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Sadie Phillips

Stefan Britt
ENG 111
12 December 2015
Keep The Alphabet Out of Education
When thinking of a good student what is the first thing that comes to mind? Most often
the first thing anyone would think of would be or might be good grades, someone who is on the
honor roll, and rarely (if ever) has seen a C grade in their life. But why do those A and B grades
typically mean that the individual is a good student? It is because our society has been
conditioned to believe that the only way to prove that an individual is smart and competent is by
the grades that they receive in school. This idea, that is engraved into our minds from the
beginning of our educational career, directly influences what we actually gain from our learning
experience. Instead of directly focusing on the information that is being given to us as students,
we solely focus on what we can take in and recite in order to pass the tests. The grading system
and the ideas and mindsets based around it need to be changed in order to regain the value of
learning in both students and teachers.
The education system no longer values what knowledge is actually retained by those
trying to learn. It instead values the so called proof that you were competent in the course and
the material taught. This mindset has become a habit of mind as Jack Mezirow, a sociologist
and professor of adult education, puts it in his article Transformative Learning: Theory to
Practice and since this type of view is extremely hard to change the mindset has remained
(269). The consequences of this belief that grades prove competency causes not only the
students way of learning to suffer but also their own confidence in their ability to comprehend

the subject matter. Paulo Freire, a Brazilian educator and philosopher, and John Tagg, a critical
theory professor, both take similar opinions on how learning to achieve high marks affects a
students overall learning experience. Freire, along with his ideas of the banking concept, states
in his article The Banking Concept of Education that no actual learning takes place with this
kind of teaching. Students just have information deposited into them to be regurgitated later in
order to pass a test. He also goes on to say that because of this, students never critically consider
reality (242). This is why students are no longer able to take what they have learned and have
been taught and use it in their own lives, because the material never actually stuck in the first
place. Taggs ideas reflect this by stating in his article Why Learn? that students are far more
focused on quantity instead of quality because of the mindset that is made up by the institutions.
This then leads into the type of goals that students set for themselves, either performance or
learning goals, more often than not the students set performance goals for themselves which are
about winning the judgements of your competence and avoiding negative ones (Tagg 5). This
system has now not only hindered the amount of learning being done but also made students
believe that failure is not an answer when in fact failure is often necessary in order to learn. Tagg
then goes on to say that the reason for students setting these kind of goals is because they have
little faith in their capacity for cognitive change and development. These two views show that
the idea of good grades and proving competency not only hinder a student from actually
learning but cause students to no longer have confidence in their own ability to comprehend and
analyze what they are being taught.
This system of validating competency, has within itself created a new form of student,
one that never actually learns and retains information but instead learns how to cheat the
system to receive a passing grade. They will do whatever it takes in order to sail through their

schooling. Meaning that they will do the least amount of work in order to maintain a grade that
shows that they understand the subject matter just enough to pass. As stated in the article In
Praise of the F Word by night school English teacher, Mary Sherry, most kids dont put
school first on their list unless they perceive something is at stake(339). Meaning that unless
they are at a serious risk for failure they will continue their lackluster learning habits. This just
goes on to prove that, like with the example of Jill in Taggs article, failure (or the chance of it)
may be better for motivating students and changing their mindsets rather than just wanting to
pass the class.
Teachers and instructors are also facing the consequences of this grade driven system.
Instead of being evaluated on how well the teacher is reaching out and actually teaching the
students, they are alternately being evaluated on the grades of which their students receive. This
is what causes most classroom atmospheres to mirror Freires banking concept. This is where
Freire and Mezirows ideas both come into play, because the teacher is put under so much stress
to make sure that their students test as competent they lose the student-teacher relationship that
opens the door for autonomous thinking and an open discourse community in the classroom.
There are some that disagree with the negative impact that this system creates, saying that it is
the only way to keep track of a students progress and that it gives students something to strive
for. Patricia Scriffiny says in her article Seven Reasons for Standards Based Grading that
grades have meaning and without them students cannot be accurately assessed. I have found this,
through personal experience and hearing from peers, to be wrong and that the system is
extremely flawed. On countless occasions I have heard fellow students saying things like, Cs
get degrees or something along the lines of I passed that class but I think Im going to retake it
because I never actually learned anything. This goes to prove that this system creates an

educational experience where no actual educating is taking place. Students are being cheated out
of an actual learning experience where the knowledge they are gaining can be applied later in life
and retained outside of the classroom.
If this system is not changed the whole purpose of education will stand to have little
value. The point of going to a higher learning institution will no longer be to actually gain
knowledge but will instead be about going through the motions to receive your validation of
competency and moving on into the world. Education at that point would only be a waste of time
and money. Learning needs to become what it once was and focus solely on enriching the lives
of the learners and creating an environment that helps those who wish to learn. Students minds
must be set again on a course to becoming knowledgeable and be able to prove this with
something better than a letter that defines them.

Works Cited
Friere, Paulo. The Banking Concept of Education. Composing Knowledge: Readings for
College Writers. Ed. Rolf Norgaard. Boston: Bedford, 2007. 239-251. Print.
Mezirow, Jack. "Transformative Learning: Theory to Practice." Exploring
Relationships: Globalization and Learning in the 21st Century. Boston:
Pearson, 2013. 268-74. Print.
Scriffiny, Patricia L. "Seven Reasons for Standards-Based Grading." ASCD. Educational
Leadership, Oct. 2008. Web. 10 Dec. 2015.
Sherry, Mary. "In Praise of the "F" Word." Exploring Relationships:
Globalization and Learning in the 21st Century. Boston: Pearson, 2013.
338-40. Print.
Tagg, John. "Why Learn? What We May Really Be Teaching Students."
Enriching The Student Experience (2004): n. pag. Print.