The Kang Doctrine — We Can’t Blame Students for Fixating on their Grades

I am someone who cares a great deal about my grades. If you take a look at my teacher’s comments from term to term, you’d find an endless slew of “suggestions” to “focus less on the grade” and more on the “inherent joy of learning.” And to some extent, these teachers are right: I do ask too many questions about whether certain content is going to be on the next test or what the specific grading criteria is for a major assessment. But this school-wide, and more broadly, academia-wide sentiment that we shouldn’t fixate solely on achieving a good grade subjects students to confusing and paradoxical standards. Rather, instead of telling students to stop caring about the value of their grades until our metrics for academic evaluation are reconsidered.

Grades have one purpose. They measure how well a student performs in a particular class. The class itself gets to determine what it means for a student to perform “well.” So, if doing “well” in a class means being creative and taking risks, those elements should be fostered into the grading criteria. But there’s a schism between those ideals and the reality of many of our classes.

For instance, we’ll take math classes that strive to promote critical and analytical thinking skills. But rather than taking the time to fully understand how that solution is derived, students are only rewarded on tests for regurgitating textbook solutions and simply memorizing the steps to arrive at a particular solution.

Because success at Groton and beyond is measured by the achievement of good grades, there’s no way to just stop overachieving students from striving to succeed. Instead, we have to change the grading system to reflect intangible skills, like the fostering of creativity, critical thinking skills, adventurism, and intellectual curiosity. 

The good news is that there are some classes that bridge this divide. For instance, in Mr. Gnozzio’s Data Structures, you’ll be rewarded (in the form of extra credit) for attempting above-and-beyond coding extension projects that stretch your limits. Similarly, in HD’s English classes, you’ll be rewarded for attempting to create artistic representations of literary works. In classes like these, “doing well” is tantamount to enjoying learning and taking creative approaches. And in these cases, there should be no reason to criticize a student for trying to achieve a good grade, as getting a good grade ultimately correlates strongly with effort and creativity in the class.

But because Groton is not an institution that encourages students to care solely about their grades, all courses that can, must assess their students with metrics that measure creativity and dedication to learning, like the ones Mr. Gnozzio and HD already use. If students can have more say over their own learning and pursue what they are most interested in, then caring about the grade doesn’t have to be associated with mindlessness and a lack of desire to learn. 

Groton students won’t ever stop caring about their grades – but if we reconsider metrics of evaluation, at least they can work toward achieving material success while simultaneously obtaining the well-rounded education that Groton strives to instill.