Monday, November 24, 2014

Let's look at the real reason why a 4.0 has come to equal a smart person but a 2.0 has come to equal a not-so-smart person.



I haven't felt moved to write anything on this blog in some time but a few days ago, I saw this in my newsfeed and it got me thinking.

I totally agree with the first part of this statement.  As an adult who has completely re-evaluated all I was told growing up, I know that test grades are not the sum total of intelligence.  While being able to retain information and produce it when necessary (as written exams require) are certainly marks of a type of intelligence, there are different ways to measure the countless other types of intelligence.  This is the biggest failing of many of our current schools:  they fail to acknowledge that there are various types of intelligences and learning styles.  As such, there should be various teaching approaches that capitalize on the various intelligences, honor the different learning styles and there should be multiple ways to assess learning.

Interestingly enough, in graduate school we spent lots of time talking about the different intelligences and different learnings styles.  We investigated ways to teach to these differences.  And yet, in actual practice, only a few kinds of intelligences are valued in schools (mainly linguistic intelligence, i.e. being able to read and write combined with mathematical intelligence, i.e., being able do math quickly and accurately).  If your intelligence as a student is not dominantly linguistic or mathematical, you will struggle in a typical school.  And unfortunately, especially in recent years with all the high-stakes testing, education or what passes for education has been reduced to a measure of how much information a student has retained and then can later regurgitate.  Students are not asked, generally to employ higher level thinking (even though another big deal in graduate school was Bloom's Taxonomy).

And that's my main problem with this meme.  It seeks to point fingers at students who maintain 4.0 GPAs, basically dismissing their hard work and effort and saying that the *only* reason they have a 4.0 GPA is obedience.   It's a false argument.  I know many kids who followed the rules and didn't make trouble (my husband included) but were not A+ students.  Indeed, your average 4.0 student won't be a rabble rouser but most 4.0 students will have worked hard for it.   They studied.  They went the extra mile.  They put in the extra effort.  Personally, I spent my prom night studying for the AP Biology exam and went on to get  a 5 on it.  I think if we take a moment to think about, we can easily acknowledge that obedience alone doesn't yield a 4.0 GPA.  It takes determination, grit and discipline.  But it is crucial to note that these characteristics only lead to a 4.0 GPA if the student's style of learning is the same as the style of teaching and the modality of testing.    If other styles of learning and other intelligences were given equal regard in a school setting, if there were various forms of assessment, I think we'd have many more 4.0 students and many more students with a positive feeling about school.

For that reason, this meme is kind of petty.  It comes off as a 2.0 student mad that he doesn't have a 4.0.  And maybe he should be mad but not at the 4.0 student.  He should be mad at the school system who refuses to acknowledge his intelligence, refuses to teach to his strengths and refuses to test his learning in ways that are perhaps more appropriate for who he is.   But the 4.0 student is an easy target.  It's just as bad to assume things about a 4.0 student as it is to assume things about a 2.0 student.  A 2.0 student may absolutely be a brilliant, hardworking, determined and disciplined individual.  A 2.0 student is not automatically unintelligent or lazy.  Just as a 4.0 student is not automatically docile, obedient and unquestioning.  It's my belief that you can never build someone or something up by tearing someone or something else down. As such, I feel this meme is really misguided. Let's look at the real reasons why a 4.0 has come to equal a smart person but a 2.0 has come to equal a not-so-smart person.

So no, grades don't determine intelligence.  We have come to rely on them too heavily as a marker of all sorts of things.  We use them to assume too much about students without critically examining the environment in which these students are supposedly learning everyday and the system that claims to have the goal of educating them.


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