What is School For?

Posted: September 30, 2018 in Uncategorized

Perhaps an odd question coming from a university lecturer.  I am not suggesting it isn’t for anything, but I want to know what is it actually for? What is the purpose of going to school?  To learn.  To learn the basics? To learn about the world? To learn critical thinking?

A recent article tells the story of a Florida teacher who was fired for refusing to give partial credit for work that wasn’t handed in.  According to the story, she was told to give students 50% as a minimum grade.  My first reaction – Why the hell would you get credit for not doing anything???

Then an idea popped into my head.  Why do we even get credit? What if school was just the offering, sharing, disseminating of information and what the student did with that information was up to them and their parents.  No grades. Teachers purely as facilitators, never gate keepers.

There are so many posts on Facebook making jokes about how people never use the stuff they learned in school, and were never taught practical things like how to do their taxes etc. I suspect that it is true that most people don’t use ALL of the things they were taught in school.  I’m certain that no one remembers everything they were taught in school.

So why do we have grades?  Even the grades kids get in elementary of satisfactory or unsatisfactory.  My guess is these grades help to decide who goes onto the next grade.  Grades may be a way of identifying kids who are having difficulties. Possibly a way of deciding who has the requisite knowledge for university. Let me make it clear at this point that I’m referring specifically to grades 1 – 12, not university or other post secondary programs where you need to be assessed on your abilities to demonstrate qualifications.

There could still be assessments to identify kids who are struggling and this information could be given to the parents who could decide what to do (e.g. hold them back a grade).  There could be voluntary exams for entrance to university that only those who want to go to university would take.  There could even be tests and assignments for students to assess how they are doing for their own personal knowledge in terms of what they got correct, what they did wrong, what they need to improve on.

But no grades.  No passing or failing. No need for partial credit for non-existent work because the only reason that would happen is to ensure students pass.

It was suggested to me that this has likely been tried in alternative schools.  Also that some students are motivated by grades so while it may benefit some it may hurt others. Although it is possible that being motivated by grades is part of the same system and that could ultimately change.

I don’t like the idea of getting credit for not doing something – to me that seems like it would send an unhelpful message. Perhaps we need to think about why we give credit in the first place.


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