Students vs. the System
Education has always been a great factor in determining human survival and success. Whether it is learning to live in a harsh environment or learning to manage a company, education is and always will be incredibly significant. Education is so important in modern society that a system of grades has been developed to evaluate students of all ages and levels. In Paul Goodman’s essay “A Proposal to Abolish Grading” he argues that the grading system that is commonly used in our society is ineffective and should be done away with. This idea is wrong since there are many positive outcomes that result from the current grading system.
Goodman opens up his piece by making his claim that grades have take precedence over everything in classrooms. He also mentions that some authorities in the educational field agree with and support this statement. “I think that a majority of professors agree that grading hinders teaching and creates a bad spirit, going as far as cheating and plagiarizing” (Goodman 206). Here, he talks about how grading has lost its power, and has been reduced to a meaningless letter on paper that tempts students to cheat in order to receive a passing grade on their assignments. He also goes on to declare that, “grading is inevitable; for how else will the graduate schools, the foundations, and corporations know whom to accept” (Goodman 206). By expressing these ideas in such close proximity, it can be inferred that Goodman believes grades are unreliable sources of data due to cheating. Although cheating is a prevalent problem in all places of work, it should not be a reason to disregard looking at grades when considering an applicant for hire. Letter grades from all schools simply represent the work ethic of that particular student. The threat that a person who received high grades could be a cheater is always present, but the characteristics of a cheater can easily be recognized by other workers and by the employer. So the belief that grades are unreliable due to cheating is erroneous, due to the fact that not all students are cheaters. The grading system simply provides a standard that all students should fall under, which implies that all applicants be educated. This is just a small sample of what Goodman includes in this essay.
Two other topics that Goodman covers in good detail are the purpose of a test and the self-awareness of a student. Tests are an excellent tool used by administrators to sample the abilities of a certain individual, or group of individuals. “But if the aim is to discover weakness, what is the point of down-grading and punishing it, and thereby inviting the student to conceal his weakness, by faking and bulling, if not cheating?” (Goodman 208). Why is testing for weakness a bad thing? If a test is returned to a student and it is heavy with errors, it is the student’s responsibility to correct the mistakes for the next test. Once a student has realized this, in Goodman’s eyes, they have become self-aware. “If the student dares to accept himself as he is, a teacher’s grade is a crude instrument compared with a student’s self-awareness” (Goodman 208). Throughout the essay, there is a feeling that the author relays that all students are looking to only get by in school, but in real life, that is certainly not the case. As a matter of fact, very many students in high schools are very determined to achieve their goals, so they work hard and learn to attain them, rather than taking an easy route to a good grade. Getting high letter grades is a powerful motivation for students who know what they want. For those with competitive spirits, high grades can be used to measure one’s own ranking to the rest of the class. For other students, it could be a reward saying “excellent work” as opposed “you passed.” As stated earlier, there are many students who are actually hard workers. However, there may not really be a flaw in the system of grades that schools have implemented. It could, in fact, be the fault of a few who are least expected to be suspects.
Underlying all this entire argument is the core of the problem. Teachers are the final element that Goodman talks about in his dissertation with details. He mentions them throughout the piece as guides for students, to help them out whenever possible, always in their best interest. However, in reality, because of this fact, they are potentially one of the most dangerous influences a student can have at school. “Many students are lazy, so teachers try to goad or threaten them by grading. In the long run this must do more harm than good” (Goodman 208). This statement says it all. Threatening a student with grades only intensifies their dislike for school. There is nothing wrong with the system itself, but there is something very wrong with many of its users. Like a gun, it is merely a tool used by law enforcement to defend and help people, but when used in the wrong hands, it becomes a weapon for evil. This grading system, much like a gun, is a tool just as capable of being used for evil in the sense that teachers abuse their power to grade by forcing lazy students to work. By abusing the system and threatening students with grades is what prompts them to cheat, steal, and copy, not the grading system itself.
The current grading system implemented in schools today is a great thing, where students are able to monitor their own progress, and be rewarded for their hard work with high grades. Goodman makes some good points in his proposal by mentioning the somewhat unreliability of grades, and by acknowledging the strength of a self-aware student, but they are outweighed by his weak, one-sided arguments accusing the modern grading system of being useless and bad. Education is a powerful tool in the present day and age, and although what people are being taught has changed significantly, one can never learn too much to prepare for future success.
Goodman, Paul. “A Proposal to Abolish Grading.” Elements of Argument. Ed. Ellen Rottenburg. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2003. 206-209