White: Grade system is beneficial but inspires negative competition

At this time of the year, it seems most pertinent to write about exams, finals and the grading process. Many students, I’m sure, have ranted about how unfair it is that teachers overload us with tests and papers and griped about the incredible stress and psychological damage induced. I agree that this is most certainly an incredibly stressful time of year and there are problems with the current system, but that it is not necessarily all bad.

Managing this amount of work now will prepare us for the future. If we can accomplish six papers and four tests in three weeks, when reports, memos and directives pile up on our desks, it will seem like little in comparison. Ten years from now you will not remember the exact makeup of a molecule or Adam Smith’s date of birth. And you won’t need to; all that information exists on the Internet for your perusal at any time. But you will know how to multitask, handle large amounts of stress and impress your superiors – all skills for the future.

This is a good rationale for the way the system works now but one cannot pretend there are not problems with it. The grading systems in universities across the country breed competition. Just think about it: While my receipt of an A in a class does not automatically affect your grade, it does indirectly. No teacher can give out As to all their students; the administration would not allow it. Instead, tiers of students are created: the As and Bs, the Cs and the Ds, and the F’s. Though it is an unwritten rule, if I make it into the top tier there is less likelihood that you will as well. I understand that in our capitalist society the real world is competitive but I can’t help but wish we valued working together with our fellow students as much as competing for the grades.

In our current system, grades are everything. They determine your graduate school, your internship, your job application and by extension, a portion of your future. As a result, we’ve created a system whereby students will go to near any length for a high grade. Cheating, plagiarism and drug use are all the effects of this, where students go to any length to try to get ahead. It is time we stop pretending that these methods are incredibly rare; they’re not. Universities around the country are seeing an increased illegal use of prescription drugs like Adderall and it happens on this campus as well.

But the problem is, not everyone is on a level playing field. Some people are born better able to play the game of school than others. We refer to this in colloquial terms as “intelligence” but it isn’t really that. Some people can perform well on papers and tests and class discussion. Some people struggle with it and were not born with that ability. That does not necessarily make them any less “intelligent,” but in this system it brands them for their educational careers as a non-top tier student. We do not work in a system that values talents other than this recognized “intelligence.”

What would it be like if we valued other talents as well?