Every act of conscious learning requires the willingness to suffer an injury to one’s self-esteem. That is why young children before they are aware of their own self-importance, learn so easily.”– Thomas Szasz
I knew that when I became a mother, I wanted to be a mindful one. A mom who'll allow her son to spread his wings, explore to find his true potential and self-worth. I wanted him to have the confidence to appreciate himself for who he truly is.
Then school happened.
As I've heard a million times before, learning should be a journey, a process - instead of a destination. I do not believe that learning should be judged by numbers or letters. Because of this, I never placed importance on what grades my son was getting as long as he enjoyed his classes, enjoyed the process and enjoyed going to school and spending time with his friends, as children should. He was responsible enough to do his homework, revision and prepare for exams. I was aware of his grades, and I took stock of the areas that he wasn't doing so well and on the ones he was. I would help him where he lacked understanding, but I never put pressure on him to get all A's.
Where grades were concerned, my son was average and sometimes failed a subject or two, but he tried so damned hard and did the best he could every single time. He wanted so hard to get the good grades - why? So he wouldn't be faced with the humiliation of being perceived as being lesser than his better-performing classmates. His efforts for trying wasn't even considered or acknowledged by his teachers. Shouldn't this be a point of measurement as well since we're measuring?
When he was in grade 5, he came home and told me he's not smart. He decided that, at the age of 9, just because he was not doing so well in maths. His self-esteem was severed, and it broke my heart.
I had to undo what his grades were telling him. I had to undo how his teachers, who were measuring his abilities based on his grades, made him feel. I had to constantly remind him that there was so much more to him than his grades.
Parent-Teacher meetings were always interesting due to the glaring disparity in what was important to the teachers what was important to me in the development of my son. Whilst they emphasized his weakness in a particular subject, I wanted to know how he was in school in terms of communicating his ideas, engagement in class and the social aspect of it. Up to a certain point, I started getting sick of the constant emphasis on negativity and not enough on the positives.
I explained to his teachers that his weaknesses in his subjects are obvious and recorded, and I knew how to read them. What was not highlighted in any way or form was his strengths and how we can build on them and support him in them. What was not measured was his social, communication, engagement skills. Those were important to me, especially during his early years, not his grades!
Photo by Gaelle Marcel on Unsplash
This is what I think from how grades have affected my son - grades do so much harm to a child's self-esteem. They take the bad grades and see them as a reflection of their abilities and sometimes even worse, as a reflection of their ability to learn at all. These 'not so good' grades shape their self-belief in their ability in a particular skill. They question their beliefs about their intelligence and eventually self-shape their identities as a 'not so smart' person.
The grading system reminds them at every end of the semester or quarter that they have failed or they are just mediocre. That they most likely won't be successful in life because compared to the best, they are just meh. It leaves them feeling beaten, defeated. These grades lessen their motivation because they think they'll never reach those standards set for them, so why even bother at all? This defeats the purpose of school entirely, as children will lose interest in learning itself.
I send my son to school for many reasons other than learning subjects that are being taught. Learning how to communicate, be a team player, socialise, problem-solving, situational awareness, critical thinking, and so many more. But yet, that doesn't seem so important, or at least those developments in him take a back seat compared to the grades he gets in maths or science or whatever else. His development as an individual is not measured, though he spends 8 hours in school - are these somehow not important?
I've been very conscious of never comparing my son to other children. I have never said to him, 'Why can't you be like so and so' or 'Look at so and so, he such a whatever'. It was a conscious decision I made to never do this. But then he started school, and from a very young age, he was compared to his classmates through the grades each of them had. These children are exposed to who's smart and who's not so smart. The system places the so-called 'geniuses' on top of everyone else, and they are compared to the best of the best.
Rather than teaching them to compare with each other, they should be shown how to compare themselves with their own selves through how they've progressed, improved, how much effort they've put in.
Just because a child is average doesn't mean they're terrible at learning. Their abilities are different. We ALL have our strengths and weaknesses. We ALL have varied abilities.
It pains me to realise that the grades children receive shape their belief in some form or another at a very young age, and this affects their future performance and success in learning.
Why? Why? Why would we want to do this to anybody, let alone our children? And to think that these beliefs are handed over to them at such a young age is just mind-boggling!
My son is in his last year of school and working extremely hard for his finals. Every now and then, when we get into a conversation about his future, he never fails to mention that he might not be book-smart, but he definitely is in other areas.
This is what it has come to after 11 years of school.
But let me tell you something about my Adam. He might struggle with Maths and Mandarin, but his work ethic, his determination and willpower, his never-ending inquiring mind, his endless thoughts on how to make wrongs rights, his clear perspective, his communication skills, his courage to speak up, his need to question the norm when it doesn't sit right with him, the level of maturity he exudes when he speaks, his passion for football, his level of intuition, his empathy, the love and loyalty he has for his friends, his resilience, the calmness he exudes in adverse situations, his ability to adapt are only some of the many attributes that he should be very proud of.
He is more than his grades.
Grades do not define a child. Why are children graded anyway, and for whom exactly? Do exams really prepare our children for the future?
We all have the responsibility to try to do better than what has been done in the past. Learning experiences in school should be crafted towards the holistic development of children as individuals.