Get It Right

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I hated grades in school.

Grades were a game to be won. And I won that game by graduating Valedictorian. But as cool as it is to be able to whip out that title to try to impress people--people who are, sadly, all too often unimpressed by my title--I don't think it has much meaning. At least, it says very little about my knowledge, intelligence, insight, brilliance, work-ethic, achievements, future or even my academic success. All the Valedictorian label meant was that I had been sufficiently clever so as to satisfy my teacher's requirements.

Okay, sure, it also meant that I paid attention, completed my assignments, and "did my time" in the acceptable way.

But grades--the basis of my accolade--are simply the wrong way to measure learning. I much prefer what I did with my parents when I was using Sonlight: We did it until we got it right. Theorists call this approach "mastery" or some other impressive sounding term. But the concept is incredibly easy: Keep doing it until you've got it.

Okay, sure, this means that sometimes you've got to do the same thing over and over again... but that's life.

That's an aspect of life that I am dealing with today.

What's more, often what was right yesterday is wrong today and must be redone. Beyond that, the changes I make today will need to be undone tomorrow when what was wrong becomes wrong again. Reports must be rewritten. Web updates must be kept current. The latest manuscript must be tweaked--again--to make it acceptable. And on and on it goes.

And this isn't an exercise in futility. Getting it right, albeit frustrating, is ultimately the best practice because that is how we are successful.

Grades, even good ones, do not determine success. What matters is that you get it right.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Surrogate Father

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  1. mareserinitatis

    Great thoughts, Luke. I'm always amused that those who do well in the system are the ones who are the most willing to point out the shortcomings - perhaps because, through time, they've realized that it's more an obstacle rather than an indicator of learning.

    I would posit that "getting it right" isn't that different from grades. Grades measure how often you "get it right". Getting it "right" means there is only one right answer...and fails to take into account things like creativity and perseverance.

    Schools definitely don't teach or nurture those skills, and yet I've found that they are often more important in life than "getting it right". Of course, perhaps it is the nature of my job: teaching students is a very creative process which requires a lot of perseverance and refinement...and ingenuity in approach. Doing research requires looking at things in a new a different way, trying to think about things which others may not have taken into account. Maybe not everyone needs those skills, but for me, getting it right is just one small skills among many required for success.

  2. Luke

    Cherish, interesting. You are right that a good grade is a measure of how often we get things right... and that's why I did well in school. But the measure is how often you get it right the first or possibly second time. There are very few opportunities within a grade system to allow for those who take a while to "get it." If you can't nail it on the test, your grade goes down.

    So it's a game.

    But I love what you bring up about how "getting it right" isn't all there is. In fact, there is much much more to learning. And I completely agree! A great education not only allows for a mastery of subjects at the pace you need, but it also allows you the time and encouragement you need to develop those other, not-so-easily-tested skills as well.

    Great point!


  3. Butter

    ITA. My mom did not go to college because she couldn't stand grades. She would get so sick with worry over getting an A that it just wasn't worth it to her to continue past 12th grade.

  4. Luke

    That makes sense to me, Butter.