Success and the Myth of Grades

This article also appears on TheHomestead.Guru, titled as "Getting Good Grades is Meaningless"

Hold on–I’m about to disappoint all you high-achievers…but good grades are no measure of intelligence.

More importantly, good grades also don’t actually have any bearing on one’s success.

School does influence one’s real-world success–but not in the ways that one would hope.

I grew up being driven to succeed in school by both my parents. It was extremely important to them that I was intelligent and successful.

Even before I was old enough for school, my parents pushed me to learn to read, learn fractions, and study history.

Once I started school, I learned that it was pretty darn simple to get the coveted “all As” that everyone held in such high esteem.

However, graded work creates an environment where the grade itself becomes more important than the process of learning or effort that’s necessary to achieve it.

So rather than take risks and try something interesting, research shows that today’s A-students are more likely to play it safe to achieve a higher grade.

This effectively curtails any expansive, challenging work undertaken by students on their own, beyond what is assigned to them.

Kids learn to aim low in order to ensure they always win.

As far as excelling at “grade level”–the very idea of “grade level” is bogus.

Who decided that multiplication was a 3rd grade skill, for example?

100 years ago what constituted 5th grade level work would stump a good deal of college freshmen today!

If a kid today is getting “good grades”, what it really means is that they are good at jumping through the hoops of public schooling.

They might know how to write an A+ book report, but might not be aware of how to think critically about the content of that book as it applies to situations outside of graded academia.

For the “smart kids” (however we’re arbitrarily choosing to define that), getting straight A’s might translate into never taking risks or challenges, because that might threaten their GPA.

Even in college–how many students choose the easy, “safe” topic for their term papers instead of choosing what lights their passion–but might be controversial, or harder to prove their point with existing research?

In my opinion, this has the danger (or perhaps, the socially engineered result) of turning out people who are more likely to uphold the status quo than challenge it; more likely to submit to authority or seek “expert” advice without question; more likely to passively wait for instruction than figure something out on their own.

In our society, we speak admirably of the self-starter, the visionary, the go-getter–but these sorts are becoming more rare every day.

Those who truly seek knowledge will not be concerned with letter-grades or a culturally defined version of “success”, because they’ll be out there taking risks, and most likely failing multiple times, to better their understanding and improve their results.

School does not teach people to succeed in these terms–only in terms of A+ and “good job!”

As any entrepreneur or visionary will tell you, you have to be willing to fail–a LOT–in order to truly push the boundaries of what you’re capable of.

True success is usually NOT measured by grades, but by the willingness to try, fail, and try again.