We pretend to value learning. We use the term lots. We add it to our mission statements. But we really don't care about it. At least not enough to actually focus on it.
What we care about in schools are grades. This is obvious to anyone who's spent 15 minutes in a school.
Grades reflect intelligence. Grades reflect compliance. Grades reflect socio-economic status. Grades reflect parent involvement. Grades reflect family stability.
Grades do not reflect learning.
Let's explore a few examples.
We all knew the really smart kid in school who didn't have to study but got a report card full of 'A's anyway. Did those 'A's reflect how much that kid had learned, or how much they already knew? Think about how much better that student would be served if we eliminated the grades and asked him/her to show evidence of new learning.
How about the kids we all know who learn early on in school that they will never be the 'A' students. Many of them figure out early on that there is no point in exerting any effort in school. What if we asked them to show evidence that they learned something new instead of punishing them for not complying, being smart enough, having enough family support, etc.? Think of a system that encourages them to maximize their potential instead of pushing them toward dropping out when they hit high school. Think of how much better they, and society would be.
If we really did value learning, that's what we would report. Instead of a meaningless letter or number on a report card, we'd have a list created by students and their teachers of new things those students have learned along with links or other evidence to proof of that learning.
Instead of "Math - 88", we may see something like this:
Jimmy learned basic statistics and data analysis, including using the mean and median of data as a part of the decision making process. He also learned how to write a business letter and how laws are made within his township. This learning is evidenced by the attached letter and diagram which he sent to the Smith Township Supervisors in October in which he used traffic data he collected on Main Street to support the need for an additional traffic light.Which do you think is more meaningful to the student? To his/her parents? To potential future employers?
Often I'll hear in response to this push for a more learning-centered approach to education, "Colleges don't care about all that stuff. They only care about GPA and SAT scores." This is not true. Many students who come from homeschool situations and schools (like the Circle School in Harrisburg, PA) that don't give grades get into our top universities every year without having a GPA. They get accepted because they provide those universities with detailed descriptions of what they've learned and what they've done. They provide those universities with the same thing that others provide potential employers all the time - a good resume.
The time has come for our schools to stop pretending they value learning, and to start actually valuing learning. It's time to stop defining students by meaningless numbers and letters. If our students learn to love the extrinsic rewards of good grades and praise, they'll have trouble succeeding in life after school when grades are non-existent and praise is rare.
But if our students learn to love learning instead of those extrinsic rewards, their futures are bright with opportunity. If we help them become the "life-long learners" so many mission statements describe, they will have the skills they need to meet the challenges that are inevitable in life.