Schools are places where some students feel like failures.
This is not an indictment of the good people – faculty and staff – in our schools who devote their lives to the mission of helping children. Instead, it is an acknowledgement of an effect that grades can have on students.
By their nature, grades stratify: best to not-so-best.
Students who get the not-so-best grades know that their grades reflect work that falls short – it lacks some value that makes it not-so-best.
Unfortunately, and it’s something every educator knows to be true, some students see their work that is graded not-so-best as a statement about them: they are not-so-best, they are failures.
If our schools’s grading systems are complicit in departing this message, then educators have a moral responsibility to ameliorate it.
What can be done?
First, design schools that tap into and honor the strengths of all students. The core curricula stays, but it should be expanded to include subjects and activities that expose and develop the gifts and strengths in all children. Students should experience success in at least one (hopefully, more than one) school-designed subject or activity.
Second, teach a growth mindset. Perfection is impossible, students will stumble. Consequently, teach students how to constructively understand and deal with stumbling. Carol Dweck’s work on mindset is an excellent starting point in this area.
Schools are places where some students feel like failures. A moral imperative exits to address this reality.