Grades shouldn’t define the learning experience


On the first day of classes, teachers pass out syllabi outlining the expectations, grading and attendance policies of their class. These usually also include a list of the semester’s assignments and due dates. As soon as I get my due dates I input them on my iPad, leaving my entire semester outlined in one app.

To some this predictability might seem like a good thing. After all, having one’s entire scheduled planned out makes procrastinating that much harder. However, I don’t share this opinion. Instead, knowing exactly what the semester has in store for me makes me sad because it leaves no room for spontaneity. If I have an assignment to read a chapter and then write a summary each week, and it’s not very interesting the first time around, I groan inwardly, knowing that I’ll have to do 14 more.

Hopkins, in my opinion, is more structured than it should be. In the Writing Seminars major I have to take two philosophy classes and two history classes. The Krieger School of Arts and Sciences requires two sciences and two social sciences. Essays are always 12-point Times New Roman font, double-spaced with one-inch borders. Exams are always going to be this many multiple choice and that many short response, with this percentage of the questions about the first three chapters in the book and that percentage about the next three. We can only miss a certain number of days of class and we have to speak a certain number of times in order to get the grade we want. Late work will be deducted one-third of a grade per day it’s late.

The list goes on an on, placing innumerable restrictions on what we can and cannot do. But where exactly is the excitement in this structure?

Instead of being able to read for fun, I now have to set out a specific time for me to read because of all the other work I have to do. I hate setting a limit on time spent reading since reading a book is supposed to be enjoyable. When I plan my time off it becomes a burden as I count the minutes until I have to do my next homework assignment.

This lack of time due to an overwhelming amount of prerequisites makes me wonder when did college stop being so much about exploration and more about busywork and high grades?

I don’t have an answer to this question. Maybe it’s because colleges are so hard to get into that once we’re there we feel as though we have to do our best. Or maybe it’s because there are less jobs for those of us with bachelor’s degrees because so many people now have their master’s and PhD’s. All I know is that this system leaves little room to do anything besides check off requirements in order to graduate on time.

It seems ridiculous to me there’s so much busywork that we don’t have time to enjoy ourselves. How many classes have you taken for fun? How many classes have you taken that weren’t a requirement for your major, minor or school? How many times have you decided that grades don’t matter in a class and just accepted what you got?

Your answers to these questions are probably resoundingly negative. Our goal as students is to get to the next level of education, which means that professors tailor their classes so that students know exactly what is expected of them. If professors don’t, students freak out. We pester them with questions about grading, when assignments are due, page lengths of assignments. Today I found myself asking a professor about the page length of an essay because I didn’t want to get a lower grade.

This need of ours to be the best and get the grades we think are required to move on in life is crushing us. Generations before us did very well for themselves going to universities that were less competitive and enjoying their passions. They let their intellectual curiosity drive the college experience, and likely lived better for it. Living is not about succeeding in the next phase of life. College should not be about succeeding in graduate school in order to get a well-paying job. We need to slow down and take a class because we want to or go see a movie that’s not a requirement on a syllabus. After all, we’re only in college once.

Sarah Stockman is a senior Writing Seminars major from Los Angeles.

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