Day: June 15, 2015

Why Fs are Important

f-school-letter-grade2“If you’re not failing every now and then, it’s a sign you’re not doing anything very innovative” Woody Allen.

I don’t say this often but I completely agree with Woody Allen on this one!  The last few weeks I’ve been thinking about grades and how we assess things and people in our culture.  On my movie blog http://54disneyreviews.wordpress.com I give a grade at the end of the review.  This can be anywhere from an A+ to an F.  Up until this point I have only given 7 Fs out of close to 250 reviews I’ve done.

Since I’m sure you are curious the 7 Fs are-  Chicken Little, Brother Bear, Dinosaur, Road to El Dorado, Maleficent, Ghost of Girlfriends Past, and The Lorax.  These are movies which I think are complete failures.  Ds on the other hand I didn’t like but I found some things to enjoy so it isn’t a total failure.

Most people are with me for this part of the grading system.  It’s when we get into Cs that it is interesting.  I have noticed many people treat a C grade like it is an F.  To me a C is in the middle.  It’s half way between an A and an F.  It’s an average, ok movie.  If I hated it I would give it an F.

If people actually read my reviews instead of just looking at the grade they would see on my C grades I say lots of nice things about said movie.  Such a movie is not a failure but there are some problems that keep it from the masterpiece or good levels of A and B.  That’s ok.  Not every movie can be a masterpiece and I get a lot of enjoyment out of the C movies.

Anyway people kept treating Cs like Fs so frequently that it made me wonder if Fs weren’t a part of the cultural lexicon as much as when I was at school.  I asked a friend and she said it is nearly impossible to get an F in school.  If you do anything you will most likely get a C.  So no wonder a C is seen as a failing grade if it takes the bare minimum of effort!

I have a problem with this.  First of all, it leaves teachers with only 3 options for a student.  5 is hard enough but if every student is either Great, Good or Failure that isn’t good.  C should be a place for a person who is in the middle of the pack.  I guess those people are Bs now but what about those that are almost top of the class?  That should be a B and a C should be for those that are right in between.  That’s an important dilatation.  Not everyone is going to be great or terrible at things.  Some things we will be average at, even for the best students, and that’s ok.  School was tough for me, especially college and I was more than happy to be a C earner on multiple occasions and if I had felt like that C was a failure forget it! We need that average score!

bart gets an f

We also need the Fs for several reasons.  First if there is no fear of actual failure with real consequences what motivation is there to try your hardest?  In one of my favorite Simpsons episodes ‘Bart Gets an F’ Bart finds out if he doesn’t shape up academically he will need to repeat the 4th grade.  This fear of the consequences of failure whips him into gear and he tries as hard as he can.  And he gets a D which is a huge victory for him.  If he had just been given a C because we don’t want to hurt his feelings than he wouldn’t have tried so hard and learned something.

When I was going to school there were many times I would leave the testing center in tears, having tried my hardest but still failed.  But that was a good thing.  I was forced to push beyond what I thought my limits are and actually learn the tough stuff or at least be average competency at it. If I knew I would get a C for just showing up and doing the bare minimum forget it.

And what are we trying to do with education anyway?  What separates education from day care is the kids are supposed to be learning something in school. And with the exception of special education situations if they don’t learn the assigned topic than the education has been a failure.  They deserve an F.  It should not be this devastating humiliating thing.  It should be a normal part of life that every once in a while, and sometimes a lot, we fail at things.  What do we do with that failure and how do we make it into a success?  Now that is where the true education comes into play!

The other thing is if a C has become the new F than you lose the ability to really differentiate problems in a sea of averageness.  For example, I was bullied pretty badly from 4th and into 5th grade with it getting especially bad the latter Fall.  I downplayed this at home telling my Mom about the incidents in a laughing silly kind of way.  Like it was no big deal.  Then I got a D in Math that Christmas.  My parents knew there was a problem.  It was a touchpoint that made them aware of other issues much more important than the math.  As a result I was pulled from the school and went to private school for the rest of the year that changed my life.

I don’t think that would have happened without the D.  The teacher could have thought it was harsh to give me a D because I did try but it was the grade I deserved and I’m glad she gave it to me.  Very glad.  Ds and Fs should be signs to parents, administrators, even children that there is something wrong and we need to look for solutions.  To just whitewash everything with a vanilla C takes away that opportunity for introspection and growth.

You can say grades are stupid and we shouldn’t give them out anyway, and to a certain extent I agree with you.  If a child is progressing that is the most important thing; however, I don’t think credit should be given for learning something if it wasn’t actually done.  If we got rid of grades completely than again we lose that touchpoint to easily compare things.  Not everything in life can have a long discourse or excuse.  Sometimes you just need to be able to look at a few key figures and say ‘ok Sally is doing better at English than Math. Let’s focus on that”.

I’ve thought about not giving grades on my movie reviews because I think people sometimes don’t read the review but just go right to the grade.  This is frustrating because I may explain something that you may say ‘she didn’t like that but it would be great for me’.  Like I don’t like scary movies so I may say as a negative a movie is too scary for me but if you like scary movies than it might sound great to you!  My grade is just that-my grade.  It’s what I thought of the movie.  I don’t try to imagine what others might think.  It is just my opinion.

I also don’t use a rubric like some critics do because sometimes my feelings both good and bad can’t be quantified.  It is just an overall experience with a film that deserves a certain grade.  I feel sometimes my friends with rubrics are held back by them from giving a movie a grade they know it really deserves.   I didn’t give grades for my Scrooge month series and I think people were a little more inclined to actually read the reviews, so I’m still considering it.   What do you think? If you read reviews what do you like as far as ranking systems and scores?

Regardless, the changing in the American mind of a C from average to failure is not a good thing.  People should be allowed to fail and it not be as big of a deal.  It’s part of the learning experience.  And if they fail I’m not going to sugarcoat it with a C.  That’s doing a disservice to all the people/movies/whatever who worked so hard for that C.

Plus, how do you delineate what is truly special if there isn’t an equally strong opposite?  Has an A also lost all of its meaning and value?

What do you think?  Do you see this as a problem?  Are we too afraid to let kids fail? What about how we grade or rank other things like movies or books?  Did you ever get a D or F that whipped you into gear or helped you? What do you think the solution is?

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