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“School is the wrong place to be wrong!”How grading has killed the joy of learning within schools

I recall a tough time in my seventh-grade computer coding elective class-- one of many tough times that would plague me throughout that school year.

The room was frigid; I could hear the air conditioner rumbling steadily above my head, cold air collapsing upon my already-chilly body. The only other audible sound was that of furious typing. My classmates and I had all been assigned what I perceived to be a difficult coding assignment, one that would impact our grades significantly.

I glanced around nervously. I had no idea what to do. I found many of the teacher’s lessons to be unnecessarily grandiloquent for a beginner’s class. Additionally, the instructional videos we were given in preparation for the assignment were less than helpful; I was far too busy with work from other classes to seek out some one-on-one help from this particular teacher.

So, there I was, staring wearily at a dimly lit computer screen praying that the answer would come to me. I pondered and pondered. Ten minutes passed. Then 20 minutes. Then thirty. Soon, the teacher was announcing that we had only 15 more minutes to work on the assignment. I hadn’t even started.

I realized it was better to turn in something that would show my effort than to not try at all. So, I clicked through the assignment absentmindedly before announcing to the teacher that I was finished.

I could always retake the assignment, I thought to myself. My school allows its students to re-submit a different version of the work related to the same topic a teacher assesses them on--as long as visible effort was put into the first try. And so, I shut my laptop and thought no more of it.

The following week, I found myself in my coding teacher’s dingy room after school. I had gotten my school’s equivalent to a D on the project. In order to retake the assignment to get a better grade, a meeting with my teacher was required. The teacher was explaining what I had done wrong on the assignment in what I thought to be the most scatterbrained method of explanation I had ever encountered. He asked me to complete an example to prove that I had retained what he had explained. Alas, I was still confused. A bewildered expression was all I could offer him.

“Don’t worry,” he said reassuringly. “School is the right place to be wrong.”

That expression orbited my mind for quite some time after I had left the teacher’s room and still manages to trouble me to this day.

Learning is, indeed, a fun activity. There is nothing quite like the thrill of intaking new information that will be put to good use in the future. The concept of school is said to offer the opportunity to learn and grow. But the process of learning requires some trial and error. Mistakes will be made, information will be misremembered, one will be immensely frustrated by the time it takes to effectively master something. The trial and error attributed to the learning process is unavoidable. However, this is something of which many schools are intolerant.

A student is taught elements of a certain skill or topic within a short period of time in a way that may or may not be ideal for that student. Nevertheless, the student expected to regurgitate in an elaborate manner on a thirty-minute quiz what little has been learned. The student’s answers are then converted into a number or letter grade that conveys an effectiveness with regurgitating the information or an ineptitude to do so accurately.

I have witnessed students break down in tears over earning a C. I know of the unhealthy and unsustainable methods-- chugging espressos in order to study for tests or staying up to ‘til the wee hours of the next morning completing classwork--my peers engage in to pass their classes.

I have seen the crestfallen faces of many teenagers--when they open their laptops and see a grade that was less than ideal to them-- concerned not with what they were or were not able to comprehend regarding an assignment, but rather with the punishment that awaits them in the not-so-distant future because of one so-called “slip up” that will be delivered to them by their parents.

School is the absolute worst place to be wrong.

MANY of my peers have told me that they aren’t even learning at school anymore; they are just cramming information into their brains, praying that they will remember it long enough to produce decent grades. I, in fact, am unable to remember the last time I truly went through the learning process at school and enjoyed it. I, like many other students, am always concerned more about the mark I will get on an assignment than truly retaining what I am taught. I, like many other students, cannot afford to prioritize the learning process over the grades I get.

Students’ intellects are cruelly reduced to no more than a paltry little number or letter scribbled on a piece of paper that is not and will never be indicative of their true intellectual capacity or knowledge. Grading has killed the joy of learning and that joy will never be resurrected if we continue to assess students based solely on how swiftly they can complete the lengthy learning process and display it on a white sheet of paper within 40 minutes.

There needs to be a return to the prioritizing of learning over grading, actually educating the younger generations that will soon be in charge of this great world. But until that return occurs, I must go study for my upcoming math quiz.

I wish to get an A.

Alycea Gayle is a freelance writer ; her blogs for appear monthly. You can reach her at

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