I felt sadness and disappointment after giving one of my best students a grade of F.
He failed to submit several minor papers, a major one, and made it a point to commit cuts on days his class is doing writing activities.
Do grades matter? No and yes.
No because at the end of it, they are only a reflection of how we measure up against a standard (arbitrary most of the time) set by what some refer to as an institutional hegemony that determines who among us passes or fails. These standards do not provide space for those rebellious enough to situate themselves in gray areas found in between. The system of grading also makes distinction using ‘scientific’ comparison (for among those who passed)–who’s good, better, and best, but interestingly does not have hierarchy for failure. But our worth as individuals is far more complex and multi-faceted than a cold A+, 1.0, D, B+, 100, or 5.0.
Utilizing alphanumeric grading system as basis has a tendency to be myopic at best and false at worst.
I failed all my Math subjects in college except for an appreciation course in math which I barely passed. This course covered Babylonian, Mayan, and Roman numerical system and a lot more (comprehension, including of those hard math subjects that I failed, escaped me and their importance in my life I know not), but I graduated from university with high distinction (out of sheer luck or smart maneuvering on my part, probably).
But yes because any learning institution has to adhere to this standard (regardless of its arbitrariness). This is the closest that we can have of that sense of order, giving a semblance of predictability to our otherwise random world. We may allow for some interventions, for those that cannot be easily gauged and are beyond strict criteria. By doing these, we attempt to touch-base on our humanity and we ultimately become humane in the process. But this we can only do only to a certain extent.
A modern society functions smoothly because there are systemic apparatuses that do the difficult task of being partial for partiality’s own sake. And that includes student evaluation in the set-up of a university. Absolute impartiality is yet to be achieved, however.
Clicking the letter F next to the name of that student was a painful experience for me. But I know it’ll be more painful for my student. I positioned the cursor on the character, simply closed my eyes (figuratively), and clicked on the imposing letter of the alphabet. What has to be done was done with finality the moment I clicked on ‘submit’. Then I saw, forever etched, a letter that will someday be used by other people to judge that student of mine.
But I know better; he’s one of my best students, and I hope he knows this fact and will someday transcend the letter F.