Living and Learning with Risk: Against Rubrics and Grades. How "Ungrading" Allowed My Students to Try Some New Things
I gave my students freedom to write (present) what they learned however they wanted. They were terrified; how could they get an A without a rubric??--and then they reveled in it. We took risks together, and learned together.
Parents of college students: When you see your kids at Thanksgiving, don’t ask them how they are doing (in terms of grades). Ask them what they’ve learned. Ask what they have enjoyed. Ask what is magical, transformative, even useful.
And students: Don’t play for praise. Don’t learn for me.
Sink in, really be there, and forget about your teachers. Forget about me.
Play, learn, climb the log for yourself.
t’s spring in the Midwest, and I’ve been walking in my neighborhood. Mid-May is the season of flowering trees, the return of loud yard equipment, and the end of the school year, either post-graduation for college or just short of the end for K-12 schools. And, as always, I find parallels between how our society regards nature and how we regard children.
In both, I see strange mistakes made in the last century. They have to do with confusions between ends and means, and with disregard of obvious ill effects, and with non-attainment of goals except by violence.
I want to compare lawns and a fixation on degrees and credentials.
Here’s some advice:
If the goal in a residential yard is a perfect green mat with no flaws, then put down a carpet instead of a lawn. You can skip the pesticides, herbicides, runoff, bee-destruction, water waste, labor, and noise pollution.
If the goal for schooling is a credential and a degree, then offer the degree for a fixed amount of money. You can skip the cramming, textbooks, cheating, anxiety, and labor.
If the goal is college admission for the poor, then offer a lottery. You can skip the application process, the unfortunate high student-advisor ratio, the sense of low self-esteem, the suspicion about affirmative action.
If the goal is college admission for the affluent, then offer a lottery. You can skip the college admission counselors, the test prep, the summer service abroad, the Adderall, the ghost writers, the false self pretending to like resume-padding activities, the adult puppeteers in science fairs beginning in elementary school, the system-gaming with early action, the applications to twenty colleges.
If the goal is good jobs for all….then make that happen. School won’t—hasn’t—done that.
We are pretty confused as a society between ends and processes.
We have images of peaceful landscapes where harmony soothes the spirit.
We have images of restful suburban lawns emulating British aristocratic manors and estates.
We have images of docile, productive, knowledgeable children—a sort-of noble goal. We have aspirations of educated, reflective citizens.
We have a need for effective workers.
We like the idea of both equality and equity, equal opportunity and equal outcomes.
We have ideals of equality, merit, and humaneness.
But we aren’t getting what we want. We are often getting ersatz versions of what we want (with exceptions), along with a lot of serious side-effects.
In lawns and education, a rethinking is in order.
Personally, I’d willingly take a few weeds, or a lot of weeds--bees love dandelions in the early spring, when there are few other sources of energy—over the destruction of the Gulf of Mexico.
I’d take a few students daydreaming and being inefficient over drugged, depressed, competitive zombies.
Susan D. Blum
Who doesn't think there is something wrong with education? Anthropology has a lot to offer when we think about how to raise up our young--in often unexpected ways! Join me as my thinking about higher education unfolds.
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