Lines of Learning (How My Child Let Go of a 4.0)

My students have taught me much about learning and teaching, but when it comes to my children, often I see myself as pupil.  Just for the sake of privacy, let’s call this child Jae.  Jae came home and told us that the transcript s/he had gotten was no longer a 4.0.  Now, this was a bit surprising, as studying and rule-following always have been a big priority.  My spouse followed up and found that a summer class was an A- because of a technicality.  What followed was a great learning experience:

“Well, I checked with the guidance counselor.  You could retake this course to get an “A”.
“Why didn’t I get an “A?”
“You missed by two points on the test, but you could have retaken the assessment.”
“I was never told that.”
“Right, that’s why you can retake the class.  It’s a policy that if you don’t feel confident with a course, you can retake it to get a higher score.  Now, you seem to have done well on the material, so it would be an easy retake. It’s your choice.”
“But I’ve learned the material.  I have other classes to take.”
“This would mess up your GPA, though.”
“Is a 4.0 really that important?  I mean, isn’t it about the learning?”

Discussion about scholarships, awards, valedictorian status, society and the rest followed, but really, the acceptance was on OUR side, not on Jae’s.  Critical thinking is important to Jae.  Working hard is important to Jae.  But the intrinsic motivation is learning, not awards.  And that is what I am proud of as a parent.  Ribbons, medals, and accolades are nice, but what we do with the knowledge we gain is most valuable.

Jae has ‘failed forward,’ to use the language of design thinking.  I find myself wondering when education as whole will do the same.


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  • Chevin Stone


    I love this! So many children either accept failure as a negative and shut down or panic as they try to figure out how to "fix" the failure.  Keeping the focus on the learning and not the reward for "knowing" is very important!  Yay Jae!