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Sunday, April 14
The Indiana Daily Student


OPINION: I hate grades


Education has always had an organizational structure stringent enough to never substantially be changed by the students it was subjected to. Schools are not just a hub for education but also a place for young citizens to learn societal order. Here I identify two main aspects of schooling: learning represented by an individual receiving an education and evaluation which systematically discourages students instead of its intended incentive structure.  

For the sake of this piece, I will try to examine education through schooling as the only way to gain information for an individual. My focus is primarily on the grading system used in schooling up to high school and not college, as the differences are too broad to extend the same logic to them.  

Paulo Freire, a Brazilian educator and a Marxist thinker, refers to most educational approaches as the “banking system of education.” The basic idea of this concept explains teachers acting as bank clerks who deposit information into students instead of drawing out knowledge from individual students to make them inquisitive humans who have a thirst for knowledge. This method is cyclical with the teacher depositing knowledge and the student reproducing this knowledge on demand in the form of assessments.  

This analysis should not be misinterpreted to mean that the banking system is limited to mere memorization. Instead, the scope is bigger expanding to disciplines like mathematics where there is an approach that focuses on a single method to solve a problem instead of the student exploring multiple different methods exploring their curiosity.  

I was educated in this banking system of education, and I believe that even today, many students are subjected to this system of teaching. The schooling system acts as a factory that produces individuals who act as cogs in the existing system instead of questioning the system, this points to its mechanical nature. This realization is not something new, we see this reflected in popular culture too with songs like “Another Brick in the Wall” by Pink Floyd. 

The design of this system tends to be functional to the capitalist enterprise. The existing power structure sets requirements for productive workers which is then fulfilled by an initiative of mass education called a school. This is perhaps why certain fields of study like engineering are encouraged as they provide better economic outcomes.  

This insistence on narrowing the scope of an individual to a certain set order is reflected in the way evaluation works. A grade hierarchy generally exists as a letter grade system — from F to an A+ with an F representing failure to an A+ representing excellence.  

The banking system of education degrades true education of exploring individual scholarship to the mechanical activity of reproducing knowledge. This makes grading a scale of how well an individual confirms existing power structures represented to them. Actors of authority like teachers and principals control levels and content of conformity.  

That control is not entirely with the people who assume positions of power in an isolated school setting. They are subjected to the prevailing socio-political conditions of the time. This is evident in the education systems of previously colonized nations where, even after years of independence, we see a struggle to erase the structure that the colonizers left. For instance, the submissive nature of individuals while dealing with people in authority during the British Raj in India is still prevalent, with its effects seen in how students tend to conform to the teacher’s word without questioning it. The student assumes the teacher is the ultimate authority on knowledge just as the British Raj police officer was the ultimate authority on colonial law. We also see certain traces of the colonial education system in the current education system enforcing similar structures with different content. The change in content from a British — white-washed — history to an Indianized history will not change anything if the structures still demand conformity.  

Grading systems tend to hide an incentive structure to the degree of conformity reciprocated by a student. Those who perform well in schools tend to conform better to existing societal order than the ones who do not. Students who score Ds and Fs engage in deviant behavior like violence at a higher rate than their academic counterparts who score a higher grade. Besides this incentive structure, grades also deter students. The ones with high grades are subjected to heavy academic pressure to keep high grades, which is detrimental to their mental health. Low scorers are alienated from the system as cases that cannot be improved, there seems to be a sentiment of lost hope in students who continuously fail to conform to this system. This practice is fundamentally dehumanizing as it increases a sense of worthlessness in young students. This feeling may lead to a false understanding about academia, which is more than what is narrowly represented in schools.  

To me, Academics are a way to explore one’s curiosity. The devolution of this curiosity to conformity by the existing school system is one of the biggest problems today. There are multiple suggestions by radical thinkers like Paulo Freire who wish to change pedagogy for the better — creating a system that fosters individual abilities and changes the authoritarian relationship between a teacher and the student. A radical change in teaching methods is necessary to inculcate individual abilities with teachers teaching and learning from students. A way of doing this could be to include students as active agents in their own education where they bring their experience in learning new information, this approach shifts the focus of education from the teacher to the learner.  

It is essential to avoid indoctrination as in times of colonial rule, where educational systems were made to maintain the rule. Exploring diverse material in academics will expand the scope of education and avoid its slide down to indoctrination.  The purpose of a good education system should be to create individuals who question existing power structures and do not conform to them.  

Advait Save (he/they) is a freshman studying economics and sociology. 

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