Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Scholastic Affirmation Without Grade Inflation

From kindergarten onward, parents send their children to school expecting that they will return home having learned something. If not a fact or a skill, the thing that parents trust our schools to teach young Americans is that they have potential: to provide some form of positive reinforcement, to say, “Keep it up, you’re on the right track. You’ve got more than a fleeting chance.” In this vein, Congress declared in 2002, “No Child Left Behind.”

The trend of affirmation is not a new one. Take, for example, the rampant grade inflation that the American university system has observed over the past 40 years. Parents, employers and students demand that educational institutions provide the most bang for your buck, the most proof of potential on transcripts. Slowly but surely, professors, university registrars and administrators at public and private universities alike have capitulated to the fear of leaving their students further behind with B’s and C’s, compared to peers at (presumably) grade-inflating institutions that graduate students with straight A’s.

However, when examining the way educational institutions actually function, a well-documented and blatantly obvious conflict of interest arises. There is a point when everyone cannot get A’s. Most Americans receive their first letter grades in elementary school, and from the start, teachers assign some students B’s and C’s.

Despite the fact that no child should be left behind, the American educational system makes it clear that some children have more potential than others.
So should everyone gets A’s? Definitely not. That does not serve a practical purpose.

Designing a fair, functional and feasible metric of assessment demands the demarcation of those who put in more time and effort, who produce work of a higher quality and who demonstrate more consistent progress than their peers. This is a fact, and one that we as students and academics must deal with. Yet our schools simply cannot utilize grades as the primary means of providing the affirmation that parents and students crave. Institutions like our university seem perfectly poised to do so because of their focus on Jesuit values.

As American universities endeavor to counteract grade inflation, which Georgetown aims to do by affixing mean grades to our transcripts, it is precisely institutions like Georgetown that have the capacity to lead the charge on viable and sustainable alternative affirmations for their students. Armed with a long tradition of cura personalis, there are people on this campus already doing this; the Center for Social Justice, Campus Ministry and certain student organizations make it a particular priority.

These organizations concern themselves with ensuring that, during each student’s time at Georgetown, students all realize their inherent potential, the kind that cannot be summarized on a transcript. Some of us realize it in service on an Alternative Spring Break trip, others in a profound moment of meditation or prayer on campus, others still in the discovery that they have reached down and helped a friend back up from rock bottom. It’s here. It’s happening.

However, Georgetown must do more to explore and institutionalize alternative forms of affirmation. Currently, the confidence, geniality and flexibility of a successful student on the Hilltop remain too contingent upon academic achievement.

We are told that success outside the classroom will only follow success in the classroom, and the stability of our success becomes dependent on the affirmation of the A. But isn’t the aim of our university to empower our independence, not engender insecurity? To embrace the magis in each of us? Such insecurity, even among the smartest and most successful minds, is poisonous at an individual, interpersonal, campus-wide and professional level.

Our university must thoroughly convince its students that they are on the right track and should persevere not despite a bad grade, but because of the reality of bad grades. That Georgetown students can rest secure in their success, whatever form it takes. It is not only the Christian response, but it is the response that will play a formative role in higher (especially elite) education in the coming decades. Ensuring that every graduating Hoya leaves confident not only in the knowledge he or she acquired, but in his or her continuing potential to achieve must feature centrally in our university’s mission. Anything short of that, and we will have left some children behind.

DEREK BUYAN is a senior in the School of Foreign Service.

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