A few years ago my son brought home a single C+ on his report card. He had never had a grade lower than B+ in his life and he was devastated. The fact that the grade was in Art didn’t seem to matter to him. The C+ was a huge disappointment.
I am not devaluing the importance of Art at all but I was less concerned. In fact, I think Art and Music and Drama are all very important parts of the whole. But my son was not well known for his artistic prowess so I wasn’t surprised that his grade was sub-par. I was a little surprised that it was that low. He had worked very hard, completed all of the projects and did his absolute very best. But the finished product was not great so, I guess, that is what the grade reflected. And, it was Art.
I tried to explain this to him but he wouldn’t have it. “It’s not fair!” he said. I gave him a little time to feel his disappointment and then came back to the discussion a few days later when it was less raw. He wasn’t letting it go and it all seemed a bit over the top to me. What was the big deal about one primary school C+ in Art? I didn’t want to minimize what he was feeling but I was hoping I could put it in perspective for him. A little motherly wisdom to set things straight.
That is until we sat down to chat. He was no longer as emotional so he was much more able to articulate what he was feeling. And what he said gave me pause. It really, really made me think. And you know what? I think he’s right.
Our conversation went a little like this:
It is not fair. NOT because I got a C+ but because of why. I worked SO hard. I did my very best. I know I am not the best artist but I really, really tried.
This is when I interjected and said:
Well, I guess you were marked on the finished product. Some people are just naturally good at Art so they get good grades. Everyone has different talents. You have many. I guess Art just isn’t one of them. That is just the way it is.
Then my son says:
But you’re wrong. That is NOT the way it is. My friends and I are really good athletes, aren’t we? We can play most sports and games really well. We would all get A+ grades in gym if that was “the way it is” but we don’t, do we? In fact, the kids in my class that got the best grades in Gym are not good athletes at all. They are some of the worst but they try really hard and participate so they get good grades.
See? That isn’t fair. They get good grades in Art for being good artists and good grades in gym for working really hard. I work really hard in Art but still get a poor grade but my ability in Gym makes no difference in my grade.
I was speechless. He was right. That isn’t fair at all. And it really made me think, I wonder if he was rewarded for his efforts in Art (Music, Drama) would he have been more interested in them?
It also made me think, which is right or best? Isn’t it important that kids understand that they are good at certain things and not at others? Is it important that they know what their unique talents are?
Or, should we value and reward effort not ability? And, if so, shouldn’t that be consistent across the board? Then what would that mean for Math or Language? If you have a bad attitude in Math but you get 100% on every test your grade would reflect your ability. You would get 100%.
So, what do you think? Should marks be based on output? Results? Or should they be based on effort? And, whatever the answer, should this not be consistent across the board?
Years later my son and I still have this discussion so we would love to hear what you think! Oh, and he still hates Art.