Doug Taylor and Rabbi Morton Moskowitz

"So who cares about grades?" he asked.
I stared at him, unbelieving. My friend, the King of Rational Thought, not caring about quality education?
"You can't mean that," I said.
"Oh, but I do," he said, not backing off an inch as our discussion of schools and education progressed. "Look, what's the purpose of a grade?"
"Well, it's to measure someone's level of expertise in an area."
"Ok. Would you also agree that grades can motivate children to learn?"
"Sure," I said.
"Now which do you think is more important, the learning or the grade?"
"Well, the learning of course." What was he driving at?
"Now comes the critical question," he said. "Which do you think is more important to the children, the learning or the grades?"
"Hmm," I said, beginning to get it. "Probably the grades."
"Right. Grades should be just a means to an end; a motivator to get children to learn. But somewhere along the way, we got things reversed. Now the grades are the most important thing. Learning is only a means to the grades. How many kids do you know who study just because they love to learn?"
I had to admit I didn't know any.
"You see?" he continued. "Now, if children cheat, they may get a good grade, but they lose the knowledge they would otherwise have gained. Yet they view that as secondary. The important thing to them is the grade. Unfortunately, they're losing the real value - the learning. The grade, in and of itself, has no value at all."
"But what about getting into college and getting a good job?" I asked.
"Why do kids want to get a good job?" he countered.
"So they can make a good living," I said.
"Same issue," he said. "You're focusing on the end result, not the process. Years ago, people used to feel good when they made something. They took pride in their work. Some craftspeople still do. But would you say most people enjoy their work today?"
"No," I replied. "I'd say most people just tolerate, if not outright dislike, what they do for a living."
"I agree. Lacking a sense of purpose in their work, they focus instead on what they can get out of it. The end result. The paycheck. The bonus. The three-week vacation. What should be important to them is that there is value in doing good work and doing the right thing as you go along. But once people decide there's only value in the result-"
"They cheat, and they're not bothered by it," I finished, seeing his point.
"Exactly. Like the student who sees only value in the grade, many adults only see value in the end result, not the process. You see, when you cheat to get a grade or money, it means you don't see the value of the learning or the work. Because if you recognized the value of those things, how could you cheat? You wouldn't, because you'd realize you were missing the most important thing: the activity itself."
"So back to grades," he went on. "Would you agree that most people - parents and teachers alike - push kids to get good grades?"
"And what result do you think that produces?"
I shuddered, realizing the implications of what he was saying. "The students focus on the grades rather than the learning, " I said.
"Yes," he said. "The way out of this is to de-emphasize grades and show students the value - and the joy - of learning itself. The really happy person is the one who loves what he's doing, whether it's learning or working. For him, the true motivator is the activity itself, not the grade or the paycheck."
I thought about my own children, not quite school-age. Could I motivate them to study for more than just a grade?
"How can I pass along a love of learning to my children?" I asked.
"That's easy," he replied.
"You model it."