The argument is as old as school itself. “Why do you care so much about my grades?” This is often followed by a long list of who gets paid big bucks for A's, whose parents don’t care at all if they have a D, and a million reasons why B's are absolutely fine. With this speech at the end of every semester, I realized that I needed to be a little more clear to my sons about why grades matter.
I started off with, “I don’t care if you get A's.” They were skeptical and I saw the shock in their faces, disbelief really. It was time to explain:
“It’s not about the A. It is about hard work and effort. When I see a B+ in health and notice a missing assignment and three late assignments, that B+ is unacceptable.
When I see a B+ in honors science and know you have gone in early for help, turned in everything on time, have a few points of extra credit and studied hard for the final test, I will high-five you for that B+ every time.
There is a difference. As your parents, we are entrusted to help you reach your potential, and we know that to reach that potential you will need a little push and some outward motivation. We have watched you for 12 years now, and we have a pretty realistic idea of what that best is. I know you want us to think that you are only a little bit capable, but we know better, and if we let you sell yourself short now, you will miss so many opportunities in the future.
For this same reason, we are going to encourage you to take classes that are challenging and enriching and that will open and stretch your mind. This doesn’t mean that we think you should have a schedule full of only rigorous AP and college-level courses. Quite the contrary. Well-rounded people are our favorites, and now is the time to expose yourself to a wide variety of subjects and interests, so take theater, gym, art, choir, debate and robotics! It’s not only about intense academics; it’s about education.
Every day, you spend seven hours away from us getting free public schooling while other children around the world spend the same amount of time carrying water for their families, selling trinkets on the street and dreaming of opportunity. So, to choose a boring, easy A schedule that teaches you little is not the goal. I don’t care about the A, but I do care if you are learning.
This means you might have to sacrifice some down time, some social time and maybe even some sleep as you try to understand and cement what you have been taught in these challenging classes. It might mean a little more stress or less than perfect grades, but we believe that a person who has learned to think and articulate and who is willing to work hard will go so much further than someone who has learned to game the system and take the easy way out. Even if that easy way out is rewarded with a 4.0 GPA.
So, yes, there will be consequences at our house, even sometimes for an A-. The consequences will usually be the type that cut out distractions (TV, phone, computers, video games, friends) so you have more time and energy to do the essential things first and play later. That is another valuable lesson I promise you will thank us for one day.
There will also be rewards, not monetary ones, but something even more valuable, trust. We will trust that you are mature enough to make good decisions and that you are old enough to manage your own time. There will be less contention in our home, which is good for all of us. And as parents, we will be more willing to let you have the freedom you are so desperately craving.
So if you want that learning, that freedom, that satisfaction of being in charge of your own life, when grades come out you will be able to answer yes to the following questions. They have nothing to do with IQ or class rank and everything to do with things you can control.
- Did you turn every assignment in?
Did you turn each assignment in on time?
Did you do all the extra credit that was available to you?
Did you study for your tests?
Did you retake everything you could?
When you were struggling with a concept, did you go in before or after school for help?
Did you tell us you were having a hard time and ask us for help?
At the end, did you review your grade, speak with your teacher about any discrepancies and ask if there was anything else you could do to help your grade improve?
As parents we are well aware of your strengths and weaknesses and see the work you put in (plus, we can now see proof of it all online). We have never expected intellectually gifted perfection, but we do expect an honest, concerted effort. You each have different gifts and abilities, so our standards will vary by child, and that is OK. We are also realistic and know when there are extenuating circumstances like a prolonged illness, a difficult teacher, or extracurricular and work obligations. In these cases we expect you to take care of these unforeseen issues as best you can, life is full of them.
We want you to be happy, and we know that real happiness is not attained by coasting, shirking and underperforming. It comes from learning, struggling, trying, triumphing and living a life that opens doors instead of closes them. That, my sons, is the power of a real education.