Grades aren’t everything
We’ve all been stressed over our grades at one point or another. Staying up till 2 in the morning finishing that essay, doing that math paper in whanau that you ‘forgot’ to do last night, or studying for an exam on the bus. I can almost guarantee that we have all been in situations like this at one point or another. But should you really be all that worried about whether you get an excellence or not? You’re probably looking at me now, questioning whether I’m a complete tool or not, thinking, “of course grades matter,” or, “yeah, what would I be without those excellence credits?” Well, to put it simply, your grades don’t mean everything, they don’t determine who you are and they don’t decide your future, and I’m here to tell you why.
Grades are scores that we as students receive when completing an exam or assessment, that range from ‘not achieved’ to ‘high excellence,’ depending to what standard we have completed the task. These scores give a brief idea of how well we have done on on the assessment and, as we have been taught to believe, are accurate reflections of our overall skill, intelligence and capability in that subject. As I see it, we have been conditioned to believe that these grades are extremely important and have most definitely all been told at one point or another that they will basically set us up for the rest of our lives. Based on what we’ve been taught, bad grades close doors to awesome jobs and opportunities, and open the gleaming glass doors of the nearest Maccas where you’ll inevitably spend the rest of your days. This mindset has changed the way we see schooling and education, and as I see it, is completely ridiculous.
This way of thinking isn’t, and never should have been, a valid way to look at our educations.
The point of this speech is to let you know why grades don’t define us people, and why we can still succeed without high marks, and understanding what education actually is, I think, is a very important part of that. The reason we come to school is to learn; that’s the gist of it. School is supposed to help us learn and understand the world around us, understand the people around us and understand who we are as individuals, as well as giving us basic knowledge in certain areas to set us up when we step out into our adult lives. But the change from, “I come to school to learn,” to “I come to school to get good grades,” has thrown the whole idea of what education actually is, into the gutter and this, as I see it, has caused some major issues.
As I said before, we see our success in school as a reflection of how intelligent and capable we are as individuals. High grades seem to reflect high intelligence and capability and low grades the complete opposite. This mindset has caused several major problems when it comes to the mental well-being and self esteem of students in today’s society. Depression and anxiety rates among students have increased dramatically during the past few decades and, sadly, the pressure to do well in school and low grades is a major contributing factor to that. A 2002 study at the University of Michigan found that 80 percent of students surveyed based their self-worth on academic performance. I know I have, at one point or another, felt useless and incapable after getting low scores on tests and exams. Looking back, this seems almost unfair, but I now understand that basing self esteem on test scores isn’t right, because as I now know, our grades can’t accurately reflect our intelligence, and here are some reasons why.
I know from experience that to be good at something, you have to be somewhat passionate about it. I for example, love to write and play music. Last year my band entered in the annual Smokefree Rockquest and made it through to the regional finals and to be honest we were totally stoked. I honestly believe that the only reason we made it through was because we were passionate about what we were doing. Our motivation for getting together every weekend and entering into this competition was our love for the music we created and the satisfaction of being able to share that with the world. I can safely say that my intelligence and abilities were reflected more genuinely when I was doing something I loved. Sadly, I can’t say that I’m as passionate about school. Sure I want to be a high achiever but I don’t think when I’m writing a two-thousand word essay that, “I’m loving this and having an awesome time and can’t wait to share this with the world.” I think I can safely say the same for a majority of students at our school. Because we’re not as passionate about school then we are other things like sport or video games or music, to list a few, then our true ability isn’t reflected in our grades. Because of the way we’ve been taught to perceive grades, we recognize failure in school as a lack of intelligence despite the fact that we’re not giving our all to our work because we’re not really that engaged in what we’re doing. To put it simply, just because you’re not interested in what you do, doesn’t mean you’re unintelligent.
Another reason I say that grades can’t accurately reflect intelligence is because in a lot of cases, the tests we take and things we’re assessed on don’t encourage creativity and instead focus solely on the ability to take an issue and regurgitate information we’ve been taught time and time again. The problem with this, is some people, instead of being able to memorize and repeat information, are more capable of coming up with new ideas and thinking outside the box. Again, when it comes to test taking, we are encouraged to stick by a set of rules and guidelines that limit us to repeating information we have previously been taught, rather than coming up with new and unique answers. This means that students who have trouble with memorization and repetition, but are gifted in the way of creative thinking are not allowed to show their true potential and usually end up with lower grades. I see this as an issue because, in my eyes, creativity is still a high form of intelligence and should be regarded in such a way. In a TED talk I watched, a man named Sir Ken Robinson discusses why he believes schools are, in a way, ‘killing creativity.’ Similar to the point I previously made, he talks about how schools don’t provide sufficient opportunities for students to actively engage in creative thinking, a skill which he deems just as important as being able to read and write. He discusses how subjects like music, dance and drama, all fitting under the arts category, are regarded by the government as less necessary than core subjects like mathematics and languages, due to the education system revolving around the requirements for more able workers in an industrial age. The ‘subject hierarchy’ as he refers to it, “was created to meet the needs of industrialism,” meaning that the core subjects are regarded as more valuable and therefore result in higher praise compared to the arts. The sad thing about this, is creativity is automatically disregarded and discouraged because isn’t required for a functional society; or better said, wasn’t required. In today’s society, creativity and creative thinking is an integral part of every day life, whether it revolves around design, music or programming, they all play major roles. Creative thinking is being brought back into the game and the education system isn’t making changes to keep up. We still talk about music and art still as if they don’t mean as much as math and science. Therefore, people who are incredibly creative and have awesome minds are still being regarded as unintelligent compared to those who are high achievers in the core subjects. If you’re one of these people, you shouldn’t be so hung up on a not achieved in that algebra test if you’re getting excellence grades in music composition as they should be held as equally important. The point I’m trying to make is that these tests and exams don’t truly allow us to show our true potential because creativity isn’t encouraged despite being a vital part of our learning and our futures.
So your grades don’t define you. Not your intelligence or capabilities that is. But do they decide our futures? In some cases they do, depending on what you want to do with your life after school, but, then again, there are a lot of options that don’t require amazing academic achievement. Creativity holds a big place in this department as you don’t need excellences to prove you’re an incredible guitar player or that you’re an amazing artist or that you’re an awesome actor. People such as Simon Cowell, Benedict Cumberbatch and Cameron Diaz never did well in school but I think it’s safe to say they came out just fine. A fantastic example of this is a world renowned chef named, Ivan Orkin.
Ivan is a prime example of success without great achievement in school and expression of creative ability. Starting with nothing, being regarded as a failure in a family of successful children, Ivan made his way to the top of the cooking game by taking the thing he loved most, that being food, and making not only a living, but a life out of it.
Ivan was born in Long Island, New York and was the ‘screw up’ son of a successful lawyer and an esteemed artist. Ivan struggled in school and was, according to his mother, a lot to deal with, with the only thing he really enjoyed being his food. When Ivan was fifteen he got a job as a dishwasher at a local Japanese place. Upon arriving on his first day, the head chef presented Ivan with a simple Japanese dish consisting of steamed rice, egg and seaweed. This dish sparked a love in Ivan for Japanese cuisine. When he finished school, Ivan decided to study Japanese and eventually moved to Japan to become an English teacher. This experience cemented Ivan’s love for everything Japanese, especially the food. He enrolled in the Culinary Institute of America upon his return to the USA, and began his culinary training. He hated it. After graduation and several short lived jobs at world renowned restaurants, Ivan decided to move back to Japan. It was there that he decided to open his own ramen shop simply ‘because he could,’ and eventually became a world renowned cook.
Ivan’s story stood out to me because he came from a place where he wasn’t doing well in school and failing all of his classes, to becoming know worldwide for doing something he loved. He defied all odds, creating something from nothing, or so it would seem. I think the reason Ivan succeeded in becoming successful is because he was passionate about what he was creating. To me, Ivan is a clear example of discarded and discouraged creativity. During his childhood, he was put through multiple different schools, only to result in the same outcome each time. There seemed to be no other option for him, according to his parents, so he was treated like an outcast. Because Ivan was eventually allowed to show the full extent of his creative abilities, he was able to succeed, even without fantastic grades.
So there you have it. You shouldn’t be so stressed over your grades because they don’t mean everything. They don’t define you as a person, they don’t always have a say in your future and there is the possibility of success without them. People like Ivan are clear examples of this and, you never know, but if you’re not doing so well in school but you find something you’re passionate about, you may end up in the same situation. And on that note, I end my speech and ironically, hope for a good grade.