Striving For Excellence: Grades Tell Only Part of the Story

 

We’ve come to the end of the first semester: The last midterm exam is over, the essays have been submitted. The kids worked very hard, taking on the challenges with the same effort and determination they give to everything. A semester of deep engagement and effort saw our students consistently give the best of themselves since September 5th, and whatever success they enjoy in terms of high marks and good grades has been earned by their diligence.

And yet, a visitor might have been surprised to visit OLMC during midterm week; the atmosphere was marked with a notable lack of dread or anxiety. In fact, our light-hearted middle schoolers laughed and frolicked as their teachers introduced them to new dances for our upcoming Sock Hop. Far from drowning in a preoccupation with grades, the students were relaxed and cheerful. For them, learning isn’t tedium, and testing what they’ve learned isn’t torture.

At OLMC, we deliberately cultivate that mindset. We teach our students that the real measure of the work they do is only marginally approximated by a numerical evaluation, and so their true goal should be to learn for the sake of learning itself. In this way, they are able to reject the world’s prevailing obsession with rankings and scores and instead immerse themselves in the wonder and delight offered by each new day.

Anything that is pursued for the sake of something else - as a mere means to some other end - tends to become drudgery. So we reject a view of education that suggests that the purpose of school is nothing more than preparation for other things, like more school or a career. We are convinced that such a view fails to appreciate some essential features of learning; indeed, it misses out on some essential features of what it means to be human.

Instead, we embrace a tradition that honors what it means to be created in the Image of God. The education we provide shapes habits of heart and mind, and helps students to discern truth, goodness, and beauty in the world--and in themselves. It forms them as whole people and shapes their imagination with a vision of well-being. In this way, they come to understand better the very nature of God through whom all things were created and in whom ‘we live, and move, and have our being.’

This approach to learning prepares students for much more than college and career--it prepares them to live the good life in this world, and to enjoy eternal communion with God in the next. This is the true purpose of education—to enable us to live well, to live faithfully, and to grow in our understanding of the truth as witnesses to the one who is the Truth.

Grades are by no means an irrelevant metric; they reflect skills acquired and content mastered, and we are proud of our students for the high marks they achieve on school exams and standardized tests. We are thrilled that our young alumni are thriving in some of the most competitive academic programs in the state. But if our students were to achieve these impressive accomplishments, yet were steeped in anxiety over them, we believe we would have failed them. It is our vocation as educators to create conditions for their happiness right now, even during midterm exams!

Of course, it also happens to be the case that what is good in itself is also good for us relative to our other aspirations. A solid Liberal Arts foundation gives students the skills and content knowledge to thrive in all walks of life, and every profession. It prepares young souls to faithfully follow the path God has called them to walk--both now, as they navigate their way through Math and History and Science tests, and in years to come, when they will become the leaders, scholars, engineers, artists, and saints of the future.