Grade Fetishism (HUM415)

What is a grade? Like money, a grade is a representation. What does it represent? Just as money is the common denominator indispensable to the means of exchange, grades are an objectification of human activity. A ‘B’ in an organic chemistry class has the same weight in terms of GPA as a ‘B’ in HUM415. The skills and effort required to earn those grades may be quite different. Certainly the demands of the two classes aren’t the same. Yet in assigning a letter to a student’s work– in quantifying that which is fundamentally qualitative– an equivalence is established. To treat a grade (a representation) as the truth of the human activities of studying and thinking is thus a mistake.

Of course most students want a good grade. Yet some (many? most?) of them are grade fetishists– more interested in the grade as a representation than in the content of their own activity. Their relationship to their work is distorted by the sign of the grade, which is held to possess greater value than the process of forming knowledge. This attachment to the grade– to a mere representation invested with properties it does not possess– is a form of false consciousness.

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