Why do some students care so much about making good grades? Does the $3,000 bump in starting salary that they may or may not get really explain all of it? Will any of us really not be able to make enough money to be happy if we get B-’s instead of B+’s?
I don’t think that’s it. Why do we care so much about our grades? For acceptance. We want to appear virtuous to our friends and family. We want to be able to tell them, “At least I tried my hardest.” And these people know us too well for us to be able to fool them. They know what we’re capable of if we work hard enough, if we spend enough time doing exactly what our professors ask of us, pandering to every subtle suggestion they make about how to get that A in their class. And so we do exactly that. To do any less would be to admit to friends and family “I don’t want to spend my life working hard, living out the life of privilege that corporate economics or government grants has handed me.” Such a confession is a heavy responsibility in our society.
But you see, an activity will only take you as far as the ideals which are motivating that activity. Many students’ motivation for making good grades is an ideal of obedience, of trying their hardest to do what others have suggested. The ideal of obedience has its place; society would fall apart without it! But in order to grow spiritually, we need higher ideals than that. We need activities that make us feel like more than just a machine, a purpose higher than simply increasing the efficiency of a system that we had no part in designing/creating. Unfortunately such activities are becoming harder and harder to find.
Education, properly, should be motivated by the ideals of excellence, and of creating equal opportunity within society. These, and not just the economic incentives of grades, are the myths, the promises, that should motivate our approach to learning.