I was very lucky to spend this pre-holiday weekend in my hometown of Baltimore visiting with family and friends.  The weekend was full of great food, family bonding, and playing with my one-year-old niece Stella (who is the cutest!).  Another weekend activity was going through my closets and cleaning out my old college books and papers.  I actually quite enjoyed the chore.  I quickly became very caught up in reading my old college essays.

One essay in particular stuck out.

I wrote the paper first semester freshman year for a very difficult English class.  The thesis of the paper focused on the practice of not giving letter grades in progressive elementary schools.  I argued that letter grades were important for all students because they were an objective measure of performance.  Further, I argued that I was personally disserved by the absence of letter grades in my progressive elementary school because I could never figure out how I was doing.  When I received the non-letter grade of “good” on an assignment, I thought I was doing really well.  What I didn’t realize is that “good” was really a euphemism for a “C,” while “great” and “excellent” represented “B,” and “A” respectively.

Now, ten years later, I find it funny that I wrote this paper.  I was totally ignorant.

The reason I criticized progressive education for not giving letter grades to young children is because I totally misunderstood the purpose of education.  As a young college student, I saw school assignments as a purely two-dimensional exercise.  The teacher asks the student to do an assignment, the student does the assignment, and the teacher gives a grade.  I always knew that learning was more important than grades – but I confused the concept of “learning” with “doing a good job on an assignment.”  I always worked very hard to complete my assignments – but I had not yet developed a true thirst for learning.

Assignments in school are like ground ball drills in Lacrosse, or practicing lay-ups in basketball.  Doing these drills perfectly means nothing if you can’t apply those skills to the real game.  The reason I wanted everyone to have letter grades is because I wanted to know how I was doing on my assignments.  I didn’t realize that the assignments were not the real game – it was just practice.

I used to look at learning as something that had to get done.  A drill that had to be completed; a box that had to be checked.  Today I have an insatiable thirst for knowledge – I spend practically every free moment listening to audiobooks, watching TED talks or Kahn Academy videos.  My understanding of what it means to learn has completely evolved.

Back in college, I thought I had it all figured out.  Looking back now, ten years later, I realize I was actually quite foolish.  I can’t wait to see what new things I discover in the next ten years that will make me look back on this blog post and think to myself: “wow, I was totally ignorant.”

Looking Back on My Own Ignorance