There’s a guy named Mark Barnes who’s got a column in Ed Week. It’s all about imagining a world in which we did not grade students at all.
Here’s the gist:
If you’re interested in disrupting education far more than the 3-D printer or smartphone ever could, consider schools and colleges where there are no grades. Imagine classrooms where teachers never place numbers, letters, percentages, or other labels on students’ work; where report cards don’t exist; and where the GPA has gone the way of the dinosaur,
Read quickly, friends- in just a moment he is going to ask us to close our eyes and imagine the more humane world this will bring about. Practically a Utopia
The problem is that when I close my eyes and imagine a world without GPAs and report cards and tests (duh, obviously we’d get rid of the tests) I don’t see Utopia. I see aristocracy.
Then I open my eyes, because even with deep breathing ideas like this strike me as more harm than good. Far more.
Among other reasons there’s the fact that there will always be scarcity, and that means not everyone will get the best opportunities. (Everyone wants their kids to go to top universities, not everyone can. Sorry.) So you have to have some way to sort it all out.
Meritocracy is the best way to do that, and meritocracy requires valuation.
When there is no grounds to judge, the elites will win all the perquisites. This is to say that when meritocracy disappears, aristocracy returns.
And aristocracy won’t be any better if it’s an aristocracy of elite progressives.
But that is partly what’s behind starry-eyed (and immensely popular) dreams like ‘let’s imagine a word with no grades.’ An argument like this is the luxury of caste- you only propose it if you are already in the elite.
When you eliminate evaluations you eliminate mobility. When you are already in the privileged class, this means cementing your place at the top whether or not you hide that fact behind egalitarian sounding aphorisms and ideology.
Anyway, please do not be fooled. Dreamy promises of ungraded Utopias are, in the end, dreamy promises of aristocracy.