“The idea that the majority of students attend a university for an education independent of the degree and grades is a hypocrisy everyone is happier not to expose. Occasionally some students do arrive for an education but the rote and mechanical nature of the institution soon converts them to a less ideal attitude.” – Robert M. Pirsig in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
The average college student spends a large percentage of their days in school pursuing one goal: getting good grades. However, when was the last time we, as college students, seriously considered the merits of this endeavor? Our whole lives we have been urged by both our parents and peers to study hard and get the ‘A’, but all of our hard work and all of the stress we endure seems both unnecessary and meaningless.
The first step to understanding our uneasy feelings towards grades rests in seeing grades for what they really are, invented. Only when we break from the sweeping delusion that grades are anything more than a few blobs of ink on a piece of paper, can we truly realize the harmful effects grades can have on both our education and happiness.
Think back on the days before a midterm examination. Like many of us, you probably felt compelled to spend incredulous amounts of time in the library plowing through a plethora of information; but at the same time, the notion that we must work hard for the sake of a grade feels foreign to our conscious. It’s almost as if we had to convince ourselves that committing enormous amounts of time to getting a good grade is somehow okay.
However, that isn’t even the worst of it. When we receive a good grade, the feeling of happiness we experience is often short-lived or maybe even non-existent!
So why are we committing so much time towards a goal that yields us little happiness? Many argue that making sacrifices to happiness now will yield greater happiness in the future, but I do not buy this idea. As philosopher and author Robert Pirsig explained in his novel Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintanence, “to live for some future goal is shallow. It’s the sides of the mountain that sustain life, not the top.” In essence, grades are leading the vast majority of college students to forget their passions and accept the notion that to get ahead in the world, you need to prioritize objective measurements. Robert K. Merton, an American sociologist, furthers my point when he explained how:
“The danger of education … is that it so easily confuses means with ends. Worse than that, it quite easily forgets both and devotes itself merely to the mass production of uneducated graduates – people literally unfit for anything except to take part in an elaborate and completely artificial charade which they and their contemporaries have conspired to call ‘life.’”
Hence, it has become evident that universities often fail their students by directing their energy towards goals which have little long-standing impact and meaning; and while genuine interest in the pursuit of truth does exist in universities, the notion that universities help students recognize their passions and, in turn, “discover themselves” seems like a rarity.
And at the end of the day, grades are not what matters. As Merton explains:
“Life does not have to be regarded as a game in which scores are kept and somebody wins. If you are too intent on winning, you will never enjoy playing. If you are too obsessed with success, you will forget to live. If you have learned only how to be a success, your life has probably been wasted.”
My advice: work hard not to get good grades, but to find your passion; and once you have found your passion, pursue it and forget about everything else, because at the end of the day it’s all invented.
By: Jeremy Lash
(Photo by English106 under a Creative Commons License)