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The Case Against Grades

This letter was printed in volume 5 number 2 of the Home Educators Family Times, PO Box 708, Gray, Maine 04039.

Dear Home Educator's Family Times,

It's perhaps fitting that the title of the article supporting grading, "A Perfect Ten" (Volume 5, No 1), brings to my mind the old movie by that title: the title came from the practice of grading women solely by their looks. (Bo Derrick was the "perfect ten.") I find the idea of grading in a homeschool to be equally ludicrous. I'm concerned that your readers, especially new homeschoolers who have only known the school model, might follow the path Dale Dykema prescribes without knowing that many homeschoolers work happily and successfully without grades.

I've never given grades in our homeschool, and I was interested to discover, on a trip to Old Sturbridge Village, that the schoolmasters in the one room schoolhouse didn't give grades either. Children simply went on to the next level when they had mastered the material. Working for "mastery of the material" is a very different goal from working for a good grade. Dyson's main argument seems to be that we are doing a disservice to our children not to grade them by asserting that children need to be prepared to be graded in the world. I found that our son, when he first took a graded course outside the home at age 15, needed about two weeks to adjust to the shock of being graded. Rather than convince me that I should have been giving grades earlier, the experience made me incredibly grateful that he had been able to go that long in his life without the artificial constraint of grading. Now he has accumulated a good grade record, has fine standardized test scores, and is looking at colleges.

I agree with Dyson when he discusses the bad effects of grading too easily; Alfie Kohn makes a convincing argument against too much praise in Punished by Rewards. But parents in a homeschool can avoid the problem entirely by simply not grading. Instead, we can help the children develop a self-awareness of whether or not the material is understood.. As one of my college professors once remarked, "testing is the opposite of learning." In homeschooling we have the luxury of spending all our time on learning! I urge readers to investigate this important issue for themselves before simply continuing current school practices at home.

Nicky Hardenbergh
Manchester MA

Editor's Note: Thanks Nicky for this enlightening letter. I did not grade my two children either, but preferred the mastery method. After continuing right through high school at home, neither have had any problems adjusting to the world system of grades or other rewards, and found that they were actually better prepared mentally and emotionally for such challenges. J. Boswell

Massachusetts Home Learning Association

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