Updated: Apr 7, 2021
We’ve all been there: sitting in a classroom while a teacher is handing out a big test or assignment grade back. Your heart races, you cross your fingers— and maybe even your toes — hoping that you did well. The teacher hands you a folded piece of paper with the grade on it. You look at it and breathe a sigh of relief, smiling because you scored much better than you thought you did. Immediately, a voice breaks the silence: “What grade did you get on the test?” You freeze, wondering what to say back. Do you tell the truth and fear either looking “too smart” or “stupid,” or do you read the person’s body language and lie accordingly?
On the opposite side of the scale, many people may have experienced a strong sense of academic failure and inadequacy. This is especially prevalent in the subject of mathematics. In fact, Education Week claims that the multitude of societal stereotypes surrounding math are especially detrimental to the academic motivation and performance of women. The bottom line is this: grades do not constitute self-worth, and it is honestly no one’s business to know anyone else’s academic performance if they have not chosen to share that. I have become exhausted with answering this question across the board, and am at the point where I only disclose my academic performance to a limited number of people who I trust.
I learned the term growth mindset about a year ago in one of my education courses. Harvard Business Review coins growth mindset as occurring when individuals believe that further growth and development in the realms of talent, strengths and skills is possible. Fixed mindset, on the other hand, establishes a “standard” of success that must be followed consistently. If this “standard” is not met, those feelings of inadequacy and doubt form. Over time, it can have a monumental impact on a person’s self-esteem and identity development, among other things. This article brings out another excellent point through the quote: “It’s critical to reward not just effort but learning and progress, and to emphasize the processes that yield these things.”
Let this quote soak in for a moment. Achievement is not even mentioned here; instead, effort, learning and progress are cited as key to growth. This progress looks different for everyone. For me, it may be seen through increasing my running distance from 1 mile to 3 miles. For someone else, it may be training for the next half-marathon. What I am arguing is that American society is in dire need of a shift: a shift from resenting the accomplishments of others to celebrating them, a shift from choosing comparison to refocusing on our own personal growth and an overall shift from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset.
Revisiting my grade narrative at the beginning of this article, this stigma of hyper fixating on grades has been prevalent for far too long in academia. From the first day of kindergarten all the way to doctoral programs, students are taught that good grades are the only thing that matter. It is no wonder that by the time students grow into professionals, many fall into the rut of working for a gold star that really means nothing in the long run. Although high academic performance can be something you value and work diligently to attain, its connotation must change. Implementing a growth mindset inside and outside of the classroom has been proven to make a world of difference. Consider this: if society focused on instilling the belief that every person can succeed through the process of learning rather than fostering competition, more collective growth would be achieved, which would in turn make the world a brighter place.
By Hannah Porter, Opinion Editor