High Achieving Schmigh Achieving

Brace yourself, parents. I’m about to let you in on one of the things I repeatedly say to the kids and youth you trust me to guide through their social, emotional, and mental health needs.  Ready?  Here goes:

I don’t care about grades.

Typically followed by:

I think grades are stupid.

“But, Heather!” some of you might be thinking, “how will we know how much our kids have learned if we don’t give them grades?!”

To which I say – grades don’t give us any indication regarding a student’s degree of learning.  I should know.  I graduated with straight A’s from High School, summa cum laude from undergrad, and with just under a 3.9-something or other from grad school.  Helping my 3rd grader with homework and teaching my 7th grader about history, physics, chemistry, and more, I can honestly tell you that I learned very little in all those subjects in school.  I tested well.  I knew how to remember information just long enough to spew it back on a piece of paper filled with beautifully number 2 pencil colored bubbles.  I got the A’s.  And then I forgot the knowledge.  I didn’t really learn anything.  And I’m not the only one with this skill.

“But, Heather!” some of you might be thinking, “how will they ever get into a good college and then get a good career if they don’t care about their grades?” 

To which I say – hiring personnel and college recruiters understand the limitations of grades.  Grades are an indication of how well a person knows how to jump through hoops and give other people what they want.  Solid, passion-filled careers, generally spark from more innovation than that.  They spark from thinking outside of the box and knowing how to create your own hoops to give people what they didn’t even know they wanted but now can’t live without.  Recruiters want problem-solvers, they want creative minds, they want innovators.  Grades do not assess these things.

“But, Heather!” some of you might be thinking, “they’re kids!  Their job is to do well in school and get good grades.”

To which I say – last time I looked, a kid’s job is to learn the skills needed to be functioning, contented adults.  Do grades really factor in?  Can’t think of a time when my grades mattered one iota in my family, friendships, or vocation.  Nobody has walked into my office and asked me my gpa from graduate school, let alone high school or 3rd grade.

“But, Heather!” some of you might be thinking, “you specialize in working with gifted families!  What do you mean you don’t care about grades?!  That’s part of being gifted!”

To which I shout – AHHHHHHHH!!!!  NO!!  High achievement can be a part of gifted, but it is not automatically a part of being gifted.  To be honest, following the expectations and striving for those sought after golden A’s actually stifled my giftedness.  I became more concerned about achieving some standard determined by others that I lost (or never learned) my own voice, my own passions, my own giftings and talents.  Grades enhanced my perfectionism.  Working for the A made me not trust my own writing style or best practices for my own learning.

I cannot count the number of gifted kids I’ve worked with who simply give up on school.  They see no point, and I don’t blame them.  They ask me what the point of homework is, and parents say, “to get a good grade,” or “because that’s what’s expected of you and sometimes you just have to do what you have to do.”  But, homework for the sake of homework is a waste of time, and many bright kids get that.  They don’t want to complete a worksheet about addition when they’ve been doing multiplication for the past 3 years.  They don’t want to read for 20 minutes every night because they read for 200 minutes over the weekend, when they actually have time to dive into the book.  They don’t want to make a diorama because there’s no real world value to it.  And these gifted kids get this early.  I admire them for bucking the system, and I wish I hadn’t waited until my 30s to do the same.

I feel sad for them, too.  They often have their gt classes stripped or threatened to be taken away because they aren’t performing and therefore must not be gifted.  Or they have teachers and parents focus so much on what they aren’t doing, neglecting to build on their strengths and give them the things that they can succeed at and will want to do. 

Giftedness is about seeing and experiencing the world differently than the norm.  It’s about intense emotions, intense thoughts, creative constructs, innovation, making connections, diving deep.  It isn’t synonymous with high academic achievement.  We need to be expanding our definition of success, especially for our brightest minds.  We need to embrace that giftedness is being differently wired, not higher achieving.  We need to question who actually gets to determine what high achievement looks like, anyway.

And so, I’ll stand firm . . . grades are stupid.


Find out other ways the thinkers of today are reinforcing that giftedness and achievement are two separate things by reading all the great posts in this month's GHF Blog Hop!