Beyond Straight As

Over the last week, several of you sent me an opinion piece, “What Straight-A Students Get Wrong,” by the organizational psychologist Adam Grant. Grant writes about some of the sacrifices to other, potentially more valuable learning that many make to get such grades, about the poor correlation between college GPA and career success, and about traits that are valuable for one’s career that are not measured by GPA in college.

I have long valued Grant’s work, from his 2016 book Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World to his podcast, WorkLife, because he points out less intuitive aspects of our being that impact our effectiveness. While much of his work is applicable to adults, it is also relevant for education and children. For instance, in Originals, he discusses the value of procrastination: he details how the subconscious continues thinking about a topic even after we have ceased to actively work on it. He advises starting a difficult project and then putting it away for a while, knowing that there is likelihood for more clarity or a breakthrough when we return to it.

While I do not agree with everything he writes in this piece (for instance, grades can provide access to jobs and opportunities for those who might otherwise not have that access), there are several themes in his writing that underscore our philosophy at Country School. He talks about “creativity, leadership and teamwork skills, or social, emotional and political intelligence” as valuable skills that grades do not measure. Those qualities should sound familiar to all of us here at NCCS due to our commitment to our Mission Skills of teamwork, creativity, ethics, resilience, curiosity and time management. It is these “soft” skills that we aim to build in our students as much as academic ones because we know the long-term impact that the Mission Skills have on one’s success and happiness. That is why they are part of our mission.

Beyond that, we talk throughout our school of being “risk takers and mistake makers.” Those lines are even in our school song, Fortuna Audentes Juvat! It is hard to take true intellectual risks and be willing to make mistakes when one is focused on straight A’s as the goal. In fact, NCCS intentionally does not give grades until the second trimester of seventh grade for just these reasons—yet another example of the ways we purposely focus on long-term benefits for our students. Don’t be fooled; none of this is to say that our students should apply themselves less. Rather, it is saying that there are many important components for our students’ futures, and a sole focus on grades can make it harder to grow in other valuable ways.

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