Grade-based report cards are a “regularity of schooling”. Regularities of schooling are those features of school life whose utility we rarely question, such as age-based grade levels, starting school in September and ending in June, and assigning students grades based upon the quality of their work (Sarason). Regularities of schooling result from teachers being far too busy to stop and reflect on the advantages and disadvantages of the daily practices they inherit from the veteran teachers they replace and way too busy to envision promising alternatives.
The question, “Why are we doing this, this way?” is rarely asked, nor the natural follow up, “Is there a better way?” The unspoken answer, “Because it’s always been done this way.”
Similar limits of time result in parallel regularities of consumerism, church life, health care, marriage, and, I suspect, every sector of life and the economy. On those rare occasions when we have spare time to thoughtfully evaluate the usefulness of our personal and work life activities, we tend to fill the quiet empty spaces with television, internet surfing, and related noise/activity.
We aren’t disciplined enough to stop, reflect, envision, and thoughtfully implement promising alternatives to the regularities of our personal and work lives.
Why have grade-based report cards stood the test of time with hardly any variation despite radical changes in the world in which we live? What purposes do grade-based report cards serve? If they were to be radically redesigned, how might teaching and learning be revitalized? What form will the pushback against updated alternative report cards likely take? I begin answering these questions tomorrow.