Debate Magazine

Zero Point Zero (from the Archives)

By Stevemiranda

One of the first things I did after my son was born (seven years ago) was begin planning his education.  I was teaching at a traditional public high school then, so I had an insider’s perspective on what goes on there. One thing I was sure of: I didn’t want my son to have to play the game of having to get an A in all his classes.

As a classroom teacher, I learned that getting an A in a class has very little correlation with actually learning anything. Grades are tallied through a numerical formula—for example, maybe quizzes are worth 20%, homework is worth 15%, etc.—so students learn to figure out how to deliver enough points to get the desired grade. If there are only a few days left in the semester, the really determined ones understand how to negotiate “extra credit” assignments with teachers. It’s a game, and if you’ve been out of school long enough that you don’t remember it, just ask any high school kid. She’ll tell you all about it.

This game is a ridiculous waste of time. Not only that, instead of teaching kids to act with integrity, it encourages them to learn to manipulate the system. I wanted no part of this for my son. When he was about a week old, I came up with an inspired idea.

He was going to exit high school after four years with a GPA of 0.0.

I would coach him on how to talk respectfully to his teachers, and explain that it was a privilege to get to learn from them. That said, he would tell his instructors that he was hoping to use class time as a resource to help him self-direct his own education. At the end of the term, no matter how much work he did or how much he learned, his request would be for his teacher to give him an F.

With no GPA, there would be no GPA to try to maintain. That means, instead of playing the game, all of his energy could be devoted to pursuing topics that fascinated him. Instead of cramming for a test on material he’d quickly forget, he could focus on working on projects.

After four years, he would—hopefully—have a GPA of 0.0 but a list of interesting accomplishments and SAT scores on par with any other student who had dedicated himself to authentic learning. Colleges couldn’t just put his application on a scale, see how much it weighed compared to the others applicants, and then stamp it with either a “reject” or “accept.” They would have to actually look closely and get to know the person behind the numbers. Any college that’s unwilling to look that closely probably isn’t worth the tuition dollars.

I think there’s an opportunity here for someone who wants to start a non-profit, providing structure and support for kids who don’t want to play the game, and who want to work on projects related to things they’re passionate about. There are countless kids who really want to go to college, but don’t want to surrender their autonomy, their integrity, or their passion for learning.

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