There was once an old Ziggy cartoon where Ziggy walks past a giant placard that says, "GOD IS
THE ANSWER." In the next panel, Ziggy's little thought cloud says, "I wonder what the
In today's middle class mad-dash to secure a future for our children, I often observe parents who
seem to think GRADES ARE THE ANSWER.
In my children's school, letter grades (A-E) are giving beginning in first grade. Of course, grades
are one reflection of how much a child is learning. But they are only one measure, and it's a
rather myopic measure at that.
Many famous case studies demonstrate how little grades in school necessarily correlate to
success in life. Albert Einstein struggled miserably in elementary school; Bill Gates dropped out
Studies in educational psychology have found merely a weak or nonexistent link between grades
and later success in life. In fact, Daniel Goleman, author of the groundbreaking bestseller
Emotional Intelligence,believes the strongest predictor of success in life has absolutely nothing
to do with grades. Goleman calls it the "master aptitude."
The master aptitude is the ability and willingness to doggedly keep trying no matter what. This
says to me that the child who earns B's, but worked hard for those B's, is more likely to achieve
success in life than the child who sails through life easily earning A's.
I'll bet we all know someone who was born with talents and intelligence to spare - someone for
whom most things they tried in childhood and adolescence were easy. Quite often, those
someones have achieved precious little in adulthood. Why? Because the struggle is where the
most important learning takes place.
When I have students who get to some point -- maybe their first AP class, or a really tough
English teacher in 7th grade -- that really stretches their abilities, they inevitably complain.
Loudly. And long. To anyone who will listen, which often includes me.
Outside I nod sympathetically, and I listen respectfully. But inside I am cheering, because,
finally! This child will learn how to work.
So much is done for our children today, and I wouldn't change most of it. Children deserve to
feel safe, loved, and have their bellies full. But, the side effect is that sometimes they are so
unfamiliar with trial and difficultly that when they inevitably face it at some point in their life,
they freeze up or even run away from it, rather than work through the problem.
Grades may tell us how our children are doing on assignments in relation to a certain standard of
excellence. But grades don't necessarily tell us how challenged our children are, how hard they
work, or whether they know how to overcome obstacles.
So, when my third grade daughter brings her grades home, I look it over, then I say, "I'm proud
of the things you have learned this semester. I know math sometimes frustrates you, and this
shows me you have been working hard at it anyway. Good for you, sweetie."
I never tell her I am proud of her A's. I never take her to Krispy Kreme to get donuts for them.
That puts the value on the wrong thing. The A is of no value. The concepts and skills she has
learned are of value. The work ethic is of value.
I remember in 8th grade bringing home a report card full of A's except one -- math had a B. It is
telling that I remember this nearly 25 years later. My father's response was, I think, quite typical.
He said "why are you getting a B in math?"
He didn't say he was proud of my A's. They were expected. I was crushed. I worked harder for
that B than I had for any of the A's on that report card.
I found vindication five years later. Though math was always a struggle for me, I persisted in
taking the challenging math classes through high school. I would go in early to school or stay
late to get help on concepts I did not understand. I would do my math homework first each night
to make sure I had the time to put into it.
When senior awards night came around I got only one. It was a tiny bit of scholarship money
from the math department, naming me "Most Likely to Be a Math Teacher."
I was completely gobsmacked when they called my name. Me? I hate math. I struggle with math.
But what the teachers had seen is that I worked harder at it than most ever tried. And that is what
That is what we should all value in our children's learning endeavors.
Maybe my dad did me a favor, calling out that B in eighth grade. It certainly made me work
harder to please him. But, I have a driven personality. My mom says I was driven from the
What about the child that would more likely respond by giving up? After all, if he tried his best,
and it still wasn't good enough. Why try again?
My third grader is getting to the age where she now knows what an A is, and what it means. She
hears parents talking about grades. She hears fellow students bemoaning their grades.
This is frustrating to me, because a child doesn't learn that GRADES ARE THE ANSWER by
magic. Someone in his life taught him that. Someone in his life told him the grade is the most
important thing, the measure of his success at school.
That someone may be robbing his child of the more important lesson -- that HARD WORK IS
THE ANSWER. Hard work is what will carry that child through an adulthood riddled with
potholes, lost jobs, failed relationships, and disappointments -- not grade school report cards.
Emily S. Jorgensen is an independent music teacher in the Provo/Orem, Utah, area. She is an
active adjudicator and lecturer across the Wasatch front. She has held several positions in the
Utah Music Teachers Association. She has three children and is expecting her fourth soon.
Emily grew up in Tacoma, Washington, earning her International Baccalaureate diploma in high
school. She was awarded a Trustees Scholarship at BYU, and was graduated from BYU with a
Bachelor of Music in Piano Performance and a Masters of Arts in Elementary Music Education.
She taught group piano classes at BYU, and has operated a private studio for 16 years, where she
has taught private and group music lessons for ages 2 through adult.
Emily currently serves as Primary president in her LDS ward, and is still married to her high school