How important are good grades?

Recently, I was having an on-line discussion about grades, and punishing a young person (grade 5 or 6) for having decent grades when he could have had excellent grades. Because he was being lazy, and not doing his very best, and not living up to his potential.

I hear of a lot of parent discussing this, worrying so much about their kid’s grades, if they’ll get into a good university, if they will have an excellent profession, etc….etc. Or they say “I don’t care what the grades are, as long as they do their very best” (while truly believing that their very best must be excellent grades, since no parent I know would accept that their kids may not be capable of being an excellent student). Often these kids are, in addition to being students, in hours of recreational and athletic activities a week where they are also expected to excel, or at least try their very best.

I am not like this.

I think part of the issue is a lot of parents feel like their children’s success is a reflection on them. I don’t feel that way, I feel that it is not a reflection of me If my child becomes a lawyer, or a hairdresser. I believe it’s a reflection of her and what she wants to do with and for her life. As long as she is happy, and has a good enough job that she can support herself and family if she has one, I am happy. I would not be happy she ended up on welfare or something…but that would still be her responsibility.

Don’t misunderstand. I want my kids to do well academically. I promote my kids to do well in school, but I do not insist on it, and I would not punish for doing otherwise. Poor grades are their own punishment. They know that doing well in school, and being able to go to college or university, will give them better opportunities in terms of the careers they can have. They know that higher-paying careers tend to require more education. They know that if they need support to do better in school I will make sure they have it. They know that both their parents and all their aunts and uncles went to university and are watching their cousins prepare for this, they know it is what is commonly done in our circle of friends and family. I will keep making sure they hear these messages, and I will do whatever it takes to support them (mostly ensuring they have the space, times and resources to do as they are capable and motivated to do in school). I expect them to make those decisions for themselves though. I know a lot of parents disagree with me and feel that excellent grades from kindergarten up, followed by a good university education that leads to a prestigious career, are the only options for their children.

I think they may be coloured a lot by my own experiences. I did okay in elementary and early high school…but not great. Mostly Bs with some Cs and some As. I could have done better. I did not particularly want to. I had other things I enjoyed and wanted to do besides working my butt off for better grades. By grade 11 (we went to grade 13 then) I knew my marks were going to start mattering more, so I decided what I wanted to do (BSW at Ryerson) and found out what the prerequisites were to do it…and worked hard enough to do it. Not much harder though…I still worked just as hard as I had to, and spent a lot of my time that could have been spent doing better at school with reading, socializing and in school plays and stuff (I loved Mock Parliament…I was a nerdy under-achiever!).

I did much better in University than I did in High school. I guess because I like what I was doing. But in the end it didn’t matter because I did not even try to go to post secondary education (my grades were high enough to apply if I chose to though). Whether I got all As in school from grade 1 to 11, or Bs and Cs…I still would have a BSW and be working as a social worker. There is nothing I would have done differently if I had better marks than I did (and I was not realistically capable of the marks required to get the kind of scholarship that would have changed things financially for my family). So I am fine with that. I know others think it is wrong…and believe that even though the outcome would have been the same, I would still somehow be a better and more admirable person had I gotten the best marks I could have throughout school.

I disagree. I believe there is value in knowing what wants to do, knowing what takes to do it, and doing it. Thats not to say I do not ever do above the minimum in anything…I do…but I save that energy for what is important to me. I don’t do it with cleaning…I think we are all fine in a house that is not dirty enough to make us sick! I do at work, because I work with foster kids and believe that they deserve my very best effort to help them have the best lives possible…not the bare minimum to keep my job. I do it with parenting, because my own kids also deserve the best parent I can be.

But I guess I feel that my role, as being the best parent I can be, is to encourage my children to do as well as they can in school, while still being happy and well-rounded individuals. To encourage them to figure out what it is they want to do with their lives, and to go for it. Not to expect or insist they do the very best they can at every single thing they do. That is just an exhausting way to live, I never wanted to live like that, and my kids don’t have to either.

I suspect people think my attitude makes me a bad parent. I don’t care. I’m confident enough in my parenting, and my kids’ natures, to believe that they will find the paths that will make them happy and successful on their own terms. That doesn’t have to be as an academic superstar or an overachiever. Maybe my kids (or one of them) is made for that…maybe not. Either way, being happy, healthy and fulfilled is most important to me for my kids, and straight As are not the only route there.

Just musing…


2 thoughts on “How important are good grades?

  1. I don’t think you can force your child to do better in school but you can provide them with all the resources they need to do the best they can. That means helping them attain the best results possible, without “doing” the work for them. For example, providing them with extra help or tutors if they struggle in certain areas or helping them find their path.My SIL for example struggled greatly in math as a child but was given tutors to help her and became a chartered accountant/MBA-and graduating with top grade at that (she came in #19 in Canada the year she took the UFE’s). Without the extra help she would have never been able to achieve this accomplishment.. Her parents saw her potential and just gave her the support and encouragement to achieve it. I know that if I had had extra help available in certain areas I probably would have taken a totally different path. I know I didn’t live up to my potential and it still bothers me to this day! (and honestly wish my parents would have taken a more direct approach to helping me with my education rather than saying “we know you tried your best”
    It is important to help children learn good study habits and how to be persistent without giving up easily. These things need to be learned young as when one gets older it is difficult to reverse bad habits.
    Overall though, it isn’t possible to choose your child’s path for them but you can definitely encourage them to reach their potential

    • Oh don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I don’t think kids should be encouraged to do their best. Of course they should and as I said, I always give my kids the message that education is important, and the better their education, the more options they have. I just feel like there’s so much pressure these days on kids and on parents for the kids to be academic superstars. I hear about parents that are furious with their kids and or teachers because report cards are not straight As. I think it’s sad. We have to remember that not all kids, sometimes even our own kids, are cut out, cognitively and or personality wise, to be academic superstars. That doesn’t mean they can’t be good people and have happy and successful life’s worthy of parental pride. Awesome grades are great, but there are other ways kids who don’t have awesome grades can still be great and do great. Sometimes greater. Last weekend I was talking to people whose niece is very very gifted, she supposedly has a 99.9% average in high school. They have said that she is going to be a surgeon. When I asked if she wants to be a surgeon, they said they don’t know. She’s very shy and difficult to talk to, so they have no idea what she wants. They also said that their daughter goes to school with her, and she said that she has no friends and nobody talks to her. But then they went back to how smart she is, and how she’s going to be a surgeon. I thought it was sad that they were so impressed by her grades and career opportunities, and completely indifferent to the fact that they could not even have a conversation with their own niece, and she has no friends.

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