Dear Parents: Grades Don’t Matter
Before you freak out, just bear with me for the next five minutes.
I get it – at this point, you're a parent and you're hoping your child never finds this article so they can throw it in your face. Not to mention, you want them to do well in school…
That being said, for the last 20+ years parents, teachers, and adults have been preaching this common gospel about school:
- Pay attention (great skill to learn)
- Work hard (an amazing attribute to develop)
- Study (work ethic is important)
- Get good grades (just keep reading)
- Use those grades to go to college (defitnley keep reading)
But here is the truth… grades don't matter. Grades are about the most inaccurate measure of someone's capability, but also their worth (many students associated their worth with grades).
Just like the inflation in student loans, grades are more inflated than ever, and quite honestly, it is only getting worse.
Not to mention, in the grand scheme of things, as an adult you're not graded on how you do. There is no such thing as perfection in every area of life, so why do we preach and teach perfection to our children?
Let's take a deep dive into why grades really don't matter:
Why Good Grades Don't Really Matter
If you read my previous post about letting parents know they should really stop ruining sports or my other post letting parents know they should let their kids fail, you might have asked yourself this:
How does someone without kids give parenting advice?
As a teacher and former coach, I just write about the trends I see from a non-bias parent viewpoint. I observe where my peers struggle with life and finances and I look at how the effects of certain things play out.
This is just my opinion… and coming from a teacher this might sound crazy… but grades don’t matter. Because it's not about being the best student in every subject.
Perfect Grades Teaches Perfection.
I will be the first to admit, I was not the best student. In elementary school I was a “C” student, in fact, I had a tutor and my parents/teachers honestly thought I couldn’t read. No, I could read, I just would rather go to the play corner in 1st grade than sit at a desk.
By middle school I managed to sprinkle in a few “B’s” to go with my “C’s” and by freshmen year I had every letter of the alphabet.
I would get A’s in my electives, B’s in English and Social studies, C’s in Math and Science and I would fail my foreign language classes… at least that was the case my freshman year.
It was at that point in 9th grade I started hearing things like, “You better get your grades up if you want to go to college Josh.”
Being 14 I wanted to go to college… but I had no clue my 9th-grade classes were so important. (Now, considering the fact that counselors talk to students about college in middle school, that is no longer an issue, so no worries there).
However, the maturity of a 14-year-old is different than my 18-year-old self, heck even when I was 16 I was more mature.
Why in the world were things I did at 14 when I was still sprouting armpit hairs going to have much bearing on my future?
But I digress, back to the not-so-good student thing.
I had some bad grades, but I wasn’t dumb. I just didn’t study and I hated math class. For the most part, I winged school – I made sure I had something on paper to turn in and I checked the box.
I went on to actually do pretty well after my 9th grade year because I realized I did want to go to college, but for the most part I never “applied” myself.
But here was the kicker – my working mom never talked to me about my grades or put pressure on me to perform well. And some of my peers had great grades and have done well in life, but I’ll be darned if there weren’t numerous people with “good grades” in high school who really haven’t made much of a splash today.
Because grades do not indicate your future success.
Grades Don’t Mean Much.
Here is traditional school in a nutshell –
- Can you memorize and regurgitate a bunch of stuff thrown at you?
- Do you have quick processing speeds?
- If you do, chances are you will do well in formal schooling as we know it.
That concept above comes from one of the smartest and most innovative minds in the world, Ray Dalio, in his book Principles. Now, he goes on to elaborate and he talks about the DRIVE and AMBITION it takes to do well in school and I agree.
I don’t want some 13 year old to get ahold of this, print it then show it to his parents as to why he can now slack off in school. Don’t confuse my message.
My message behind grades not meaning much is that you can be really really studious, do all your work and chances are you will get good grades. But does that really mean anything in the grand scheme of things as an adult?
It is not like a student can fall back on their good grades in a job interview.
Sure there is pride in doing well and school and by college, I took pride in how I did. But the emphasis at that point wasn’t graded… it was LEARNING. Learning and developing problem-solving skills were more important than turning in a “Journal Entry as a Spartan.”
I recently asked this hypothetical question to a class:
You can have straight A’s but not learn a thing or you can have straight C’s but you learn and know more than anyone else in your class?
Can you guess what the kids picked? Grades.
But not because of why you might think. Most of them said they would rather learn, but that their parents would basically disown them for their bad grades, or they wouldn’t get into their “dream college.”
And that is why I say grades don’t matter, because a letter is not indicative of my self-worth, or anyone else's for that matter. I will also add college is a business – so you will find a home, don’t worry.
Grades and Perfection
I am not going to go down the rabbit hole of depression and anxiety because it is above my pay grade and there are lots of things I don’t understand fully. But I will pose this question for thought:
Is there a correlation between the pressures of getting good grades, social media, and getting into college AND the spike in depression rates in adolescents?
The very obvious answer is YES, there has to be a correlation. With the burden of getting good grades and keeping up becoming more and more each year, there is no wonder the “D” and “A” words are used so often.
But like I said, that is a rabbit hole I don’t want to go down, but I do want to point out something.
The issue with good grades is that good grades indicate perfectionism. Getting straight A’s is being perfect. Being perfect in school, sports, part-time jobs, getting into college, dating and socially is just not manageable.
Only a select few people can actually manage all areas and those types of people are exceptional, and he not be me, or most likely you if we’re being serious.
So if being perfect is not an obtainable standard, why do we promote it? Why do we tell students they have to get good grades to be successful when most of us know that after college you’ll never talk about grades again?
The Emphasis on Good Grades Means Grade Inflation
Our standards for what the model student looks like are high… in every club, all-conference athlete, perfect grades, and a whole slew of resume fillers. But do they really mean anything if you are just going through the motions?
Or worse, do grades matter if they are watered down and inflated?
In 11th grade I asked my English teacher about AP English. She laughed at me and simply said, “No Josh.” End of story. Today… well that is not the end of the story, it is just the beginning. But instead of keeping the standards high and qualifying students, everyone gets a shot.
Which is why you see more AP test-takers… and more failures. But it is not just AP. Because we have such as societal emphasis on going to college, parents are FANATICAL about grades. However, not only is pressure about grades terrible for kids, the fact that schools are virtually succumbing to every parent request, grades don’t really carry any weight.
IF grades are supposed to be so important, then not everyone can be an A student… right?
- Not everyone gets on the basketball team…
- Not everyone gets to be the general manager…
- Not everyone is an honor roll student… Which is OK!
Grades Encourage Immediate Gratification.
Chasing grades might also be the highest form of immediate gratification. Like a dog, shake a paw, get a treat, grades are like treats to adolescents.
Teachers are peppered with questions about how many points an assignment is worth. When students do the math and find out whether or not it impacts their grade – they then decide to do it or not.
In the real world if my boss gives me an assignment, I don’t decide whether I feel like doing it or not, I do it. The same can be said when we don’t want to work out, or do anything in life – we do anyways.
And one of the most important things that grades actually hurt is learning how to be patient and delaying gratification.
Hands down, one of the most important traits to being financially secure and setting yourself up for success is knowing how to say no and delay. But if you give into every temptation, life seems to be more challenging.
If students only look for points and they don’t actually learn, well isn’t that just instant gratification?
So if grades don’t matter, what does?
If grades don’t matter, what does then?
If you were to poll parents they would want their kids to be good at the following when the become adults:
- Building confidence,
- being able to problem-solve,
- working through issues,
- emotional intelligence,
- being a good person,
- being selfless,
- helping others
- financial management
- positive relationships
- the ability to say no
- mental toughness
Sure, hard work, focus, discipline and determination are all required to earn good grades – but that was before grades were inflated. Now, getting good grades isn’t even challenging. So not only do grades not really mean anything or matter, the qualities they used to instill are not even a positive by-product.
Just flying by the seat of your pants and doing enough to get by is not how we become financially secure, healthy, productive adults.
What matters, is having values. Developing a purpose and being kind to others.
What matters, is not having a letter or percentage define our youth (or ourselves).
And what matters, is being able to realize that as long as you decide to make it happen, it might not happen overnight, it might not ever happen, but it is your effort and self fulfillment that counts!
Josh writes about ways to make money, pay off debt, and improve yourself. After paying off $300,000 in student loans with his wife in less than five years, Josh started Money Life Wax and has been featured on Forbes, Business Insider, Huffington Post, and many more! In addition to being a life-long entrepreneur, Josh and his wife enjoy spending time with their newborn son, their chocolate lab named Morgan, working out, being outside, traveling, and helping others with their finances! In case you were wondering, Josh uses Personal Capital to track his net worth and his first investment account ever was an Acorns account 😎