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Should We Do Away With Grading in College?

Grades Help to Develop a Strong Work Ethic

I recently read that a New School professor is calling for the abolition of grades claiming it is unfair to students. Gee, I thought grades introduced fairness because students are evaluated on their work and given higher grades for better work. I guess this is an old concept – or I’m just getting too old! The same professor says grading is a means to prop up capitalism, and as such, academia would be better off doing away with grading entirely.

According to the article, Richard Wolff has been known to promote Marxism and condemn capitalism, even going so far as to blame capitalism for American homelessness. Blaming capitalism for societal problems is in vogue right now, at least among Democrats. Even if we accept this premise, it’s a big leap to say grading should be abolished. For more on this, please link to a previous blog where I discuss these issues in depth.

Wolff goes on to say, the practice of grading is one that has served to prop up America’s capitalistic system and its “major failures,” including “socially divisive inequalities” and the creation of boring, dangerous, and/or mind-numbing jobs.

This is a ludicrous notion. The problem with college kids today is most don’t want to work hard. Which is the reason so-called STEM careers (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) go wanting. Why work hard at school and get good grades (Oh, there’s that dirty word again) when you can become famous as a vlogger?

I’m troubled not only by the professor’s comments and ideas but the reality that youngsters in the U.S. would rather be stars on You Tube while Chinese kids aspire to be an astronaut as their number one career choice. Check out the following data.

Chinese v US students

From my many years of teaching one thing is clear. Grades are a function of hard work, studying smartly, finding a good group of students to share the studying load, and being able to write well and critically think through controversial issues using analytical reasoning skills.

These are values of an effective learner and grading is a must to differentiate between the best and the worst. Future employers look for these skills in new hires and many rely on grades to help make that distinction. Hard work in school that pays off as indicated by higher grades is an indication that the student will work hard at his or her job as well.

Maybe the grading system needs to be tweaked, at least reflecting on the process and outcomes is always a good idea and is consistent with what accreditation standards look for. In other words, a robust system that is discussed among professors to make sure students are treated fairly.

If we were to eliminate grades does that mean we should eliminate scoring in sports? After all, excelling in school and excelling in sports can both be labeled a scourge of capitalism.

Most students work hard in college to get good grades. Take away that incentive and we create a moral hazard problem. Moral hazard is where there is a lack of incentive to guard against risk where one is protected against its consequences.

We increasingly live in a no consequences society. Taking away grading will only exacerbate the problem of a lack of a strong work ethic.


Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on August 29, 2019. Steve recently published a book titled Beyond Happiness and Meaning that explains the ethics of personal relationships,  workplace interactions and on social media activities. Visit Steve’s website, sign up for his newsletter, and buy his book on Amazon. Follow him on Facebook and “Like” his page.