I have a confession to make.
I used to be obsessed with grades.
Yes, its true. The day after finals (I'm in high school) I would eagerly line up to see just how high of an A I had gotten. I would gloat to my friends, compare my scores with my competitors, feign that I was sorry about other people's less than fantastic grades, and, in general, be a complete and total superficial bitch.
It was with this attitude-- the smug, "I'm going to be valedictorian!" one-- that I entered my junior year. My first trimester was five honors classes. Naturally, I completely blew them off. I knew I was smart and that I didn't have to work for anything. I didn't do homework. I sat in class and jacked around. I don't remember a single day of my Spanish class because I spent the entire time either reading novels or doing my hair.
Obviously you, the savvy reader, can sense a downfall coming. The arrogant heroine is about to be put in her place and taught a lesson by some sort of wizard or sage who will reveal the folly of her ways through a terrible cataclysm.
Let's call him a warlock instead, shall we? And let's also call him Mr. Smith to keep it all very generic and not implicate any specific person. I still hate the man to this day (not because of the outcome of the class, but because of his generally condescending attitude). He was my trigonometry teacher, and he couldn't teach. Asking him a question would result in either a wrong answer that made no logical sense, a "look in the book", or a "Why are you stupid!?" look. Sometimes there was a combination of the three. This pissed me off to no end; I literally wanted to scream, "I am smarter than you will ever be, so FUCK OFF!" every day.
I told you I was a superficial bitch. I was also egotistical.
To make a long, sad story short, I got a B in the class. It was an 89.7% and he wouldn't round up to an A. I was heartbroken. It was my first B. Standing in his classroom as he asked for my name (he didn't even look up at me) and listening to him say, "B" I felt the epiphany pass through me. I felt like running out of the building and throwing myself into the path of a bus, or throwing a desk at him and his wicked gradebook, or just finding my friends and crying all over them. Then the second passed and I left the room completely devoid of emotion. I was utterly numb for the entire week of vacation.
Did I overreact? Probably. Did it make my life better? The verdict is still out. Have I gained anything conclusive from this? Absolutely. I've seen the true nature of my previous self. I've become someone entirely new. The rest of this node will be the story of my transformation.
The next trimesterI thought that I could just blow it off and move on, pretending it hadn't happened. I listened to a classmate of mine (let's call him J.D.) pester me every day about that B as he wheedled and schemed his way towards valedictorian. Every day, I seethed with hatred anew. Suddenly I was discounted from intellectualism. People didn't ask me for help anymore. I felt like my life had no purpose. What was I, if not the smart one? Wasn't that my whole personality? Wasn't my IQ all that I had to give? In the end, I was sure of all my grades but one: Honors Chemistry. I couldn't bring myself to see what it was. I avoided the teacher when he handed out grades; when the final was handed back I shoved it into my pocket and later threw it away. I also threw away the report card, unopened. I even went so far as to talk the Vice-Principal of the school into not giving me my Honors certificate so I wouldn't know if I had gotten First Honors (all A's) or Second (A's and B's). This ignorance truly was bliss.
Third trimester came, and I hit bottom. The wave of ignorance I had been riding on suddenly crashed into the shore, and there I was, floundering in the undertow. I had Mr. Smith again, this time for Pre-Calculus. Honors Chemistry was challenging. I began to think, "To hell with grades! What do they mean anyway?" and I didn't do anything. I have no idea what most of my grades were, because I didn't look unless I was forced to. I didn't so much struggle as sit down passively and watch the world flash by. Then, the second half of my epiphany arrived in the mail.
It was a catalogue from the forgotten University of my dreams, Oxford. I had sent away for it a long time ago, when I lived in a more beautiful world, where I still thought that I had the motivation and ambition and, god forbid, intelligence to be accepted. I opened it and stared at the wonderful pictures inside. I wanted to go there so badly that the feeling of longing was almost a physical sensation. Suddenly there was a reason to succeed. But what of my grades? They were fairly miserable. At finals, just one week hence, I would have the chance to make them A's. Could I do it? And the old pressure, the old competitive spirit, began to gnaw at my soul again.
Despite all this renewal of purpose, I was not completely without learning from my past experience. Throughout the next week I realized that I had been looking at everything wrong. Immersed once again in the culture of competition that permeated the upper echelons of the intelligentsia at my school I began to see the corruption within it all. J.D. and his friends spent most of their time coming up with elaborate cheating schemes. The few who really did care-- and who weren't cheating-- were trying their absolute hardest and still not getting A's.
What do grades mean? They are just marks on paper, denoting the ability to, as Holden Caulfield would say, "play the game." I knew most of everything that my teachers had taught (somehow, miraculously). If I had been scheming for A's all trimester long, I could have had them. Now, at zero hour, I was going to have to make a decision. Should I, too, sell my soul to the Satan of grades? (This is not to say that people who get A's are all godless, soulless pagans sacrificing goats in their basement. Just some of them.) Or should I realize that knowledge of the facts was the only true measure of intelligence, and that just because someone can bubble things in on a test doesn't mean that she knows anything? Could I transcend the world of "the game" and simply gain knowledge for knowledge's sake? I went into finals still undecided. I didn't look at any of my grades when it was over. I am proud of my friends who got A's, because they deserved them. I know that many people got A's who didn't deserve them. I wouldn't have. From this day on, I am starting an Anti-Grade Revolution. I will not look at what I get on tests. I will learn simply for the joy and pain of learning. If this is to be a one-woman movement, it's fine with me. I just hope that you have heard the sincerity in me as I write this. I hope that what I have said has made you think about the nature of your own achievements. I hope that you too will believe in knowledge as the only goal.