Harry Brighouse about grading and its problems.
I think there is a tendency to think that grades are there to reward, or signal, individual merit, and excellent achievement.
I now think that is just a wrongheaded view about what grades are for. For two reasons. First, in nearly 20 years of teaching in research universities I regularlyóin just about every classócome across students who are smarter than I am and more promising than I was at their age, but there have only been 4 or 5 students whose work placed them unambiguously well above the rest of the top quarter, and only one whose work stunned me.
Second, it is not really true that high achievers are, by virtue of that, meritorious. To the extent that achievement is the product of natural talent, or fortuitious environment, which in most cases is considerable, it is not meritorious, but a matter of brute luck on the part of the achiever. I agree with political theorist Michael Sandel that one of the deep flaws of our social environment is that it sends lots of signals to high achievers that they are somehow meritorious in virtue of their achievement and need not feel humble or an obligation to turn their talents to the service of others less fortunate. Universities already participate in that culture, there is no need for the grading system to further mislead. Anyway, high achievement in a particular class is not always the result of effort in that class. The best predictor of achievement in a class is prior achievement in the subject that class teaches; some students routinely achieve at a lower level than other students because they are more intellectually ambitious, and thus (in my opinion) more academically meritorious.
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