There are a few special students who strive to do far more than necessary – those who struggle, sweat and clamor to distinguish themselves, on paper, as shrines of scholastic achievement. Some may call these burgeoning students the “pride and joy” of higher education.I call them pretentious, self-interested annoyances or, in my more blunt moments, I refer to them as “GPA whores” because of the impression that these students will do anything for a few points here and there. They will beg, plead, cry, or obtain a court-issued mandate for the grade – whatever it takes.
This brings us to the issue of the plus/minus system. As a recent transfer student from Southern Methodist University, I have dealt with the plus/minus system and over-enthusiastic “special students” more than I care to remember.
A common philosophy drives both plus/minus and grade grubbing and neither should be encouraged in a serious academic institution. They both miss the aim of education, which is not a grade but, rather, knowledge.
Both the plus/minus system and grade hounds focus too heavily on the numerical grades, which serve as measurements of knowledge. However, when one tries to quantify something abstract, such as knowledge, something gets lost in translation.
In philosophy, we call it “reification” – go ahead, Google it. Basically, the whole argument of reification is that some things like knowledge, love, happiness, fear, sadness, etc., aren’t readily quantifiable and thus aren’t accurately represented by numbers.
However, in order to objectively measure a person’s knowledge, one must use some universal standard and that standard is numeric. This is obviously a problem.
But ranges like the current ABCDF grading system, allow a university, or any institution for that matter, to sidestep the problem. The ranges account for the fact that knowledge is not readily quantifiable.
However, the more specific the grading system, the more one arbitrarily casts a judgment on a student. The difference between an A and a B student is somewhat clear. But what’s the difference between the quality of an A minus student and an A student when there’s only a few points difference? How does one draw that distinction? It’s an arbitrary distinction that often exists only on paper.
During my time at SMU, I often encountered a dilemma when deciding on a paper topic for a philosophy class. Often, I had to choose between an ambitious topic and safe topic. I would then weigh the costs of tackling a more substantive issue that would invariably be tougher to argue when I knew it might cost me in GPA points with the SMU plus/minus system.
That’s my main issue with the plus/minus system. It often creates situations in which a student has to choose between academic ambition and the all-mighty GPA.
This, in turn, creates a conundrum of intellectual integrity for a student, especially when said student plans to apply to some sort of graduate school.
Well, I should say that this arrangement creates a problem for some students, the ones who value education over grade points. For the “GPA whores,” there’s no decision to make – GPA every time. So, I pose this question, is this the type of student TCU wants to promote? Are we to applaud and reward those who have no qualms about selling out academic intrepidity in exchange for a higher GPA?
Don’t do it, I say. Let the “GPA whores” labor under the weight of their obsession with appearances. Let the rest of us continue with our work unbothered by the pettiness of the difference between A and A minus.
Lance Webb is a junior philosophy and news-editorial journalism major from Fort Worth.