Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Mon, 9 Aug 1993

I don't grade on effort and attitude instead of performance. As I once said, it is not a matter of either/or. It is a matter of both. I value both, but I use the subject as a tool to assist the student to develop his/her potential as a person. It stands to reason that if a student does not have the proper attitude to guide and energize his/her effort, the prospects of performance in that subject are commensurately and adversely affected. Why are student's attitudes important to develop? A friend of mine offered this analogy as an explanation. Make a fist. The fist represents a student's potential. Then, cover your fist with the other hand. This hand represents some of the attitudes the student has developed which restrict the movement of the fisted fingers. As long as the clenched fingers are enclosed by the second hand, the fingers cannot freely perform the delicate maneuvers of which they are capable. No one will ever know if those are the fingers of an artist, a violinist, a sculptor, a carpenter, a surgeon until that person has the courage to struggle to cast off the covering hand and reach for his/her potential. That is an effort to be appreciated. What, then, is so wrong about appreciating a student's struggle to cast off the envelope surrounding his/her attitude, learning how to learn, and considering the effort as a worthy component for calculating a grade, a grade which in itself has no absolute value or is an absolute indicator of anything except that someone gave that person that particular evaluation?

I feel strongly that we too often tend to think of success in terms of the end point of a particular experience--reading that book, answering that question, handing in that written assignment, getting that grade--rather than the value of the experience itself. We often ignore the fact, as Jesse Jackson wrote his son, "struggle builds character." And so, the true development of the student occurs in the journey rather than in the destination. The reflection of a student's development is not in the arrival at a destination, but in the nature of the path that he/she walked to get there. Let me give you a personal example of an incident that took place outside the classroom to explain.

I went on a wilderness retreat, part of which was to free climb a 100 foot sheer cliff. I have more than a touch of a fear of heights, but am in very good shape. To climb that cliff, I had to confront my fears, not only about the heights but whether my ego could stand "defeat" if I froze while climbing; for I was not sure how I would react. I was not comfortable with the situation. I sweated. I shook some. I had a lousy feeling in my stomach. I hesitated. But, with support and assurance from my bilayer, a beautiful man named Curry, and shouts of encouragement from the others, I slowly climbed my first cliff.

There was another person in the group, my wife. She was out of shape and had a severe self-confidence issue. I have never seen a person with such fright in her eyes. She sat off by herself. There were tears in her eyes. She kept angrily saying, "I am not going to do it. The hell with them." Her legs were shaking as her turn to climb was upon her. But, she started climbing, clumsily, fearfully. I could see her lips moving as a tirade of silent curses poured from her mouth aimed at those who "made" her put her life in such jeopardy. About 1/3 up the climb she froze. She had become so scared and so afraid to move that our group leader went up to climb next to her. She clung to that little ledge for dear life for about 15 minutes. Then, as if in slow motion, she started once again for the top. She froze again; she cried; we encouraged; the guide assured her; she moved a bit. This cycle repeated itself a few times. With a 1/3 of the climb to go, the guide came down and she made it to the top by herself. Below, we were shouting encouragement until our throats hurt. Some of us, myself included, had tears in our eyes at her display of courage. Yes, courage. Damn, I was proud for her. And even though we all reached the top, guess who got all the attention on the way back to the lodge, all the congratulations, and all the admiration. And if we must compare, compare each of those climbers to themselves, where they started on that day and where they arrived, guess who had come the farthest way, made the most progress, had the most significant experience, and deserved the most credit. Don't you think that is an important consideration at day's end? I do. But, to make that judgement you must have gotten to know each climber. The challenge is not to reward only those who reach the top by whatever means. The real challenge is not to punish or ignore or embarrass those who can't as yet climb or have difficulty climbing. The trick is to find ways to get them all to believe in themselves, to believe that they each are capable of climbing, to tell them that the effort itself is a worthwhile consideration, and to get them to start climbing. I don't see how these climbers are much different from the students in the classroom.

Make it a good day.


Louis Schmier  (912-333-5947)
Department of History                      /~\    /\ /\
Valdosta State University          /^\    /   \  /  /~ \     /~\__/\
Valdosta, Georgia 31698           /   \__/     \/  /     /\ /~      \
                            /\/\-/ /^\___\______\_______/__/_______/^\
                          -_~     /  "If you want to climb mountains, \ /^\
                             _ _ /      don't practice on mole hills" -\____

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