Do they still have report cards in school?
From kindergarten through medical school, the card appeared at the end of every semester, my shadow, my kiss, my betrayer.
In grammar school, we were graded for academics—reading, math, and so on. The scale ran from A to F: Excellent, Good, Average, Poor, Fail. And we also had twelve did-we-do-what-we-were-told? grades: co-operation, dependability, neatness, and so forth. The scale there was simpler: O, S, or U: Outstanding, Satisfactory, Unsatisfactory.
In the fourth grade, I brought home my first report card with a U on it. My promptness was unsatisfactory. I refused to show the card to anyone.
My mother tried to coax it from me.
“It doesn’t matter what the academic scores are,” she said. “What’s really important is your behavior.”
“Here,” I said. “I don’t care anymore!”
I flung the card on the floor and ran to my room, threw myself down on my bed and wept.
As a physician, I am still graded. Silly me, I had thought after I passed my specialty boards that I was done with grades. But not so. Specialty certificates must now be renewed. And at the hospital where I practice anesthesia, I am graded on what’s really important: compliance.
Compliance has to do with rules, and neatly comprises the twelve do-what-you’re-told grades from grammar school. I have rules set for me by the government, by medical bodies, by the hospital. It’s like grammar school, except now the rules’ purpose is to “optimize patient outcome.” This means they are supposed to help patients get better.
Some of the rules have a sound basis in science—in that happy case they are called “evidence based.” But many are based on guesses. They are what somebody somewhere thinks ought to be good for patients.
I could go on and on about ought, and about grades and compliance at my workplace. But that would make me angry and rail about the stupidity and cruelty of large institutions. I would end up running to my room, flinging myself down on my bed and weeping.
So let me just say that on D-Day, the reason the GIs got to the top of the hill at Omaha beach was because they ignored what they’d been told to do and did what they thought best and let’s leave it at that.
Anyway, I want to tell you about Nick.
Nick has no report cards. At Fern Hill, mention grades and tests and compliance to the teachers and all you’ll get is a puzzled look. In my humble opinion, that is a very good thing, and I wish it would continue throughout Nick’s life.
But what about learning? What about accomplishment? How’s the reading going?
Ah, there you have me. Nick still has no interest in learning to read. Actually, he has interest, and a whopping fear of failure. He loves to be read to, and, for Nick, fictional characters are real. The subtlety and complexity of his thinking about them flabbergasts me.
But as to his picking up a book and making his own way with it, for now he’d prefer not, even though he recognizes individual words and writes them.
I have it on good authority that when schoolchildren are left to their own devices, reading kicks in by age twelve. I suppose this means that they find a way to learn to learn without giving up. We’ll see how it works out for Nick.
Meanwhile, what I fear most about Nick’s fear of failure is not how it operates on him, but how it operates on me, and how my fear of his fear in turn operates on him.
Another way of saying this is that Fern Hill doesn’t need to give me a report card on Nick, I have one of my own. As someone who has been followed all his life by report cards, I can’t help it.
I hope that by telling you about it openly, I’m less likely to tell him covertly.
So here you are:
. . .
YOU MIGHT ALSO ENJOY:
Notes on Biology, a five-minute video explaining what school is all about:
The College Countdown by Big Little Wolf
Express yourself! Any thoughts about report cards? I’d love you to add your comment below. I always respond here.