In 2008, I worked as one of the three teaching assistants for my doctoral advisor’s Black Power Movement class. I lectured a great deal in the class, which had over two hundred students. As a passionate student and teacher, I pulled no punches. I spoke truth with the intention of changing minds.
One night while grading my third of the papers, I noticed that many of the white students were scoring well of the exam and, unfortunately, lots of the Black students were lagging behind. In truth, I got a little frustrated. “How could the whites students be doing better in a class totally about Black people?”
Really, interested in the answer, as the next study session, I asked some of the white students about how they were getting good grades. The answers were similar: “I study a lot.” “I use mnemonic devices.” “I study as hard as I can so that I can keep my G.P.A. up so I can get into the graduate school of my choice.” “The content is interesting, but it’s not really my cup of tea.”
The trend continued until the end of the semester. Many of my whites students earned As and walked out never to really engage the subject matter again. But then I had many Black students who received Bs and Cs, but told me that the class truly changed their lives. In fact, a few asked for more books on the Black experience so that they could continue to delve deeper and continue on the road towards knowledge of self.
In reflecting on the class in the following days, I began to question the validity of letter grades. I asked myself, “Would I want a student who gets an A by memorizing all the information only to forget it after the test? Or, would I want a student who gets a lower grade, struggles to retain the information, but is curious to learn more and is moved to change by the knowledge?”
My answer: I would take the student with the low grade and curiosity any day. For curiosity opens the door to wisdom, while working for a letter grade looks good in the short term, but leads nowhere.
Dr. Samori Camara
Education for Liberation: The Top 20 Questions and Answers for Black Homeschoolers
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