I am sorry for whatever experience you had with education that got you this upset ... — Jessica Lahey.Let's start here. Many years ago, I was in a high school English class that was studying Othello. I wrote a paper called "Iago's Death" that expressed my opinion that Shakespeare put Iago's death offstage (in contrast to every other Shakespeare tragedy in which every important character dies onstage) because by the end of the play Iago had evolved into a much more interesting character than Othello, and if Shakespeare had allowed Iago an onstage death he would have become the star of the show.
My English teacher said the paper was brilliant, gave it an A+, and told me that for the next paper he wanted me to expand on the ideas in the first paper. This was a very difficult assignment for me because I had pretty much said what I had to say in the first paper, and I didn't feel I had anything to add to it. However, I gave it my best shot, and after staying up all night, I managed to produce a longer version of the first paper.
My English teacher gave the second paper a C. He said it would have been an A paper from anyone else, but he expected more from me.
Was this a motivating experience for me? It was not. I decided that the game was rigged against me and I didn't want to play it any more. That was the end of my brief good-student period.
(This was in one of the highest-regarded public school districts in the country, by the way.)
I am beyond skeptical of the alleged character-building effects of bad grades given to good students, touted not only by Jessica Lahey in her blog, but by luminaries like the New York Times.
I've heard teachers say that they look for opportunities to give bad grades to good students because "it teaches them that it's OK to fail". Of course, they don't really mean that. No-one wants these kids to decide that it's perfectly OK to fail the occasional assignment — hey, why not the entire course? — and go to the local community college instead of a name college.
Nor will the occasional bad grade turn a previously grade-grubbing robostudent into an inwardly motivated free spirit (and again, nobody actually wants that result.)
Grade-grubbing robostudents are the natural product of a system that constantly grades students' performance, with the underlying threat that their future depends on their high school transcript. You can't cure them with the occasional personal reflection essay, graded by the teacher. You can't cure them with the occasional bad grade. Deep problems demand deep change.