Most people wouldn’t know who William Farish was. To him, we owe the idea of grading students at examinations. Yet, one could wonder, can we really quantify our intelligence? Our beauty? Our skills? Can we really assign a number or a percentage to love or to creativity, or “to sanity itself”, as Neil Postman observes in Technopoly?
If we owe so much to mathematics – including music – that doesn’t mean that we can assign a number to our feelings or achievements. If I was to tell Shakespeare that my IQ is 140 it will mean nothing but gibberish to him. The point is that, once an idea is accepted as a standard measure in a society, the existing reality is distorted through that idea, while its new version becomes the norm. In short, what we know to be real will be different to different societies and times. Or, as Postman, himself, put it:
…embedded in every tool is an ideological bias, a predisposition to construct the world as one thing rather than another, to value one thing over another, to amplify one sense or skill or attitude more loudly than another.
Measuring our capabilities and feelings, achievements and knowledge with numbers forms specific personalities. Grades and measures don’t necessarily mean danger to our children. In fact, we don’t know anything better. This is our distorted reality we live in. We want to know the score in order to know how much more we should push ourselves for next time. That’s our logic.
The only thing I’d want to teach my kids however, is that grades have bias and carry prejudices.
My kids shouldn’t feel slammed when they score low.
Nor should they feel entitled when they score high.