Week 9: On Pirsig's Gradeless University (Pirsig 13-16)

Greetings friend, It has been some time since I last wrote you. In that absence the journey with Pirsig has continued on as I continued to read despite a lack of correspondence and thus might have read beyond you. For a spell I found little in his book that I could easily relate too, and was beginning to wonder if I'd have much to tell you about my journey, however Pirsig began to talk about the experiments of Phaedrus during the first phase of his discovery of the meaning of quality. As I read about his gradeless classes and a desire to have school with students motivated by a yearning to learn and make knowledge there own, not just going for a piece of paper and grade point average, I began to get excited for alas someone was saying some of the very things I have thought for years. I have always thought the standard way grades are done and students grasp of a subject area is tested is a rather crude way of doing things. When Dr. N. presented us a with a chance to at least hide the grades in STS I jumped on it. I can see now where I would wager Dr. N. got the idea from. In reading Pirsig's accounts of Phaedrus' classes I found it interesting that Phaedrus was surprised by who favored his new gradeless system vs who opposed it. I have found that as one of the “A” students grades are important in a very odd way. To me the grade is important only because it determines my future. Dr. N. is fond of a saying “Will it really matter in ten years?,” at first I didn't know what to make of this. With some thought I drew it out to an extreme and applied it to grades and was immediately aghast at the implications and quite upset that someone might apply it thus. While the actual grade I make now might now matter in ten years, it will mater in one or two when I apply for graduate school, and graduate school will matter in ten years. Figuring that Dr. N. didn't really mean for it to be take with extremes I decided that when looking at it applied to how much one stresses over things it might be more of a valid question. And here I have run off on a rather long tangent. Back to grades. As I said, to me the grade is only important in its power to affect my future. I frequently frustrate my friends because they will be itching to know what they got on an exam and I could care less. In my view I took the test, I did my best, and fretting will not miraculously change the red number at the top of the page to a higher one. I think I would have correctly predicted the results of Phaedrus' survey had anyone asked me to. It is my opinion that the results hold true for a majority of all “A” students across all fields. We are here to learn, few people who get “A”'s are doing so merely to get the “A”, but instead because they feel knowledge is important, and doing one's best is important, and thus the “A” is the natural result. To be honest I must admit that I do care about exactly what the grade is because I feel that anything less than a certain threshold is unacceptable. However this feeling comes from a knowledge of what my best actually is, what I know I can accomplish, not because an “A” is necessarily so much more beautiful than a “B” or any lower letter. I'm not quite done with my views on our academic system of the graded university. However, Phaedrus hasn't touched upon the usefulness of tests or the way a students knowledge in a field is determined identically in all fields despite the students major. That my friend is another whole letter, a rather long one as I'm rather adiment of the fact that there are better ways than the current method of testing. Until then my friend, Nathaniel