Russell Berman on Assigning Grades & Counting Units

In a 2008 talk called “Rethinking ‘Liberal Arts'”, Russell Berman, a professor at Stanford University, had this to say about grades & units:

“The grading system is just the dead weight of the past that has zero meaning anymore except to make lives difficult and bitter. I’m not sure if it’s as broken as the counting units system but both of these denominations are just Confederate currency. They just get in the way of real education.”

This is not quite an exact quotation (despite the quotation marks) because I have edited his words slightly to make them flow better while reading them. You can view a Stanford Teaching Commons video of the talk here or a YouTube video of the talk here. His comments appear a little less than 45 minutes into the talk. An article that summarizes many of Berman’s points, published in Stanford Report, is here.

I’m pleased that Berman’s comments echo some of the ideas John Tagg writes about in The Learning Paradigm College (e.g., a grade on a transcript rather than learning is the currency of the old school Instructional Paradigm, a grade is an extrinsic rather than intrinsic motivation for student activity, etc.).


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