Episode opens with Donna in the kitchen. She is cooking dinner. Jeff comes home from school and sits down at the table. They chat and then he gives Donna his report card. He seems happy with it; he received all Cs. Donna is clearly unhappy.
Donna goes in to see Alex. She is all worked up because of Jeff’s grades. She tells Alex who is much less concerned. Donna feels that Cs are average and that Jeff is not average. She blames the teacher for not realizing his potential, she blames the school and the community. She wants to run out and talk to the teacher but Alex calms her down.
Jeff comes in and they ask him about his grades. He says he is happy to be average.
As Jeff and Donna leave Alex’s office they run into Jeff’s friend, Phil, and his mother who are here for Phil’s check-up. Donna and the mother wait outside and chat. They talk about school. Phil has straight As and the mother is very hard on him. Donna clearly feels like Jeff is not performing up to the standard she would like.
It is parent night at the school. All the parents are looking at the student work on the walls. There seems to be a lot of competition among the parents as to their child’s success. The teacher is quite gracious as the various parents come up and give her advice on how to better teach their child. Donna overhears Phil’s mother taking about the rich, intellectual environment that they try to provide for their son.
Donna has her time with the teacher and asks her about Jeff’s grades. The teacher reports that Jeff is intelligent and a natural leader. He can do great things when he is interested in something; he is not interested in schoolwork.
Donna and Alex have a talk with Jeff about trying harder in school. He is grounded and cannot go a friend’s house until he brings up his grades. Jeff, ever resourceful, arranges to have all his friends come to him.
Donna decides that they need to create a more stimulating environment for Jeff at home. Over dinner they try to have a conversation about the Middle East peace talks. The conversation falls flat. Phil comes by to work on homework with Jeff and joins the Stones for dessert. Then there is commotion outside, all his other buddies have pushed an old car they’ve been working on to Jeff’s house so they can continue their work. Donna realizes that Jeff has found a loophole in his punishment.
Outside, the other boys are harassing Phil because they think he is a geek. They tell him he can’t work on the car with them. Jeff stands up for him and the boys decide to include him. Donna overhears this interaction and she is impressed by how kind her son is and his ability to lead the other boys.
That night Donna visits Jeff as he is upstairs studying. She tells him she is proud of him but asks him to try harder at school. After some bartering, he promises to do so.
Success is not a grade on a report card.
My adoration for Donna suffered a blow early in the episode. Her immediate reaction, blame the teacher, caused me physical pain. Here Alex was the voice of reason putting the responsibility back on Jeff. Fortunately, Donna came around and saw that Jeff does have lots of skills, he just hasn’t chosen to make his grades a major focus and that lack of focus is the reason for his grades. It’s not that he can’t do better, he is choosing to put his energy elsewhere.
I have, for many years, liked the idea of abolishing grades and this episode gives a lovely illustration of why. Grades interfere with learning. They become, in many instances, a tool of competition between the parents. The entire focus becomes what they got, not what they learned. This serves no one.
Traditional academic achievement is not the only, or even most important, measure of success. We all need to learn the fundamentals of language and mathematics that are covered in schools, but there are many skills that kids need to be successful that schools either can’t or don’t teach. I am always shocked by the lack of quality technical education in schools, this seems to me something we really need to address.
I have known many students who excel in areas that are not measured on the report card. There have been amazing artists, actors, skateboarders, athletes, videographers, and game designers. These students often just did C work in my class. For them, eighth grade English was not a passion. I think that’s ok. I don’t worry about these students. They have solid language skills, despite their lack interest in the novel No Promises in the Wind or the fact they didn’t care about doing the homework I assigned; they know how to work hard at something that is important to them and know that hard work is necessary to accomplish their goals; and they will be successful. If the only thing you are good at is getting good grades, what do you do when school ends? Balance, always balance.
If your child isn’t an A student that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as long as they have other interests. In fact, it probably means they will grow up to be a more interesting and balanced person. If they truly lack skills, then worry about that. If they have the skills and not the grades you need to decide what is really important. If they are apathetic in all areas of their life, then there is cause for worry. If they are really bombing classes and might not graduate, then worry is warranted. An occasional average grade is not cause for major concern. No one, not even your precious child, is supposed to be perfect and exceptional in all areas. We all have strengths and weaknesses. This is called being human. If we grow up not acknowledging that we have areas of weakness, we grow up to becoming arrogant and obnoxious adults.
Please, look at the whole child. I have had too many students who have come to me in hysterics because of grades. They feel their parents are only happy with As, not with any other accomplishments. I also know teachers who artificially inflate grades. This appeases those parents who are only concerned about the grade but doesn’t really improve learning. I suppose that, if your only goal is to get into the “right” college then grades are very important. But what happens after college? Grades only reward one very narrow measure of success, how good a student you are. I know many people who are very successful adults who were poor students. I really feel that far too much importance is placed on five letters of the alphabet.
Plan of Action
When talking to youth, ask questions about what they are learning and what they are passionate about, not what their grades are.