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Re: Defining Student Success

At 09:53 AM 6/5/01 -0500, Rick Tarara wrote:
Like it or not, many of the student strategies defined by Michael are true
'life-skills'. The hard working, introspective person will NOT succeed in
positions that are highly political and require 'jumping through hoops' and

I personally don't think that being tolerant of students who don't finish
and hand in assignments is ultimately helpful to those students. Such
cavalier attitudes towards work will not serve them well beyond the doors of

This contains a germ of truth, but it is greatly overstated, and therefore

As I said before, success is multidimensional. Traits necessary for
success in one field may not be well suited to another field.
-- Some jobs are highly political. But some are not.
-- Some people are hurdle-jumpers, and need artificial hurdles to jump.
But not all successful people are like that.
-- There are some careers "beyond the doors of academia" (such as certain
military jobs) where doing exactly what you are told is _very_ important.
But there are other careers where it is not.

I work with a whole department full of people who are highly internally
motivated. AFAICT, they have never followed a rule or jumped through a hoop
in their life. If you tell them to do something that's not worthwhile, the
more you pester them, the less likely they are to do it. If they do
something, they do it because they think it is right, not for the external
motivation and empty symbolism of something like a grade.

I also pointed out that grades do not reflect important traits such as
generosity, integrity, courage, incisive insight, sense of humor, et
cetera. Michael Edmiston's daughter gave a concrete example of a
_negative_ correlation between integrity and good grades. She could easily
have gotten an A in band class, just by falsifying her practice records.

I care a whole lot more about integrity than good grades.

The next year's band class didn't have a good solution either. If
everybody gets an automatic A, that pretty much concedes the point that
grades don't mean anything (in that class at least).

More generally, how do you set up an honor roll when people are allowed to
take electives?
-- Suppose a musician takes a serious astronomy course and doesn't do as
well as the astronomy majors... Is that dishonorable?
-- Suppose an astronomer takes a serious music-theory course and doesn't
do as well as the music majors... Is that dishonorable?

In such cases, good grades are _negatively_ correlated with courage, and
with love of learning.

Life skills? There's a lot more to life than grades.

Grades are a _rough_ reflection of a small _subset_ of the true life
skills. They are also serve as a way of motivating a _subset_ of the

There is a theorem (I call it the "flower pressing theorem") that says you
cannot change dimensionality in a way that is one-to-one and continuous.
Success is multi-dimensional. Therefore the notion that you can measure
success on a one-dimensional grade-point scale is mathematically impossible.