B is for best

The B student is, quite possibly, the best student in school. Someone with a 3.0-3.9 GPA is not a failing student. An above-average student – better than presidential material in some cases – the B student has some telling advantages over the A student.

The A student runs the risk of sacrificing their education for the sake of their grade. If a particular English professor simply adores the five-paragraph essay, and then grades papers with no length requirement according to this bias, the A students will be the ones who inevitably write essays in exactly five paragraphs.

The B students are the ones who are willing to explore the subject of the essay while leaving themselves free of the constraints of their teachers’ biases.

Maybe in exploring the topic, seven paragraphs are needed. Right near the end of paragraph six is a huge insight into the topic that the A student will forever be unable to reach.

Anyone who pays attention in class, does the homework, knows the subject well and takes a test on it will likely receive at least a B grade.

The A students put much more effort in, but does that effort result in a better knowledge of the subject or only better short-term retention of the facts? Memorizing every date of every event in the Roman Empire will tell you nothing of the kind of man that Hadrian was, but it may increase your grade.

Grades are, and have always been, abstract quantifiables that only broadly relate how much one has learned from the subject. In some cases, superior grades are awarded to those with inferior knowledge of the subject overall, but superior knowledge of the quirks of the class: how the teacher tests, what will be on the exam, which are the really relevant facts to know. These quirks are often the dividing factor between the A student and the B student, but the students’ actual knowledge of the subject is unrelated to their grade.

An above average student’s knowledge of biology may not be as comprehensive as the valedictorian’s, but who can better describe to a layperson the division of a cell? This is not a skill that is quantifiable by grades.

Nor are many of the skills necessary in the modern world. Who is more creative? Who has better people skills? Who can find an accounting glitch the quickest? Who is the best person for the job, the A student or the B student?

You cannot tell by grades. The amount of busywork one puts into the attainment of a grade does not reflect on how much they have gotten out of a course, or how much they have learned from it.

The same can be said of both A and B students upon completion of any given course: They both understand the subject competently.

The big difference between the A and the B, then, is only the attention to detail and complete, unending accuracy that the A students put into it.

Having spent more time writing vocabulary lists than a B student, an A student will get a better grade on a Spanish test. But wandering around lost in Mexico, each would get along linguistically about the same, if they both had only two years.

But having four years of B-level Spanish will give you more ability to speak the language than having two years of A-level. Educational accomplishment, then, could almost be said to be measurable by quantity, and not by quality.

So why bother with an A? Why should students attempt to make 100 percent the average for the entire course?

It must be because it is still useful to have a goal. “Man’s reach must exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?”

I don’t remember who said that line, and if there were an English test on it today I would get below an A. But the fact that I am able to quote a line of poetry in context seems to be of more value to me than blankly remembering author and title. Had I spent more time memorizing those facts, I would have had less time to read other poems.

Chalean MacTavish can be reached at [email protected]