You Are Your GPA

It’s getting towards the end of the academic term throughout North America, and it’s time to confirm a thought that haunt the corners of many student minds particularly this time of year. It’s not a pretty truth, but it needs to be said:

Your intelligence, your chance of competing successfully in the global marketplace, your ability to contribute meaningfully to the world, and your entire worth as a human being is precisely correlated to your grades.

The corollary to this axiom is that you must do everything you can to earn or otherwise obtain the highest grades possible, even if that includes shameless flattery of professors (“Have you been working out, sir?”), dark hints of litigation (“I don’t know how my parents, or their attorneys, will feel about any grade lower than a B+”), or obsequious alacrity in helping in the classroom (“Here, let me move that podium for you, ma’am, and get you some nice, cool water to go with the chocolates I’ve brought, and fan you while you lecture”).

You must also ignore your friends, romantic partner, children, neighbours, and anyone who happens to have fallen among thieves and is now lying wounded at the side of the road.

You must neglect basic habits of personal maintenance, such as proper diet, adequate sleep, vigorous exercise, and even minimal hygiene. (That last one will make your ignoring your friends and family much easier on them.)

You must remember that it is not learning that counts, not the acquisition of skills, not improving your self-discipline, not preparing for a lifetime of service to others, and certainly not glorifying God. No, no, no! All that matters is grades. For they are the true and sole measure of your entire personal worth.

That’s how we think of Mother Teresa, right? Quite the academic powerhouse she was in her native Yugoslavia, and the world admired her for it.

Billy Graham? Globally famous for the senior papers he wrote at the end of his B.A.

Martin Luther King, Jr.? No one would have heard of him if he hadn’t received a doctorate.

All through history, the story is the same. The heroic, the saintly, and the otherwise-admired have had one and only one thing in common: high grade point averages.

Or maybe not.

Maybe, instead, grades matter only to a few kinds of people—or, at least, they ought to matter to only a few kinds of people.

Some people need to know whether they have what it takes to go on to the next level of education. Some people need to know in what subjects their talents lie. Some people need to know whether they should continue in school at all or pursue another line of work. And a very few people will be more competitive in the job market because of higher grades—but not as many as you might think. (Very few jobs depend upon GPA, even in the professions, even in the academic profession.)

That’s it. The rest of us really don’t need to care about grades, do we?

But some people are, I believe, not only sweating over B+ versus B, but are earning A’s and doing so contrary to the will of God. These people are “succeeding” only at the cost of relationships with others, at the cost of their physical and mental and spiritual health, and at the cost of a proper understanding of who they are and what their lives really are about.

And these people usually grow up to be quite successful in their careers, leaving in their wake the predictable wrecked marriages and angry children and furious former friends.

GPA isn’t even a good measures of intelligence, let alone of the total worth of a person. Lots of smart people don’t do all that well at school and finally break out of it, only to prosper in a field in which their talent can blossom.

And lots of people who aren’t particularly brainy contribute to the world according to their different gifts: gifts of kindness, gifts of industry, gifts of reliability, gifts of creativity, gifts of clarity, gifts of hospitality, gifts of love.

So please hear this from a guy who has spent his whole life in the academy and finds great joy in it: It’s just school! And not everybody’s great at it! And it’s good that some people aren’t, so that they get out of school and do something else—which is, let’s be clear, most people!

You are not your GPA. So please, students, don’t succumb to the pressure to act now like you think you are.

I hope instead that during your last weeks of school you will study in order to get out of your schooling what you wanted to get when you started, back in January or September. Remember ‘way back then? Remember what your hopes and dreams were, what your objectives were, what the point of it all was?

I hope that this end-of-term pressure will help you focus on what really does matter to you, rather than on what, for most of us, really doesn’t matter: grades.

0 Responses to “You Are Your GPA”

  1. Julia

    Dr. John Stackhouse, That’s all very comforting, but I just wanted to let you know that after leaving Vancouver I have realized you are the best professor ever. Have you received my comp paper for second reading yet? -Julia

  2. John Stackhouse

    I am deeply touched, Julia, by your deeply sincere compliment, you scheming wretch. I have not received your comp paper yet, which likely means you are wasting flattery on the wrong professor.

    But thanks awfully anyhow.

  3. Family Guy » You Are Your GPA

    […] a shel of my former self wrote an interesting post today on You Are Your GPAHere’s a quick excerpt It’s getting towards the end of the academic term throughout North America, and it’s time to confirm a thought that haunt the corners of many student minds particularly this time of year. It’s not a pretty truth, but it needs to be said: Your intelligence, your chance of competing successfully in the global marketplace, your ability to contribute meaningfully to the world, and your entire worth as a human being is precisely correlated to your grades. The corollary to this axiom is that you m […]

  4. Beth

    Thanks for this summary of one of the most important things I learned in your theology classes. Not that the rest of it wasn’t important too. I learned a lot of important things. And since I’m not in one of your classes currently, you can rest assured that I’m not flattering you. 🙂

    I went to that panel discussion about McLaren’s “Everything Must Change” at Regent last week with my roommate Danice, who is in your Sys B class right now. We both agreed that we’d like to hear your opinion on the book. Drs. Provan, Williams and Derrenbacker did a great job of talking about it, but we felt that you might have something different to say. So, since your book is released and you’re probably desperate for things to do, we suggest you read McLaren’s book and write a blog entry on it.

  5. Andy Rowell

    As I heard Ken Swetland of Gordon-Conwell once say, “I have never seen a church ask for a transcript when they are hiring pastors.”

    I also think about Neil Postman said to a very rude question at the Laing Lectures. The questioner asked, “I have three masters degrees and I have no idea what that woman just said.” Postman replied, “With all of those degrees I wonder if you have an insecurity problem. I understood perfectly what she said and her critiques of my position were entirely justified.”

    On the subject of Everything Must Change by Brian McLaren, I would recommend people reading the pointed questions by Andrew Jones and McLaren’s answers at
    http://tallskinnykiwi.typepad.com/tallskinnykiwi/2008/03/brian-mclaren-r.html
    McLaren is unclear at a number of key places.

    Or see Scot McKnight’s 18 part review under his Emerging Movement category:
    http://www.jesuscreed.org/?cat=2

    All the best,
    Andy Rowell
    http://www.andyrowell.net

  6. John Stackhouse

    Thanks to Beth for her kind words and friendly provocation to read McLaren. Thanks to Andy for pointing us in some promising directions in the latter regard.

    I have not read anything by Brian McLaren and I doubt I’ll make room for the new one. I’ve read enough about what he’s saying to have sensed that I need to focus my reading on other things more relevant to my own vocation. I may be wrong about that, of course, in which case I’ll be glad to be corrected.

    Please be clear that I am not implying any judgment, pro or con, in the preceding. Obviously, I don’t read MOST authors, and the fact that I don’t doesn’t mean I’m saying anything about the quality of their work.

  7. conrade

    Dr Stackhouse,

    I thought GPA stands for “Gotta Pursue A’s.” Oh no!

    c

  8. Brian

    Well, certainly in many contexts GPA’s don’t count and just show how well one can take tests, but… I may beg to differ on one point: Sadly, grades matter to many doctoral programs and are often used to measure one’s potential to follow through and complete such pursuits. It sad this is the case but it is a reality in many situations.

  9. John Stackhouse

    Brother Brian, of course you are right about grades mattering in regard to entrance to competitive academic programs. I took that for granted, but perhaps it’s better to make that explicit.

  10. Kameron Aycock

    Thank you for what you wrote. This is my first year as a teacher (high school Spanish) and I’m shocked by what I see. I’ve told the kids all year that integrity and courtesy are more important to me, and to the World, than grades. Now I see kids putting their character, morals, health, priorities (cough, God, church, family, and friendships) on the shelf for a few weeks all for their noble pursuit of a grade. It saddens me to see them try and justify it, but it angers me to see that their parents justify and even encourage it, too! Since when were parents prouder of how their child looks on paper than of who their child is? Parents and teachers alike have a responsibility to teach kids that there are some things that aren’t ever worth sacrificing, period.

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