How Do You Balance Grades and Middos?

In the BT parenting recipe post the author wrote:

Very little interest in grades at school – middos are all that matter to me on their reports.

To which Ron Coleman commented:

I cannot comprehend how one can teach children “middos” while teaching them that grades — which for most people are the best evaluations we have of how kids are doing in school, which includes the (ethical) components of diligence and responsibility — don’t matter. The acceptance of mediocrity is a major cultural issue in our community and I strongly disagree with this suggestion.

Do you prioritize either middos or grades?

How do you put grades in their proper perspective?

How about students that work hard and still end up with “C”s?

Is effort and improvement more important than grades?

15 comments on “How Do You Balance Grades and Middos?

  1. Mr.Cohen wrote above, “Midot education is done by studying books” and also suggested short plays.

    We should also include being around people who have good middos. Teachers and adult family members should exemplify the middos the kids need to learn.

  2. Grades are a goal to work toward, and having the discipline, commitment, organizational skills, etc… to get them ARE middos.

    I’m just saying that striking the right balance is so much more an issue of what your child needs than anything generic amongst all children that asking the question in general is meaningless.

  3. Midot education is done by studying books.

    My suggestion is that midot also be taught by having the students become actors in short plays that demonstrate good and bad midot.

  4. Mark Frankel wrote,
    “Bob, reaching the student’s potential is quite vague and undefinable. I would run very fast from schools that tell me that’s their goal.”

    It’s perfectly OK in a mission statement, but it clearly needs some meat (strategies, methods, plans, the right personnel…) to back it up.

    The school I would shy away from is the one that makes no allowance for personal qualities and wants its products to be as alike as two boxes of Cheerios. In fact, that type wouldn’t even admit students without that “Cheerios” potential.

    You’ll note that above I did not condemn progressive educators as a group. Some are serious and successful, while others are manipulators.

  5. Grades are not necessarily a good indicator, since you are at the mercy of the one who makes the tests and decides how they are graded. It doesn’t take the full picture into account. There are other ways to assess kids. However, where we do have these regular grade systems, then what Miriam P. said above is a good statement. I know a kid who turned himself around after being paid a nice buck for every ‘A’ he got, but now he has turned back.

    Middos are the way to go. With middos, he’ll be a hard worker, always do his best, and therefore always succeed, even when he doesn’t. If I had choice between having the kid who gets the 4.0 or the kid who goes every erev Shabbos to visit others in the hospital (and I can’t have both), what’s the question?

  6. Bob, reaching the student’s potential is quite vague and undefinable. I would run very fast from schools that tell me that’s their goal.

    As part of my business, I’ve been researching and talking extensively to education professionals for the past 3 years. To them, “progressive” is not a dirty word and the commonly acknowledged best schools are described as progressive.

    As it turns out, education is going through some serious positive changes in the secular world in the areas of curriculum, instruction, assessment and continual improvement. The better funded, usually Modern Orthodox, frum schools are adopting these changes while the lesser funded schools are generally 5 to 10 years and more behind the best educational techniques.

  7. Also, if the C or D or F does represent best efforts than it becomes on par with an A or B.

    I’ve known parents who pay for top grades and who punish for low grades and that’s not the message I want to send my children.

  8. I understood not stressing grades a bit differently. I have a child who is a straight A student. I tease her that her report card doesn’t have room for improvement. However, all my children know (I hope) that I don’t value her As more or less than another daughter’s Bs, and even a lower grade doesn’t mean I’ll love any of them less, nor does it mean someone will be punished. The grade itself isn’t the point… doing your best is. if you have put in less than your best and it shows, the low grade (C, D or F) is the only punishment needed. We can work on improving study skills and developing a good work ethic but that comes back to emphasizing middos over grades.

  9. When did this become either/or?

    Reaching the student’s potential should be the the goal for both middos and class subjects. If some students should be graded specially based on their known limits, that’s a special case. Otherwise grades are kind of like life out in the world, so they prepare students for that world, not a fantasy world.

    Progressive educators are not all alike. Some evidently favor “progress” in the form of ever-newer buzzwords and ever-more-counterintuitive teaching strategies.

  10. I generally agree with Ron. I think that underlying the writers outlook may be a certain American misunderstanding of what good middos are. Good middos means strength of character and doing the correct thing at the correct time. It does not mean being nice to other people.

    That being said, if a child behaves with chutzpah to his rebbe, it certainly deserves a stronger reaction than failing a math test.

  11. Middos by far!
    However it doesnt give a child an excuse to be lazy.
    Maybe instead of focusing on grades, we should focus on making the work fun for the child. Then naturally, he will bounce out of bed and hit the books and the grades should then go up!

    I guess also more smiles and less tension in the house will help the grades go up – and if they dont, have a private gentle meeting with the kid to see what’s cooking

  12. Micha, I think everyone would agree with you’re observation that it depends on the child.

    The problem is that we live in a world where grades are stressed. The A student will receive many more accolades than the B, C and D students. And the C and D students will often be bludgeoned with failing test grades. To deny that reality would be problematic.

    One of my children needed more stress on effort and continual improvement rather than absolute grades. I went to the teacher and told him that if my child was putting in the effort and improving they could not be failed. I suggested leaving the grade blank if it was below passing.

    The teacher looked at me in astonishment and said that wouldn’t be Emes. I went to my Rav, who agreed with me that the pain and results of failure was not Emes for my child and this teachers objective tests were not a good measure.

    Many of the more progressive educators in the secular world are moving away from grades and focusing on general assessments and continual improvement. Of course it will take a lot longer for this clear thinking to hit our yeshivos and unfortunately in the process we will turn off thousands of students to the joy of effort and continual improvement in learning Torah.

  13. To me it seems self-evident that the answer will differ whether one is speaking of a child who doesn’t help others because it would take them away from their reading time, a child with ADHD and dyslexia, a child who is naturally generous but lacks self-discipline, etc…

    I don’t think any attempt to find one answer without specifying which child we’re talking about will be meaningful.

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